Egypt, 10 April 2007
Africa at last after four months on the road! Or so we thought when arriving in to Nuweiba in Egypt from Aqaba in Jordan. Apparently not so, the Sinai is still the Middle East. As the cliche goes, it's not a race. Just as well too for us..
Getting to Egypt necessitated more boat travel. There's a 10 odd kilometer stretch of Israel between the two countries that pretty much prohibits transit, if not in practice then in the prohibition on Israeli passport stamps from some countries. Entering Egypt not much had changed to the landscape but it was suddenly weirdly warmer. It seems as if on our trip there is no middle ground of pleasant weather: we've gone from moaning about being too cold to being too hot in the space of a couple of days.
We were expecting the worst with Egyptian customs as the bureacracy seems to be some of the most notorious out there. Indeed Kafka would have been happy to state his name to the process but we were guided through by a helpful tourist police guy. The whole process took about two hours including registering the bike in Egypt and getting Egytian plates. More galling was that it cost about seventy quid. Still, we had company through it all though as we met a fellow motorcyclist in the form of fully kitted out German BMW rider, Jason. Better news still is that he is heading to Sudan as well so we have company for the notorious stretch of road down to Khartoum.
A couple of days snorkelling in Red Sea was great and then off we went across the Sinai Cairo-wards. April in Egypt is marked by strong winds, for us they are remarkable in the fact that they abide completely by the law of sod and are headwinds regardless of which way you yourself head. This resulted in several long third gear slogs with the poor old bike labouring away only to turn a corner supposedly to run with the wind only to find that it was not so. An overnight at St Catherine's monastery allowed us to meet the monks of gloom there who didn't like the look of us and wouldn't let us stay in their guest rooms. The next morning we saw the reason for their misery as we queued up at 9am to get in to have a look around in the comany of 500 or so other tourists. Eventually tired of it all we turned around and left without going in. The burning bush can quite likely be guaranteed to look like any other bush after all.
That same day we made it to Cairo, our longest ride so far at about 400km in the day. Doesn't really sound that dramatic when written down but the infamous winds and parched desert made it seem so. Crossing the Suez Canal we really were finally in Africa. Pleased to have arrived in Cairo in one day we then discovered that it has probably the maddest traffic in the world, worst than any Indian city or anywhere else I've ridden. One of the world's biggest cities with 20 million or so people and seemingly all of them have a car. With petrol at just over 10p a litre there's no reason not to put your foot down. We made it to the downtown area pretty quick but then finding a hotel resulted in a serious loss of humour moment for both of us. About an hour of cruising the one way systems to find any hotel. Another hour to find one that had rooms and then when we did it was at the end of a one way. Another hour was consumed riding around trying to find some way to the hotel only to end up where we started. Then, having decided to hotfoot it up the one way system a policeman appeared which meant that the bike had to ignominiously be pushed along the pavement to the amusement of all around to the hotel entrance.
Cairo didn't leave the greatest of impressions on us. Overcrowded, full of hustlers and rip off merchants at every corner. To be fair this can't be representative of all Egypt or Egyptians it's just that the sleazy ones find the tourists and the nice guys keep themselves to themselves. None-the-less we stayed long enough to get our visas for Sudan and Ethiopia sorted easily. Great news as the Sudan one carries a reputation for being a lengthy process. We had it back in an hour.
Heading South we chose to ride down the Nile. There's apparently a great route through the desert but the thought of those winds again made our minds up for us. In the end it the Nile route was a good one. Once again leaving Cairo we got lost and rode through a multitude of villages. Some really beautiful but some showing some of the most grindingly awful poverty.
Since the terrorist attacks against tourists in the late 90's the Egyptian regime has gotten very jumpy about tourists travelling around 'unprotected'. This means that in their percieved danger zones they insist on giving a police escort or making tourists travel in convoys. In practice these were a farce and slightly embarassing. After all what could draw more attention to the fact that a tourist is passing through your village than a screaming police siren accompanying their progress. And then half the time on leaving town the police screamed off and let us chug along at our own speed having drawn everyone's attention to our presence. On those few times we managed to avoid an escort we found that peoples reactions to us got a lot better and friendlier and the apparent hot-bed city of all discontent, Asyut, was the friendliest place of all we have been in Egypt. No overcharging or short changing, no harassment just regular people going about life.
Going to Sudan will mean yet another ferry journey. Not too sure why, there is a land border but I guess getting the foreigners over on the boat brings in the cash and is easier to police. We've booked our place for this coming Monday and then we face the infamous road to Khartoum. Sascha has been worrying about this one rather a lot and envisaged every malevolent scenario short of being hit by a whale falling from the sky having been sucked from the ocean floor by a tornado. Thankfully we've met a couple of people now who have come up from the other direction and have said it's not too bad. All the same we're expecting to take nearly a week over the 600 kilometer trip.
Posted by Richard Miller at April 10, 2007 09:28 PM GMT