December 31, 2009 GMT
Into Africa

Christmas Day in Dahab turned out pretty good.

We decided to snorkel the Eel Garden reef, a recommended site north of the town.
But we found a strong-ish current heading south. It was also quite a way out to the edge of the reef, the 'Garden' in the name of the place, and an incoming swell was making swimming in the shallow water above the reef shelf less than leisurely.
We returned to see want we wanted to do. There was a possibility of just working out to the 'Garden', then drifting with the current all the way along the edge of the reef to where it met the shore in town at a place called The Lighthouse. That had been recommended to us. But it would mean a long walk all the way back in wet gear, in the sea breeze, to collect our stuff.
No matter, a gallant Beau, new to snorkelling, said he would be more comfortable walking to The Lighthouse and set off with all our stuff.
Caroline and I then spent a chunk of Christmas Day crossing the current to the reef edge and the 'Garden', then drifting with the current all the way back to town, although the current ran onto the reef, with breaking waves in places, so a bit of work was needed to keep out over the edge where all the deep water, scenery and action was.
It was a good journey as few snorkellers and divers get here, so the reef was more-or-less undamaged with masses of fish and plant life and colour.
And some fish we had seen before, claimed to be Lion Fish, a 'do not approach' species, but I hadn't agreed with that identification. (But didn't know what they were called).
Well, there were quite a few of them, and subsequently we found they were indeed Lion Fish, so were glad they hadn't approached us.

On Boxing Day it was back to Nuweiba for the 1-month customs extensions for the bikes, and we returned again to the Softbeach camp and its beach huts.

The traffic office was easy to find, close to the port. But it was the wrong place.
"Go into the port," we were told.
Having had over three hours experience of the port already, that sounded complicated and it probably showed on our faces.
"This officer will show you," as he pointed to a policeman just mounting his motorbike. He waved us to follow, but his bike wouldn't start and needed a quick push.
On the road he sped off for the one-mile trip to the port, past the exit where we had entered Egypt a few weeks earlier, and to the entrance, where he pointed and called out, "In there!" and rode off.

We were pretty sure that would be easier said than done, with no boat ticket between us. And that was the case. A port policeman who spoke a little English was called and eventually seemed to understand our requirements. He told us to park outside the entrance and wait ten minutes.
Well, sure enough, after ten minutes a tourist policeman came out, speaking perfect English, to say the the Customs manager wouldn't be on duty for nearly an hour.
"No matter, because you need a paper from the Court to extend your licenses, so go there now and we can continue when you return. I'll write what you need on a piece of paper. You show it to the desk clerk at the court, he'll show you where to go."
Nuweiba court is in the town, five miles from the port, so off we sped. The desk clerk pointed us upstairs where someone was waiting to point us to the right office. The following paperchase lasted an hour, gave us each a file of papers to be processed and retained, and left us each with a small certificate in Arabic which constituted the court's blessing for the port to extend our driving licenses.

Back at the port, our policeman conducted us through exactly the same process that we completed when first entering the country, except the frame and engine numbers didn't need to be checked again by the vehicle examiners.
Another three hours.
But never mind, there's plenty of life to observe during the process, and with the port empty of passengers, no ferries being in harbour, there was a different leisurely life going on.

So now we have an extra month's legality in the country.
During the process in the port, an official practicing his English exclaimed, "Don't stay longer without another extension, the fine will be 4000 pounds (440 English pounds)."
At the end, while we waited for our new plastic licenses to be produced, our tourist policeman explained, "If one more month isn't enough, no problem. Just make sure your visa is extended then pay some money when you leave," making the classic back-hand money-passing gesture.
The cost of each extra legal month is about 35 - customs permit, insurance, license, carnet endorsement, court fee, photocopying fee - so probably enough of a backhander to avoid the 440 fine, but we plan not to find out.

All formalities done we hurried off the next morning, aiming for Cairo but expecting only to reach Suez before dark. Which was the case.

It seems that the Sinai isn't part of Africa, but a sort of attachment to Asia. So as we emerged from the Ahmad Hamdi Tunnel back into the sunlight on the western side of the Suez Canal, we really had finally reach Africa!

Three small vessels and one large one - The west side of the Suez Canal - Africa!

We were just lucky to get these photos with the bikes. It seems a 100-yard strip along the banks is a security zone - no vehicles allowed. We didn't know - we just nipped through a pedestrian gap in the barrier. After the tanker had sailed on, a policeman on foot, a police van and a security man descended on us to politely explain the urgency with which we should kindly take our bikes back to the road!

So on the 29th we arrived in Cairo. And threw away any semblance of a notion of driving by western conventions.
But there are conventions, and we managed to employ them sufficiently to get us around the city to Giza and an ok campsite.
The score to date is:
Ethiopian visa obtained, they gave us three months and no fuss.
Confirmation that a letter from the GB consulate is needed (30 pounds we think) for the Sudan visa. And Friday (holy day), and New Year, together mean we can't do that until Monday, to receive the visa on Tuesday. So hopefully we start to see the rest of Egypt on Wednesday.

New front tyre obtained for Caroline's bike. We found a street full of car repair places, most repairs taking place in the street leaving just enough width for a single car to pass by. The scenery included bodies and chassis completely separated for respraying (on the road) and the front half of a car, no wheels, in the road under a smart cover for a whole car. Can't imagine what that repair was for. Engines, gearboxes and axles were scattered everywhere.
Plus numerous tyre places. One place pointed us to a street where, we think, there were motorbike shops, but the street was maybe four miles long.
In another the owner took a lot of trouble to understand what tyre Caroline wanted, size, tread etc, and sent his lad (maybe his son) off on his motorbike to look for one. After quite a while, and cups of tea for us, the lad returned and talked to the owner, who continued repairing a puncture for another customer.
We waited a while wondering what to do then asked if we should wait.
The owner spoke some more to the lad, told us to wait and the lad went off again for quite a while.

On his return we learned that yes he had found one this time, for fifteen pounds in English money. That seemed a bit cheap so we said we needed to see it first. The only way to do that was for one of us to go with the lad to the location and take a look.
So McCrankpin was volunteered for that and given a spare crash helmet that hung in the workshop. Unusually for Cairo, the lad wore a crash helmet. (We'd taken a taxi into town - cheap enough and we could return after nightfall).
Off we sped, or cantered, into the back streets and over-passes of Cairo and it was interesting to see how the lad played for command of his bit of road space against cars, pedestrians and other bikes. But I still couldn't work out the language of the car horn. Every different hoot has a meaning, I suppose you have to live here to learn it. But there's as much discipline in giving way to what would be called 'cutters-in' or 'cutters-up' back home, as there is in cutting in yourself.
Anyway, the tyre was of Taiwanese make, with maker's name and mark on the tyre and all over the wrapping, so at least was not a fake copy of a Pirelli or similar. Other new bikes in the shop had similar tyres so we took the plunge and bought it.
Overland internet forums often carry stories of riders having to buy unknown brands and finding that they are indeed OK for the roads in that part of the world.
Time will tell.

Now we visit some pyramids and other sights, and drink lots of tea, until we set off on Monday for the Sudanese visa.

Posted by Ken Thomas at December 31, 2009 01:44 PM GMT

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