Egypt
December 11, 2009 GMT
New Numbers Please



And a new continent.
The Dark One.



Crossing the land border into Egypt with a vehicle has become a thing of legend in overland-traveller circles. Its notoriety spreading far and wide.
Specially when crossing by sea on the ferry.
One thing for sure, it's expensive.
Adding everything together, import carnet, ferry ticket, insurance, customs, photocopying, and things we can't now quite recall, for a cheapish motorbike it adds up to maybe £700, roughly. The single biggest expense, the carnet, is related directly to the valuation of the vehicle.
But as it turned out for our border crossing, its bark was worse than its bite and it actually had quite a bit of entertainment value.


And some quirkiness.
For instance, you come out the other end with a brand new, credit-card style plastic Egyptian driving license. But, in a process where you end up with two separate files of papers (hence the photocopying bill) to be shuffled and juggled by dozens of officials, at no time were any of us asked to produce or show a driving license, British, international or otherwise.
And of course, you get those legendary new shiny (or not so shiny) Egyptian number plates.


So Caroline is now the proud owner of registration number 75,


caroline75.jpg



me of number 88,

ken77.jpg



and Beau of number 92. Wonderful!
(The photo I took of Beau's bike had the sun right on the number plate. But you get the idea.....


So briefly, I hope, other entertaining moments in the process - skip this lot if boring:
We opted for the cheaper ferry, which nominally leaves Aqaba at midnight, and nominally arrives in Nuweiba, Egypt, at a time unspecified the following morning.
But you have to leave Jordan first, before buying your ticket. Which involves the usual passport stuff, checking the temporary import paper and insurance for the bike, paying departure tax on both bike and person, buying ticket and having the whole lot re-checked on entering the vehicle holding area.
There, we were entertained by an endless procession of tour coaches doing a tight U-turn in the small space in front of us, to get into the right position so they could reverse onto the ferry once loading started.
It was a pretty tight U-turn, lots of tyre squealing, and one coach couldn't manage it. Although they were all modern coaches, pretty similar in size and layout, this one reached the halfway point in the turn then seemed to get stuck. Even though there was no obstruction. The engine revved, it lurched and lunged, but wouldn't complete the turn.
Then the command was shouted, all the passengers got out - and pushed.
That did the trick, and it was pushed all the way to its alloted holding spot.
What the problem was we'll never know. The engine was definitely running.
All these coaches - there were quite a few dozens of them, had only a half-load of passengers, sitting in the front half. The rear half was full of luggage, mostly, as far as I could make out, soft furnishings, bedding and childrens' toys.


With the waltz of the coaches completed, the few cars and us three bikes were ushered forward to within sight of the ship's loading ramp. Which we could see was broken.
It was wide enough for the biggest of trucks, made in 5 sections. One section was completely missing, a huge gap down into the Gulf of Aqaba.
A little way inside the ship's hold some serious welding was taking place, lighting up the whole interior, sparks bouncing around everywhere. Followed by deafening hammering and a complete firework display of more sparks as someone got to work with an industrial angle grinder.
Then the missing section was pulled along into view by three strapping dock workers obviously fed on Weetabix judging by the weight of this massive lump of steel.
Persuading it into place, with sledge hammers, crowbars and grappling irons took maybe a half hour, followed by half an hour of inspection, and half an hour of congratulatory handshaking all round by workers, supervisors and assorted men-in-suits.


While all this was going on we could see further into the vehicle deck, where yet another team of welders and grapplers were attacking one the internal car ramps, lighting up the deepest depths of the ferry with their welding torches.
This was one of those ferries where they load the big stuff (dozens of coaches) onto the deck at ground level, then lower a couple of ramps inside the hold so smaller stuff (cars and us bikes) can drive in and up the ramps to the upper vehicle deck.
But one ramp was stuck.
They had started to lower one of the two ramps earlier, but instead of it descending gently into place something broke and the whole thing came crashing down, but fortuitously into the right place. It made a pretty loud and thunderous racket, echoing round the deck, with all the support stays and struts quivering and wobbling. Now the ramp next to it was jammed solid and the welders were at work.
That took another chunk of time, followed by another congratulatory round of handshaking lasting maybe 15 minutes.


And at last it was time for the coaches to start reversing on. Pretty boring really, until one got stuck on the loading ramp. Maybe it was the same coach as before, I don't know, but it revved and lurched and wobbled and its rear tyres refused to go over a raised joint in the ramp. Even though dozens of coaches had driven over before.
All the coach passengers had by now left and made their way on board, so no help there. Instead, a couple of dock workers manfully stepped up to the front of the coach and pushed.
Now these coaches have engines of maybe 400 horsepower, so what difference two men thought they could make I don't know, but more joined in including the policeman who had chatted to us earlier. It was a mystery to me why this particular coach, empty of passengers, couldn't get over the bump, but about half an hour of revving and huffing and puffing and lurching saw it eventually get inside the boat.
And so it continued until us riders had our day, right at the back, and were last on.


We were well looked after. Being, I think, the only westerners on board. An official escorted us from the bikes to the passport checker on the passenger deck, who said to return to him after we had seen the Egyptian immigration officer. So we did, after noticing that just about every bit if seating and floor space had already been taken for the night.
"I have special place for you," said the passport checker as he took us to a door behind his desk labelled 'Crew Only'.
So there we were for the voyage in a large lounge area, completely empty except for the occasional official who came in to rummage for a few minutes in a small office in the corner.


We arrived in Nuweiba after about three hours actual sailing time. And we learned that another bit of folklore about this crossing was true; when the ship arrives, nothing happens. For over an hour.
The ramp is lowered, a rubbish cart taken away, then nothing.
After well over an hour, at some secret signal, passengers dissembarked and we were collected and escorted on the circuitous route back to our bikes. We would never have found them without assistance.


We rode onto African soil and immediately an official directed us to a pyramid-shaped building "for check, then go to Arrivals Shed." The pyramid is empty except for a solitary official at a solitary desk in the far corner. He wants to see our passports. Not inside them, just to see that we have one each.
"OK, continue to Arrivals Shed."
Puzzling.
On the way we saw an ATM so stopped to draw out the 1000 Egyptian Pounds that the next few hours would cost. Next door was the Tourist Police office.
The universal mantra nowadays for arriving in Egypt is "Straightaway, find a Tourist Policeman to take you through. You'll be ripped off with bribes and backhanders without." And it still seems true. A recent aquaintance, travelling the same route as us, went through a few weeks before us. Without, we think, the help of the police. He emailed us to warn he had been the victim of one of the classic carnet scams, which we thought he would have been aware of and wary of.
The insurance man had asked to see his carnet, which is OK, but tore off the lower section of the first unused page, which is not. He then stamped the top section of the next page, which is even worse, and later demanded a big sum of money for the return of the lower section previously torn off, which is the final sting. The carnet is rendered useless without this section being returned and the official knows it. Our friend paid, but didn't tell us how much. We hope it wasn't a lot. Other victims have written that they eventually get the section back by making a continuous fuss at the insurance window, elbows and shoulders spread wide to prevent other drivers completing their business so that the angry queue grows so long that the official is eventually forced to relent.
Not a pleasant business.


Anyway, we dived straight into the tourist police office and asked for assistance.
"Drive over to the arrivals shed, get parked, come back and I'll have someone ready," says the boss.
So we did, and he did. He collected all our papers including some we received on the ferry, checked everything was there and introduced one of his officers.
"Make good use of him, he'll see you through right to the end."
And over the next three hours he did just that. We've lost count of the number of officials we saw, the number of offices we marched in and out of, and the size our entry files grew to. But we stood at hardly any windows, usually going straight into the office and up to the person required, jumping all the queues.
This enabled us to observe other drivers a little, going through the same process. Mostly professionals, or regulars, coach drivers, lorry drivers, businessmen and so on. And it was obvious to us that each time a transaction in the process was completed at a window, and a file of papers handed back with all the stamps in the correct places, a banknote was handed in the other direction.
Obviously our personal policeman was saving us a lot of money, for no charge, and word on the travellers' forums is that a reasonably generous tip is in order at the end of the process. But our policeman was so keen to get to his next job that he dashed away before we really realised we were finished and we had to run after him to give him his well-deserved Christmas box!


So all in all it was not the horror story we had come to expect, but horrendously tiring nevertheless, if not an interesting educational experience. We arrived at the docks at Aqaba at around 9:30 in the evening, and finally left the docks at Nuweiba, onto Egyptian roads, at midday the following day.
We found a laid-back beach-hut mini-resort a little way north, one of many on the Sinai coast, so now we rest!




Posted by Ken Thomas at 10:59 AM GMT
December 13, 2009 GMT
Workshop Update



Don't want to tempt fate in any way, but mechanical problems have been pretty small to date.
Here's a summary for those with a mechanical bent who may be interested:
(A bit boring for everyone else)



First off, Beau's petrol tank started showing the first signs of a pinhole leak way back in Germany, or thereabouts. From the rusty patch where the front of the seat rubs against the rear of the tank.
We fixed that with some proprietary tank repair glue but it didn't last.
Not to be beaten, in Romania Beau performed some spectacular theatrics (reported elsewhere) just to get a free permanent repair to this problem. Good ol' Araldite was used this time and has been permanent so far.


Not to be outdone, a tiny pinhole leak appeared in Caroline's tank, also repaired with Araldite, in Palmyra, and still good so far.


There have been a couple of oil leaks on Beau's bike. A minor one from a bolt on the cam-box cover which is set in a large rubber grommet. Cleaning and refitting this had no effect so a little silicon was needed.
More inconvenient was a leak from the clutch cover joint next to the oil filter which eventually covered Beau's right boot in oil. At least it should be waterproof!
We had two options here. To remove the cover, (we have a spare gasket) which would require removal of the exhaust, oil cooler and other stuff, with the chance of finding abused screw threads in the process and the old gasket requiring a day of careful scraping to remove. Or, apply a little two-part epoxy to the leaking area after cleaning. So we did the latter and it worked. It will need cutting if the clutch cover ever does need removing.


Beau's older and less-prepared TTR has had two roadside problems requiring the rapid location of a place to stay for the night. Both in Turkey.
Firstly, during a day's riding, the tickover became faster and faster until it became a serious danger to the engine. Closer roadside examination showed that the position of the throttle spindle in the carburettor no longer bore a direct relationship to the engine speed - something inside had come adrift. Fortuitously we found a good campsite nearby, with room to remove the carb. I suspected the little screw holding the throttle slide lever to the spindle had become loose and hoped it was nothing worse.
Removing the carb meant removing:
All luggage
Rack and panniers
Seat
Tank
Airbox
Subframe strut
Not a small job like the 'old days'.
Dismantling the carb revealed with some relief that my guess was right, the screw just needed tightening, with some Loctite for peace of mind.
But there was evidence of some earlier butchery in there, a float support had broken at some time and been repaired with Araldite which had damaged the seal on the outlet of the accelerator pump. The gasket itself was also broken. There had been a damp patch of petrol there for a while, and after fitting the carb back twice the best we could do was to fix the leak at the pump, but leave a leak on the lefthand side of the float bowl. This only makes a damp patch if the bike it leant on the sidestand with the petrol left on.


Not long after that we had the problem with Beau's rear tyre going flat, for no reason that we ever found. Must have been some dirt stuck in the valve when it was pumped up.
At the end of this piece we'll leave a couple of questions that we'd appreciate answers to - please.


Caroline's Serow is running too rich, OK at sea level and thereabouts but a problem at 3000ft and we have higher to go.
We lowered the needle in Palmyra (removal of carb a similar job to Beau's TTR), but only a small improvement resulted. And we have little chance of finding a main jet of the required smaller size. But we have stranded copper wire and a mini gas soldering iron. Info needed, see below.


Tyres: a perennial subject for discussion on these sorts of journeys.
I have Continental TKC80s, regularly recommended. After 5500 miles on tarmac both are less than half worn, a bit surprising, and I'm carrying a spare rear. When I fit that in southern Egypt the existing one will probably be good enough to go on Beau's bike, saving a bit there.
Beau has Trelleborg front and rear and as far as I can see they have nearly as much tread now as when we left Dover. They seem to deserve their reputation. So the front may last right to Kenya.
Caroline has Pirelli MT43 on the front, pretty worn at the start and now, marginally, an MOT failure. So it will last to Cairo or southern Egypt no problem. But will need changing before Sudan.
The rear is MT21 and is still OK, more tread than Beau's rear tyre, and may last a long time yet. Will have to decide in Cairo whether to change it or not.


Chains:
As expected, entirely dependant on how religiously you oil them, and we have been travelling part of the Holy Lands.
So mine hasn't moved at all (without actually using a ruler to measure the free play) - no adjustment needed.
Beau's has been adjusted up one notch on the snail cam.
Caroline's has not needed adjustment.
So more regular oiling needed for certain chains, but we're approaching the Sahara and there's endless debate about what to do there.
The most respected advice seems to be:
No oil at all - nothing - but regular meticulous cleaning.
Well, that'll slow our progress even further...... we'll look out for the walkers.




So, question time.
1.
Why is it, as we discovered with Beau's flat tyre, that the nut on the valve stem, which should always be loose, always tightens itself up, whereas the nut on the security bolt, which should always be tight, always comes loose??
After all, they are both in exactly the same position on the wheel rim!


2.
A 2002 Yamaha Serow with a carb from a 1990s model, has a main jet of 105. It runs fine at sea level and up to say, 1000ft, but above that runs rich, and at 3500ft is maybe 10mph down on top speed. Plug is black and sooty. The needle is in the lowest position.
How many strands of wire from a piece of flexible 5A elecric cable should be carefully inserted into the hole of the main jet, soldering them onto the end of the jet to keep them in place, to get the correct mixture for about 8000ft altitude??
Sorry, we don't have a micrometer to measure the strands of wire.


All answers will be carefully considered, including any in Arabic.




Posted by Ken Thomas at 03:52 PM GMT
December 19, 2009 GMT
Ten Commandments



After a very relaxing week at a comfortably remote beach we were ready to leave the Softbeach camp at the amazingly early hour of 12 noon! And we didn't have tents to take down and pack!




softbeachsaudi.jpg
Beach-front living, and parking. Mountains of Saudi Arabia in the distance, looking east.


softbeachsinai.jpg
Looking west. Mountains of Sinai beyond the north-south main road.



Unfortunately, a half-hour earlier a fairly spectacular sand-storm blew up, bringing visibility down to as little as one hundred yards at times. The Sudanese owner (married to a German wife) of the camp proclaimed it was far too dangerous for us to depart for Mt Sinai, about 80 miles away through the desert and a 5,000 ft climb. The roads would be covered in sand to unknown depths.
This was a blow, as we had already spent too long at Softbeach, and now it looked difficult to plan to be at a nice place for Christmas Day. (It's universally agreed amongst us and everyone we met that Sharm el Sheikh and its immediate surrounds is not a nice place to spend Christmas).


In fact, the Softbeach resort was a perfect place to spend Christmas, but we had already been here a week, and there was a hell of a lot of Egypt to explore, and our visas and customs permits to extend at El Tur on the west coast of Sinai. Consequently some detailed planning had resulted in an itinerary that would enable us to visit Mt Sinai, El Tur for visa extensions, the nature reserve outside Sharm, the hippy 'paradise' of Dahab, and return here to Softbeach for Christmas - unless Dahab really was a paradise in which case we could stop there.
But not setting off today would mess all that up.


The latest we could leave Softbeach for a daylight arrival at Mt. Sinai was 2pm, although that left no margin for the unexpected. So we decided if the wind didn't ease by then we would have to stay and re-think all our plans for Christmas.
But a bit more thought led us to depart straightaway, in the wind.
Whatever we did, we needed to go to Nuweiba port (five miles away), that afternoon to get cash from the cash machines. So we said our farewells and set off into the teeth, or maybe the gums, of the sandstorm, adding that we'd be straight back after visiting the ATM if the roads were bad.


We reached the port fine, if not a bit blown about, got cash, and continued on the motorway south to the turn-off for the interior and Mt Sinai. But on the way we experienced the true force of this desert coastal wind and the chaos it can bring to the roads.
Over to our left beyond the sandy coastal strip was the Gulf of Aqaba, with the mountains of Saudi Arabia just a little way beyond. Immediately on our right rose a rocky terrain, steadily upwards into the interior, and it was down these slopes that the wind blasted, bringing chaos across our bit of road. Hardly any tarmac or rocky slope could be seen under the seething mass of multi-coloured plastic bags being strewn and tossed across the ground in the wake of this wind. We'd never seen a sight like it. From high up the slopes on the right came millions of plastic bags, inflated by the wind to the size of footballs, bouncing, rolling and tumbling down the hill like an avalanche of multi-coloured rocks and boulders, right across our path. They bounced, flew high up into the air, dropped to the ground, tore around with the wind in every direction, covering the road and everything around.
So this is what a sandstorm is like!
It continued until we reached a region where fences reappeared on both sides of the road, trapping all the bags in the barbed wire, just before our turn-off.


Heading inland and up into the mountains the wind continued unabated but the torrent of bags disappeared along with the blown sand.
But a different problem arose.
The wind, as strong as ever, was in our faces and we were climbing to previously unconquered heights. Approaching 4000 ft and beyond.
And Caroline's Serow complained ominously, the fuel mixture now being far too rich giving it great difficulty in making progress against this wind. At least, sufficiently fast progress to deliver us to Mt Sinai before nightfall.
We stopped twice for conferences: continue, return to Softbeach, divert to Dahab? (An alternative possibility). The second stop was at one of many army checkpoints where they reminded us of the distance remaining to Mt Sinai, almost the point of no return, the sun low in the sky.
Well, Caroline offered some inspirational words to her Serow and pronounced "We'll continue - Gee-up!"
And gee-up we did, climbing through some of the most stunning and spectacular and barren scenery, climbing ever upwards, to reach the site of the Ten Commandments just a few minutes after sunset.
Anyone with the view that those televised 1969 moon landings were somehow faked, well, if you're interested, they could well have been filmed right here. In this strange landscape it definitely felt as though we were a quarter of a million miles from planet Earth, especially after three months on our little two-wheeled crafts.


Arriving in the little village of St. Katherines, with darkness just falling, we found a very nice hostal and prepared ourselves for the climb the next day.


Well, there are indeed tablets of stone at the top, and a cleft in the rock, and views that can certainly inspire and awaken, in whatever way you allow.



burningbush.jpg
Believed to be the offspring of The Burning Bush, in the monastery at the base of Mt Sinai.


burningbush2.jpg
Visitors pose, listening.



mtsinaipilgrims.jpg
On the climb to the summit. Below on the path, two pilgrims looking for their Prophet.


mtsinaipilgrims2.jpg
Or Holmes and Watson searching for the Tablets.



mtsinaibird.jpg
For maybe half an hour on the climb up Mount Sinai, these birds fluttered and pranced in front of me, showing me the way.


mtsinaibirds.jpg
When I stopped, they stopped. If I turned the other way, they patiently waited until I resumed climbing in the right direction.


mtsinaibirds3.jpg



mtsinaicleft.jpg
Close to the summit, the Cleft in the Rock.


mtsinaitablets.jpg
Just below the summit, The Tablets of Stone. At least, that's what I think.


mtsinaiview.jpg
The view from the top.



So, bearing in mind our experiences so far on this journey, here are the words that fitted on those tablets of stone when we arrived at the summit, numbers eleven to twenty:


11. Check your oil every morning.
12. Give everyone else right-of-way.
13. Especially anyone behind.
14. Never say "no" to a cup of tea.
15. Don't interrupt The Koran.
16. Don't ride in the dark, ever. Even the three-mile road from our hostal to the foot of The Holy Mountain (which we rode in the dark - we hereby confesseth and repent) has many big potholes.
17. Fill up with petrol whenever you can - it's only ninety pence a gallon. - Yes, gallon.
18. Don't, unfortunately, expect any sort of spiritual experience or awakening when visiting Moses' Burning Bush in the monastery at the foot of the mountain. Yea, there be a crowd of tourists of huge numbers, pushing and shoving to get their photographs and videos taken at exactly the right viewpoint and angle for the consumption of the folks back home (see above - I confess and repent).
19. Don't, as we did, mistake the guides at the foot of the mountain for hustlers. They will tell you it's obligatory to climb the mountain with one of them. We disbelieved them and strode out on our own. Only to learn later that it is indeed against the rules for tourists to be unaccompanied on the climb - the Bedouin have a legally established rota such that all the local Bedouin families share the work of guiding visitors ensuring them an equal wage from the work. No wonder we were asked by many of them on our way down, "Hey! Where your guide?" - Sorry! We confess and repent.
20. Take all your plastic bags, bottles, bottle-tops, crisps packets, cans and dead batteries home with you.



A note of explanation on No. 15.
You have to mingle with the local people quite a bit to begin to realise the central role The Koran, and their religion, plays in their lives. Any computer, switched on but idle, will usually be connected to one of hundreds of Arabic Youtube pages showing the Koran being sung. And the music and singing, at least on the ones I saw, is indeed very tuneful and relaxing.
So when I asked if I could use the computer in our last camp in Jordan, the answer was, "Of course, but please don't interrupt The Koran."
Which played out from substantial PC speakers into the restaurant of the camp in the mornings, requiring an additional Internet Explorer window to be launched, hoping it wouldn't interfere with the one already playing and filling the restaurant with peaceful music.


It's common to hear The Koran being sung from car radios and, having just arrived in Dahab and stocking up at a large-ish supermarket, there it was being played to us shoppers. Very soothing in the aisles. Not really expected in the so-called 'hippy paradise'.



Onwards and downwards.
We left it a little late to descend the mountain, it was pitch black by the time we reached the bottom, and no one waiting to listen to what we had learned up there. It was far too cold to hang around. After tea in the monastery cafeteria we rode the thee miles back to the village in the dark.


We were on the road again next day, westwards to the coast, the regional capital El Tur, and its passport office, to have a month added to our visas. It was all desert again, except, out of nowhere round a bend in the road, the oasis village of Feiran appeared. A mini forest of palms, very pretty. And also out of nowhere two locals came out to say hello, one a young teenager in extremely white and smart robes who shook our hands and tried a little English on us.



sinaioasis.jpg
Feiran Oasis village.


sinaidesert.jpg
Back in the desert beyond Feiran.


sinaidesert2.jpg




At El Tur our mission to extend our visas was quickly accomplished, but to extend the customs clearance for our bikes, from one month to two, was not. At the Traffic Office two separate groups of officials were very clear, we had to have that done at Nuweiba Port, in complete contradiction to what we had been told at the port on arrival.
So, a visit to the port has to be inserted in our itinerary, and we dash off south to the Nature Reserve of Ras Mohammed on the very tip of the Sinai.




Posted by Ken Thomas at 03:47 PM GMT
December 24, 2009 GMT
Ras Mohammad



Ras Mohammad National Park is one of the world's leading nature reserves encompassing a wide range of terrains on the southern tip of Sinai.



Including a mangrove swamp, desert, numerous bays and beaches, and what is claimed to be the best preserved coral in the Red Sea.


To keep it like this absolutely no modern amenities are there. No electricity, shops or vendors of any sort, catering of any sort, nor accommodation. There is a sunset curfew, requiring all visitors to leave before nightfall.
But, there are three small camping areas on the beaches of a small inlet, and if you can carry in everything you need you can camp there for as long as your supplies last. The sunset curfew still applies, in that campers can stay overnight of course, but must be at their campsites by dusk.
We thought we'd stay there two nights, ride around the park (strictly on the road and marked tracks only) and snorkel over the coral reefs.


Well, it was a wonderful place and we stretched our supplies to four nights.
The surrounding waters are heavily visited by boats bringing in tourists from Sharm el Sheikh, but mooring at only a few specific locations. Consequently the reefs at those places are pretty badly damaged by divers and snorkellers (the uneducated sort). But we had the run of the place and indeed there were some wonderful sights under the waves away from the visiting boats.
Being the Sinai, and its history, each section of the park and the camping area is guarded by army checkpoints, logging your every move. There were no other campers, so we became quite well known amongst the army personnel. On one outing to the southernmost bay a strong wind blew up, but we found good snorkelling and stayed there until dusk. On our return we found that the unused guy ropes on our tents had been pegged out against the wind, no doubt done by the lads at the nearby checkpoint.



rascamp.jpg
Beach camping at Ras Mohammad


rascamp2.jpg




rassunset.jpg
On the day that the wind sprung up a peculiar mist settled to the west, giving the sunset a white, soft-focus appearance for a while.


rassunset3.jpg



rassunset4.jpg



The camping there is reasonably cheap, three pounds per night per person. You pay one night on arrival, receive a dated ticket, show the ticket when leaving and pay the additional nights. Well, when we left we almost came to a stop to show our tickets and pay our three extra nights, but the attendant gave us a cheery smile and waved us straight on and out. So a pretty economical stay.


We are now in Dahab for Christmas. It has more facilities than Nuweiba which has only one restaurant in town, although is nowhere near as peaceful. But we decided to chance our luck here for a good Christmas dinner as it caters almost entirely for European visitors.
Emails from home tell us of two feet of snow, blocked roads, abandoned cars and people walking through the snow as the only transport available. Weather here today was good enough to spend the afternoon snorkelling one of the reefs just a short walk from our hostal, good coral just beyond the distance reached by most snorkellers, and shoals of colourful fish......... Sorry!
On Boxing Day we'll move on to Nuweiba again, and its port and trust we can find customs extensions for our bikes there.


A Very Merry Christmas to all our Readers.




Posted by Ken Thomas at 09:10 PM GMT
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!



suez1b30.jpg
Three small vessels and one large one - The west side of the Suez Canal - Africa!


suez2b30.jpg
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 01:44 PM GMT
January 07, 2010 GMT
Pyramids



The main experience in visiting the Giza pyramids has nothing to do with the pyramids themselves.



But firstly, many many years ago, I attended a lecture given by a chartered Mechanical Engineer at the Institution of Electrical Engineers in London. The speaker was a serious amateur Egyptologist and his lecture had been published in magazines of the time and carried by BBC radio. He gave an irreverent but comprehensive debunking of all the romantic folklore written about the construction of these things.


A brief synopsis of the lecture was that life in the Nile area at the time of the Pharoes was very good and peaceful, a rich happy healthy society with an abundance of food, materials, knowledge, motivation, and love for its rulers. So the immediate response to a suggestion and desire to build massive pyramids over the tombs of those rulers was to enthusiastically assemble huge armies of willing workers and engineers. They built massive but simple ramps and levers enabling the masons' stone blocks to be lifted to great heights without a huge amount of sweat or muscle power. This was followed by a considerable number of failed and collapsed attempts over a very long time before success was achieved. Success that by virtue of the simple geometry and construction has indeed lasted thousands of years.
The lecturer's angle was that these pyramids were not great feats of human success, but actually fairly mediocre attempts at something pretty simple, albeit on a large scale, with many basic failures along the way.


So I was interested to see the reality.
And, well, yes, when it comes to neat straight and level brick and stone work, those ancient builders didn't appear to be in the top league. With the flat stone cladding long since disappeared (except for sections on a couple of the pyramids), the stonework revealed does seem a bit of a jumble, not many straight lines or vertical joints.


That's not to distract from the magnificence and grandeur of the artifacts that these constructions once housed, including the wonderful 'Sun Boat' now on display in an unfortunately awful building right up against the Great Pyramid of Cheops, completely destroying any semblance of a 'view' on that side of the pyramid.
And anyone expecting to see the view of the Sphinx that used to appear in illustrations of maybe sixty years ago will be seriously disappointed, as it's surrounded by a concrete structure onto which tourists are funnelled and squeezed, completely detracting from the monument itself. The whole thing being supplemented by banks of seating, gantries, and light installations for the nightly son et lumiere show.



But what do you actually experience when you arrive?
An army of hustlers that do their best, under the noses of the 'Tourist and Antiquities Police', to block the road leading to the entrance and persuade independent visitors that vehicles aren't permitted, you must park 'here' or 'there', and you must travel by 'donkey', 'camel' or 'cart' as it's 'ten kilometres to go all the way round'.
Once inside, the police argue and shout amongst themselves as they can't agree about where you can park your bike, so you ignore them and park next to a few local motorbikes by the ticket windows. Some of these bikes, you later find out, belong to the policemen.


At the ticket windows another army of hustlers are fighting to jump the queues where they insist that all the visitors sitting on their camels/in their carts are students and must therefore pay half price, "so hand over a wad of tickets pretty damn quick/I can't wait in this queue all day/no I don't have their student cards/there's something attached to the back of my hand that may help........"


Well, I'm wearing a motorbike jacket with padded elbows, and a helmet, so I get my ticket against the flow of backhanding hustlers but I canít say the same for the other ordinary visitors behind me.
Beyond the ticket inspectors, x-ray machines and metal-detectors - more hustlers call out noisily demanding to see my ticket. Don't know what for, but it looks like another attempt to force hapless visitors to buy a camel ticket/cart ticket to get around the site or a bogus ticket for the inside of a pyramid.
And whatever you do, don't get out a camera if you're in a group of flashily-dressed visitors (like many of the numerous Russian visitors). Yet more hustlers will demand your camera, demand you follow them to the best viewpoint, lead you by the hand, demand you pose while they take your photo, and demand a Pharoe's ransom for return of the camera. I watched as the police umm'ed and arrh'ed about intervening in a couple of disputes, waiting for the discrete baksheesh to appear from the hustler. A completely different attitude to the calm helpfulness of the tourist police in the mayhem of Nuweiba port.


Maybe it would have been better, after all, if all of the pyramids had collapsed........


As some of them didn't collapse, I'll offer my pet observation on beliefs in the after-life held at the time of their construction.
Those Pharoes were convinced that after death they would go on some great journey, so they filled their tombs with all the things necessary to make the voyage safe and comfortable.
I'd like to know exactly how those beliefs came about, how those thoughts and ideas of travel after death came to enter the minds and spirits of the people living in those times. What unknown forms of travel might they have conceived of? Did they have ideas of travel by wondrous means that could only exist in their imaginations? What were they? How futuristic?


Because, the simple fact is, that after their deaths, those bodies did indeed travel by fantastical means. To research laboratories and museums in faraway places, all over a world unknown to those people when they were alive.
Did the modern discoveries of those mummified bodies and subsequent transport to exhibitions in the world's capital cities lead directly, by some sort of pre-ordination, to the beliefs they held thousands of years earlier?
Did they see themselves as early time-capsules, buried to be discovered millenia later by descendants that they imagined might have advanced in ways that they could not concieve of, but at least had a conception that incredible advances in mankind's knowledge were a definite likelihood?
Is it possible, or even certain maybe, for everyone's different beliefs in the after-life to come true, as was the case with these Pharoes? By some means that the believer can never imagine or conceive of?


So many questions - so much time to think about them when you're riding a motorbike to Cape Town!


On New Years Day I opened my 2010 Old Moores Almanac - no answers there. Nor on the road south. The answers can only be found in one place - your own head.


Happy New Year.



Some token photos




giza1.jpg
The Great Pyramid, Greater Cairo beyond


giza2.jpg
While I took this photo, a hustler on a camel demanded I sit on his camel for a better picture. "I know, I take lots of photos." I didn't let go of my camera.



There are nicer places to see nicer pyramids, at Saqqara and Dahshur. Easily reached on the road southwest from Cairo, directly from our campsite, that went through a few unspoilt Nile Valley agricultural villages as a bonus.
Far fewer visitors and hustlers at these places.



stepped1.jpg
Stepped Pyramid at Saqqara
No concrete constructions here to corral the tourists.


bent1.jpg
Bent Pyramid at Dahshur


bent2.jpg
Here, there's no car park as such, as there are hardly any cars and no coaches. So just ride your bike around the periphery, stop where you like. But mind the sections of deep soft sand, not easy to spot.


bent3.jpg
It's definitely the pyramid that's bent, not the bike.


red1.jpg
Red Pyramid at Dahshur


This one is free to go inside, and it's quite an adventure. Climb the crooked stone steps up to the entrance hole about a quarter of the way up the pyramid's side. Then a long descent, bent double, down a 4-foot high tunnel to two huge 40-foot high chambers, the air being four thousand years old and at about 50 deg C.
High up the wall of the second chamber is a tiny opening to a third, 50-foot high chamber, reached by climbing a tall rickety wooden staircase.
Then the long climb down the rickety staircase followed by the much longer climb (bent double) up the 4-foot high tunnel back to the air outside, and the crooked stone steps all the way down to ground level again.
That was yesterday - today my thigh muscles are not keen on helping me to get in and out of my tent.......




Posted by Ken Thomas at 05:12 PM GMT
January 08, 2010 GMT
Mirror - Signal - Manoeuvre



Hooter - Attack - Yield



The spectre of driving on the roads of Cairo seems to have some legendary status. Not surprising, as none of the road rules of the West exist here. The most extreme example I suppose is occasional vehicles driving the wrong way on dual carriageways, at night, with no lights. (It's common during the day). We've seen this enough times to have done it ourselves, in daylight, and with a dirt verge on which we can keep out of the way. It can save a lot of extra mileage.


But there are rules, which seem to be very strictly and constantly adhered to.
Number one is to be constantly 101% alert to everything on the road, everywhere, at all times, and to how everyone else is driving. Everywhere.


Secondly, and lastly, 'mirror - signal - manoeuvre' has absolutely no meaning.
If you want to do any sort of manoeuvre, you will be constantly aware if any other vehicle around you is going to do the same thing, and thus you will constantly know when you can do it, or not.
So, if you're squeezing between lanes two and three (in a car, not necessarily a motorbike) on the four lane ring-road and you see traffic on the shoulder is going faster than you, you will know the precise moment you can cross all the other lanes to join the shoulder traffic. And at the first twitch of your vehicle, all adjacent traffic will yield to your movement, including the faster traffic on the shoulder which will let you smoothly merge. The theory seems pretty simple, but in reality it does feel a little, or maybe a lot, horrendous.


But without a doubt, when riding a motorbike, if you so much as glance in your mirror, there will be a barely-perceptible change in the course of cars alongside as they assume you are about to do something. The readiness to yield to any other vehicle's manoeuvre seems to be the key.
The corollary is that having started some cutting-in or cutting across, you're expected to complete it smartly so the yielding driver has hardly to lift his right foot.


But one thing I can't fathom is the use of the horn. It can mean 'I'm coming through', 'go ahead', 'go faster', 'hello', or even 'how's the grandson?'


In reality, there seems only one manoeuvre that is really dangerous for visitors and needs constant awareness. That is the propensity for local drivers to turn right directly from the left-most lane of the road they are leaving. So keep away from the right hand lanes near turnings on the right, otherwise a stream of cars from the left will encircle you, flying over you if they could, to reach their turning. But again, they seem to know full well you're going straight on and weave around within inches of your front wheel accordingly.


There is also one regular spectacle that goes a little way to convince us that we aren't quite mad to be riding on these roads.
There are quite a few motorbikes on the city roads, all ridden by men. But often they have a woman on the pillion, usually in full smart arabic dress, colourful with decorative head shawl. She usually sits side-saddle, chatting to the driver, oblivious to his constant Hooter-Attack-Yield weaving through the traffic. And it's not unusual to see her carrying a baby as well!


Have A Safe Journey.




Posted by Ken Thomas at 04:42 PM GMT
January 18, 2010 GMT
Footprints In The Saharan Sand



We arrived in Luxor yesterday (Jan 17th) after riding around the Western Desert for the two weeks since leaving Cairo.




Wdesert1L20.jpg
Approaching the White Desert (part of Egypt's Western Desert) after staying a couple of nights in the Bahariya Oasis.
I fitted a camera clamp to the little screen on my bike and took a few 'action' photos while on the move. Most were a blurred smudge.
Caroline in front, Beau behind, 5 litre petrol cans strapped either side of his number plate.


Wdesert2b20.jpg




We camped in the White Desert. So-called because of the large quantity of chalk deposits and white chalk rock formations, carved by the wind into all sorts of fantastic shapes, from a few feet high to fifty feet or more.



acacia.jpg
Our campsite, under 'The Acacia Tree'




And it's a funny thing, but the different shapes seem to be congregated into groups of similar appearance. As these rocks don't have legs, how do they do that?


Thus there is a huge area called The Mushrooms, where all the rocks are carved by the wind into mushroom-like shapes. Nearby is an equally huge area called The Tents, where the chalk rocks resemble nomads' tents. And so on. As the same wind blows through all the White Desert, how did these rocks become grouped together?


More mysteries.


Unknown to me, some considerable time ago on this trip, the bolt holding the chain guide roller in place, immediately behind the gearbox on my bike, fell out.
By some quirk, when the guide roller itself fell out, instead of dropping onto the road it must have lodged somewhere in the area between gearbox, mudguard and swing-arm, where it's had a free ride since. Miles of shaking and bumping over all sorts of tarmac and dirt roads didn't dislodge it, but we are approaching areas of steadily worsening roads where it will certainly be shaken out and lost forever.
So, as I was unaware of this situation, and the guide roller will need to be back in place for those bad roads, what is fate's answer?
Fate - that mysterious force that decides what will happen, whatever we think.


Well, there's a lot of sand in the Sahara, so while camping in the White Desert we thought we'd ride around some of it, taking in all the amazing shapes of the wind-carved chalk rocks on the way.
The chalk, in lots of places, is flat and appears in large areas just above the sand, or in others, just an inch or so below, or elsewhere there's no chalk at all, just sand. So, riding around between the rock structures, the surface constantly changes between firm chalk, firm sand just above the chalk, and soft sand varying between soft and, errr, far too soft for our heavily-loaded bikes.
It was fun trying out these different riding surfaces, and not so much fun pulling the bikes out when stuck in the deep bits. At one point Caroline and Beau decided to stop riding and walk around a bit - a funny thing to do when you're on a motorbike journey - so I carried on down a track not yet explored.



chalkrocksb30.jpg
Caroline and Beau park in the White Desert and decide on some 'walking'.




As confidence built up and the surface became easier to read, I found myself zooming along in third gear.
Then fate stepped in. It steered me across an area of deep sand, leading to old tyre tracks and firm chalk beyond. But via a deep hidden sand-hole far too soft for my momentary lapse of concentration.
The handlebars went one way, I didn't compensate, and fate laid my fully-loaded bike - camping gear and all - down in the sand on its right-hand side, with me completely alone.
Oh dear.


But there's the opportunity here for a test, can I pick the bike up on my own? Under the searing desert sun? Charlie and Ewan style bikes need at least three men to pick them up, or a crane towed behind the support truck.
I removed the spare tyre, some water, a roll bag and the tent, and my helmet and riding jacket. And heave-ho and up she rises. Back to the vertical. So not bad at all.


And what's this in the sand, where the bike has just been resting on its side? Round and black and grubby.
It looks like a chain guide roller!
What an amazing coincidence, someone's lost a roller right where my bike parked itself on its side!
Hold on - let's nip round to the other side of my bike for a look.
Hey! My guide roller's gone! And Iíve found another one right here in the Saharan sand! How did that happen??


The Footprints In The Sand.
(Anyone not familiar with this little story can find it through an internet search if they want).



footprints2.jpg




Just as I thought that I was all alone riding in the Sahara, there was Fate. Deciding that I needed to be told that my roller was no longer attached to my bike, before we reached the bad roads and it fell out altogether. (And it needs to be fixed back in place for the bad roads, to prevent the bumps and jolts from sending the chain striking against the top of the gearbox housing).
So very kindly, Fate sent me hurtling towards the hidden sand hole and laid the bike over on its right so that the black roller fell out of its hidey-hole straight onto the white sand. And of course I immediately saw it once the bike was upright again. How clever is that!


After playing in the sand some more and wearing ourselves out we rode the short distance to Farafra Oasis for the night.



deserttea.jpg
Afternoon tea on the way to Farafra. 'Tent' formation behind.


My bike was on its side shortly before this.
And no, after I realised I'd picked the thing up before taking a photo of it lying down, I was not going to lie it down again just for the camera!



The following morning we set off for the longer ride to the Dakhla Oasis. Tantalisingly, that road skirts the very edge of The Great Sand Sea, truly a legendary area of the Sahara.



sandsea1b30.jpg
At the water's edge of The Great Sand Sea.


sandsea3b30.jpg
Contemplation On The Sand Sea.




At a stop for some photos another amazing coincidence. A rider on a Honda Africa Twin coming from the opposite direction stops for a chat. He departed Cape Town six months ago and is nearing the end of his journey to his home in Alexandria. He introduces himself as none other than Omar Mansour, a regular contributor to the help and advice columns on this HorizonsUnlimited website, and provider of assistance to overland bikers all over Saharan East Africa.
At the side of the road Omar gives us all sorts of useful information for our way ahead. From where to find easy sand dunes at the Dakhla Oasis, to how to plan our first couple of days riding after crossing from Ethiopia into Kenya on the notorious Moyale to Marsabit road. This road is famed for breaking bikes (and cars) in half, requiring a long and expensive lift in the back of a pickup truck to the nearest welders, normally in Nairobi.
So we thank Omar for his advice and keep our fingers crossed.


But fate was still lurking. That evening we stopped in El Qasr, in the Dakhla oasis, and took most of the luggage off the bikes. The next morning we planned to explore the local sand dunes recommended by Omar earlier in the day.
And the next morning - Pow! - Wallop! - Montezuma's Revenge enters stage right with a vengeance. That is, it makes a devastating direct hit on Beau, a glancing blow on Caroline and misses me.
So we have a day of chores instead. In the afternoon when Caroline was back in circulation (but Beau was right out of action the entire day and part of the next), we removed all air filters for cleaning, a nasty sort of job involving rinsing them clean in petrol then soaking them in oil. And fitting the new tyre on Caroline's front wheel.


And would you believe it? Fate is there again.
With old tyre off and new one ready, we pumped some air into the inner tube just to check. What's that hissing? A tiny hole! And a check in the old tyre revealed quite a length of steel pin protruding inside. The removal of tyre and tube must have just pushed it enough to penetrate right through the 4mm thick rubber of this super-heavy-duty inner tube.
And would you believe it? Mohamad, the ebullient owner of the hotel we are staying in, arrives and introduces his friend Mohammad, owner of the tyre repair shop across the road. "Mohammad will repair that very good, with heated vulcanizing machine. Better than your patch and rubber glue. He does excellent job for my guests!"
So Mohammad of the tyre repair shop took over and did it all for us.
And that was interesting in a way. Because he had never seen a tyre security bolt (or 'rim-lock' if you're younger) before. But dealt with it quite expertly.
The last time that happened to me was in northern Finland, also on a Serow (my old one) and the tyre man there had never seen a security bolt before either. He wanted to remove it altogether, said the tyre couldn't be put back on if it stayed there. I ended up having to fit the tyre myself in his garage.
Finland 0 : Egypt 1



elqasr1b30.jpg
The day after fitting Caroline's new tyre, with Beau still not well, Caroline and I explore the 'easy' dunes near El Qasr.


elqasr2b30.jpg


But I decide in the end that our bikes with little engines, road gearing and heavy luggage are not good, or even no good, for riding in soft sand. There's insufficient torque at the rear wheel to get moving without putting the clutch in serious danger of destruction. Even when we fit our smaller gearbox sprockets later in the journey.
And even riding down these little dunes in first gear, full throttle was needed to maintain momentum through the sand.
Perversely, the local riders (Chinese 250cc bikes are tremendously popular in the towns and villages of Egypt) get around on the sand with little trouble. They have lots of experience, and road tyres, which spin easily in the sand saving the clutch on take-off. Our knobblies grip so well that no spin is possible. Even on full throttle the engine stalls with a worrying burst of pinking.



So we are now in Luxor, seeing some sights, but mainly preparing for the long haul between the Egypt/Sudan border at Aswan, and Nairobi. Petrol, water and internet will be in short supply. Beau now has ten litres of petrol cans strapped to his bike, which we tested in the Western Desert. We think that will be enough.
We also need to jetison some stuff - that is, some weight. What stuff we don't yet know, but stuff will have to go......


Also, I needed to repair my chain guide roller. I unbolted the roller from Beau's bike, which is the same, and found that I had not only lost the retaining nut and bolt but also the simple ball bearing inside.
We are staying at a camp site in Luxor popular with long-distance overland travellers and the owner is used to travellers preparing their vehicles for the difficult stretch to Nairobi. I asked if he knew of a place that could do a repair. He consulted with his son, a lengthy conversation in Arabic, and said finally, "Jump on the back of his bike, he'll take you to a good place!"
Well, having been pillion riding around Cairo for Caroline's new tyre, Luxor promised to be easy-peasy.
We zoomed along for maybe a couple of miles zig-zagging around horse-and-carts and stopped outside a typical (that is, decrepit) lock-up, housing a small "we do anything" mechanic's workshop. Just like my garage but with an enormous lathe in the back and an enormous pillar drill in the front.
The owner examined Beau's roller, the remains of mine, and on dismantling the bearing inside Beau's, made that Egyptian "pppppszzz" sound - that you hear a lot and that can mean anything.
He mounted his bicycle, signalled "wait here" and pedalled off down the lane.


Presently he returned, fished some bits out of his pocket, and I found out what "pppppszzz" means.
It means, "This is pretty crude, no wonder it fell apart, this bearing just isn't up to the job, it needs a proper sealed journal pressed into it, I'll get two, one to replace your lost one and one to replace this inadequate thing in your son-in-law's guide roller."
And that's what he did!
Followed by his machinist making up a new spacer to replace my lost one and producing replacement nut, bolt and washers out of the company's junk box.


All for three UK pounds, and we have decent bearing journals now for the rough road ahead.



roller1.jpg
The remains of my roller, left. Beau's roller with bicycle-wheel-style ball bearing, right.
(That's an ashtray behind holding them in the right pose)


roller2.jpg
Smart new sealed journals in both rollers, mine all repaired on the left.


roller3.jpg
And all fitted back in place.




So our plan now, should internet not be available for a while, and just to make Fate laugh, is to ride down the Nile road to Aswan in a couple of day's time, and take the Monday (25th Jan) ferry that crosses Lake Nasser and the Sudanese border to Wadi Halfa, passing Abu Simbel on the way. The ferry is a once-a-week affair, taking 18 hours. But vehicles go on a separate barge which can take up to three days.
Thence our road follows the Nile and its villages to Khartoum, continuing onwards across the border with Ethiopia and on to Addis Ababa.
There should be internet somewhere in that lot.


Not only that, but 25th January is Burns night. Let's hope there's a well-prepared Scottish contingent on the ferry to show all the Egyptians, Sudanese and English a thing or two.
Please post a haggis to McCrankpin, c/o Wadi Halfa Ferry Terminal, Aswan, Egypt.




Posted by Ken Thomas at 05:57 PM GMT
January 19, 2010 GMT
On Looking After Us Foreigners



On a different note, our route around the Western Desert took us through El Kharga and then onto the direct Luxor road, only recently opened to foreigners.



Years ago there were fatal attacks on archaeological sites in both these towns with devastating effects on the tourist industry, which still hasn't recovered. Many hotels and camp sites are pretty empty and appear to be struggling to survive.
So as we approached this general area the present security situation started to become apparent to us.


Firstly, in Farafra, once we had parked up outside our hotel another biker arrived. A Swiss rider going in the opposite direction to us, Cape Town to Switzerland. He was on an old Ducati air-cooled 750 with Cagiva Capo Nord bodywork, tank and luggage. His frame had broken on the dreaded northern Kenya road - he showed us with some pride the emergency welding and repair struts. But he did admit to tackling that road at about 120 kph - he had to be back in Switzerland by 2nd February!
So there were now four bikes outside the hotel and a police car cruised slowly past taking a good look.
In the morning a tourist policeman arrived to ask the usual questions we get asked at the numerous checkpoints between towns: Nationality? Where headed? Number on the Egyption number plate?
And in addiion, what time will we be departing?


In El Qasr, after camping in the White Desert and now installed in our hotel, the ebullient Mohamad walked through the bar carrying a big pile of blankets. "As I have tourists here now, I have to make sure the police will comfortable. They guard the hotel overnight whenever there are foreigners staying."
Because of the upset stomach situation we stayed there three nights, so on the second night, just for a change, the armed night policeman set up his blankets in the back yard right next to our parked bikes. What service!


In the next town, Kharga, there seemed to be only one budget hotel. But with nowhere but the dingy dark street outside to park the bikes. So we tried a couple of more expensive hotels. Each time, once we had decided it was too pricey, and with foreigners already booked in, the on-duty tourist policeman asked us which hotel we were going to try next. So then we realised we needn't worry about parking outside the cheap place. We told the policeman we were going to the Wahid hotel, booked ourselves in there, and sure enough when we came down to the entrance foyer to go off looking for a restaurant, there was the armed policeman installed for the night, within sight of our bikes.
No worries!


And now, at our camp here in Luxor that always has foreigners staying, there's a policeman permanently stationed on site, taking care of us all and our vehicles. In fact, as the food is so good (the owner is also an expert chef), there always seems to be quite a few policemen here at mealtimes!


But all in all it's a little sad, seeing a wonderfully friendly country so desperate to protect its tourists and regain its reputation that we almost have personal bodyguards in those areas where visitors are few and far between.
You'll be Welcome in Egypt!




Posted by Ken Thomas at 03:11 PM GMT
January 22, 2010 GMT
Aswan



We are now just a ferry ride from Sudan, having ridden down the east bank of the Nile to Aswan and a typical (grubby) small hotel in town.



I say 'just', but there are a few things to do.
Find the ferry ticket office to start the process.
Find the Court House to obtain papers confirming we have no fines to pay.
Find police office to return number plates and obtain receipts.
Find the place where we get the number plate money back.
Find the ferry port (about eight miles out of town).
Find the passport control.
Find the customs office for Carnet processing.
Find the barge for vehicles.
Load the bikes.
Find a taxi back to the hotel.
Etc etc.


But first, a bit of a disappointment with the grubby hotel, as we were looking forward to staying for four days at a well-recommended campsite where all the overland travellers stay, 'Adam's Home'.
We met quite a few of them at the Luxor campsite and in the Western Desert. Not least the 'Tour D'Afrique', a group of fifty fairly serious cyclists pedalling from Cairo to Cape Town. They arrived in Cairo just before we departed. (They'll arrive in Cape Town months before us!)
As the ferry is a once-a-week sailing we found that we were all aiming for the same Monday departure and were looking forward to gathering together at Adam's Home here in Aswan for the last few days in Egypt.
But no. Adam's Home is closed. The reason isn't clear but reports on the grapevine suggest there was something amiss with his licence and the police closed him down.


We are now intrigued as to what the crossing will be like with the fifty cyclists aboard plus their considerable support crew and vehicle contingent. Maybe foreigners will outnumber locals which will probably be pretty unusual.


On our ride down the Nile road, strangely, we didn't see much of the river. Where it is close to the road, there's often a dense ribbon of palm trees between river and road blocking the view. But we did have a few magnificent glimpses of the great waterway.
Mainly, the scenes on the road were of the sugar-cane harvest in full swing. Massive trucks, tiny horse carts, tractors pulling three or four trailers, and railway trains large and small filled the way south, stacked high and wide with sugar cane overflowing onto the road and other passing vehicles. The narrow-gauge trains pulling maybe thirty wagons travelled a shade faster than jogging pace. Where the tracks crossed the roads, dozens of locals ran alongside, each one taking a firm hold of the ends of the dangling canes (about 10 feet long and two inches diameter), and dug their heels in firmly hoping to pull the canes from the wagon as it trundled on. Each cane, after passing twice through a sturdy steel mangle, will yield a few litres of cane juice, sold in juice bars all over Egypt.


Our route took us past Edfu, so we crossed the Nile there to enter the town and visit the Edfu Temple. Billed in the guide books as the most elaborate and best-preserved ancient temple in Egypt.
And it was. Far overshadowing those at Luxor and Karnak which we had viewed a few days before.


"Old Stones Fatigue" is setting in. As one of the other overlanders said, "We want animals now."




Posted by Ken Thomas at 06:23 PM GMT
January 23, 2010 GMT
Knock Knock



Now we are knocking on Sudan's door.



This morning we arrived at the ferry ticket office to find a couple of travellers already there who we had met previously in Cairo. A few minutes later two more couples appeared.
Mr Salah, the ticket manager, explained that the Tour D'Afrique has filled a ferry and vehicle barge, so there will now be two of each sailing for Sudan. He then dispatched us to the traffic court, followed by the police office.
"When all is done, return here. One ferry will depart tomorrow (Sunday), the other on Monday. When you come back I should know which ferry you will be on."
So our little band of three motorbikes and three overland trucks weave through the roads of Aswan to the traffic court, buried in the dirt-paved back-streets.


There, an impromptu courtroom had been set up on the pavement, two chairs and two high stools as tables. Obviously we were expected. We all handed over our passports and Egyptian driving licenses which were checked for dates, then photocopied at a kiosk across the road.



court1b30.jpg
Itinerant travellers mill about outside the traffic court awaiting judgement.


court2b30.jpg
Closer view of temporary court room, two officials examine the evidence




Then the court deliberated for an hour to determine if any of us had outstanding fines, which gave the local teahouse, bakery and supermarket plenty of time to sell us everything we needed for the wait, and for the ferry journey.
Two more overland trucks arrived to join us and we all received little certificates to say we hadn't misbehaved.


So then it was three motorbikes and five trucks that drove in convoy through more Aswan streets to the traffic police office, where our certificates, licenses and number plates were all exchanged for yet another piece of paper.


Lastly we all arrived back at Mr. Salah's office where we paid for our passenger tickets and he announced whose vehicles will be on the Sunday barge, and whose on Monday's.
And as far as I could work out, despite the unusually large number of foreign passengers, there is still only one passenger ferry, on Monday.
This was reinforced when he told Caroline, Beau and me (our bikes are on Sunday's barge) that a good way to reach the port on Monday is the 8:00am train from Aswan station direct to the dockside.
"The ferry doesn't depart until the afternoon, but if you leave it until noon to board you may find all the passenger space already occupied. Take the train and you'll be one of the first on board."


The total timescore for obtaining our tickets? A swift Egyptian four hours.


Now we are repacking, keeping with us everything we need for the next four days (the barges are regularly one or two days late arriving in Wadi Halfa, sometimes more), and stacking everything else on the bikes. The passenger ferry itself has a published 17-hour journey time, arriving late morning on Tuesday.
Tomorrow we have to be at the dockside at 10am for the purchase of vehicle tickets, customs clearance, passport clearance and loading.
Tentatively, Caroline asks how long that might take.
"Maybe one hour, maybe five hours. Customs is like a secret society, I never know how long they take!"


With luggage re-organied as much as we can for now, I venture into a barber shop next to our hotel (which, handily, is right outside the railway station). My last haircut was also with an Egyptian barber in Nuweiba, so I reckon I'm an expert with them now.
But no.
He has a TV on, showing Manchester United v Hull City. All double-dutch to me.
A friend of the barber comes in, who speaks pretty good English, and we go through the usual things about where you are from, where going, and so on.
So he asks which football team I support. My usual answer is just to say I live near Crystal Palace.
So he points to the TV screen and says "What do you think of @#*@*#?" (Name I didn't recognise).
I said as much and he looks surprised.
"Look!" he says again, finger pressing against the screen. "He's Egyptian! Plays for Hull! One of their best players!"
Oh dear....... I fail the International Football Test again - and this time in a barber shop!


The adventure continues.




Posted by Ken Thomas at 07:04 PM GMT
February 17, 2010 GMT
Bike Photos



For anyone interested in close-ups, here are some photos of the bikes loaded up, in Sinai, after three months of juggling and jiggling all the luggage:




Beau's TTR250 'Open Enduro'


beaufrontl.jpg



beaufrontr.jpg



beaurearl.jpg



beaurearr.jpg




Caroline's XT225 Serow
(Fitted with 'Raid' tank).


carolinefrontl.jpg



carolinefrontr.jpg



carolinerearl.jpg



carolinerearr.jpg




Ken's TTR250 'Blue tank' model
(With large green tank).


kenfrontl.jpg



kenfrontr.jpg



kenrearl.jpg



kenrearr.jpg





But here in Khartoum our luggage is all being re-arranged.
I've fitted the new rear tyre, so I'm not carrying an extra one anymore.
But have a 10-litre water carrier on top of the box instead. And have got rid of the tank bag, which was more trouble than it was worth.


Beau has two 5-litre petrol cans strapped behind the panniers.


Caroline has the smallest engine, so is aiming to have the smallest amount of luggage.


And we still have to reduce weight somehow before the Kenya border.


We won't know exactly how the luggage will look until the morning we leave Khartoum. For instance, I had a lot of stuff strapped onto the spare tyre on my bike. All that's got to go somewhere else, or in the bin.


So photos of newly packed bikes sometime after leaving here.




Posted by Ken Thomas at 10:36 AM GMT
 


HU DVD Summer Special!

Now that summer is here, get On the Road! Take 30% off the Achievable Dream - On the Road! 2-DVD set until August 31 only. Get On the Road! Learn the tips to staying healthy, happy and secure on your motorcycle adventure!

Our veteran travellers share their tips (and great stories) for staying healthy, happy and secure on your motorcycle adventure.

"A fantastic, informative and inspirational DVD."

"It's brilliant - thank you very much!"

Check it out at the HU Store! Remember to use Coupon Code 'ONTHEROAD' on your order when you checkout.


Renedian Adventures

What others say about HU...

"I just wanted to say thanks for doing this and sharing so much with the rest of us." Dave, USA

"Your website is a mecca of valuable information and the DVD series is informative, entertaining, and inspiring! The new look of the website is very impressive, updated and catchy. Thank you so very much!" Jennifer, Canada

"...Great site. Keep up the good work." Murray and Carmen, Australia

"We just finished a 7 month 22,000+ mile scouting trip from Alaska to the bottom of Chile and I can't tell you how many times we referred to your site for help. From how to adjust your valves, to where to stay in the back country of Peru. Horizons Unlimited was a key player in our success. Motorcycle enthusiasts from around the world are in debt to your services." Alaska Riders

contest pic

10th Annual HU Travellers Photo Contest is on now! This is an opportunity for YOU to show us your best photos and win prizes!

NEW! HU 2014 Adventure Travel T-shirts! are now available in several colors! Be the first kid on your block to have them! New lower prices on synths!

HU 2014 T-shirts now in!

Check out the new Gildan Performance cotton-feel t-shirt - 100% poly, feels like soft cotton!


What turns you on to motorcycle travel?


Global Rescue, WORLDwide evacuation services for EVERYONE

Global Rescue is the premier provider of medical, security and evacuation services worldwide and is the only company that will come to you, wherever you are, and evacuate you to your home hospital of choice. Additionally, Global Rescue places no restrictions on country of citizenship - all nationalities are eligible to sign-up!


New to Horizons Unlimited?

New to motorcycle travelling? New to the HU site? Confused? Too many options? It's really very simple - just 4 easy steps!

Horizons Unlimited was founded in 1997 by Grant and Susan Johnson following their journey around the world on a BMW R80 G/S motorcycle.

Susan and Grant Johnson Read more about Grant & Susan's story

Membership - help keep us going!

Horizons Unlimited is not a big multi-national company, just two people who love motorcycle travel and have grown what started as a hobby in 1997 into a full time job (usually 8-10 hours per day and 7 days a week) and a labour of love. To keep it going and a roof over our heads, we run events (22 this year!); we sell inspirational and informative DVDs; we have a few selected advertisers; and we make a small amount from memberships.

You don't have to be a Member to come to an HU meeting, access the website, the HUBB or to receive the e-zine. What you get for your membership contribution is our sincere gratitude, good karma and knowing that you're helping to keep the motorcycle travel dream alive. Contributing Members and Gold Members do get additional features on the HUBB. Here's a list of all the Member benefits on the HUBB.


Books & DVDs

amazon

All the best travel books and videos listed and often reviewed on HU's famous Books page. Check it out and get great travel books from all over the world.


Motorcycle Express for shipping and insurance!

Motorcycle Express

MC Air Shipping, (uncrated) USA / Canada / Europe and other areas. Be sure to say "Horizons Unlimited" to get your $25 discount on Shipping!
Insurance - see: For foreigners traveling in US and Canada and for Americans and Canadians traveling in other countries, then mail it to MC Express and get your HU $15 discount!

Story and photos copyright ©

Sorry, you need a Javascript enabled browser to get the email address and dates. You can contact Horizons Unlimited at the link below. Please be sure to tell us WHICH blog writer you wish to contact.

All Rights Reserved.

Contact the author:

Editors note: We accept no responsibility for any of the above information in any way whatsoever. You are reminded to do your own research. Any commentary is strictly a personal opinion of the person supplying the information and is not to be construed as an endorsement of any kind.

Hosted by: Horizons Unlimited, the motorcycle travellers' website!
You can have your story here too - click for details!