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18 April 2009

Did you know – Mount Sinai and this region in Egypt is part of a group of mountains in the Middle East with great religious significance.  Mt Sinai is the place where Moses received the 10 Commandments.  Moses also came upon a burning bush that was, miraculously, unconsumed by its own flames. A voice speaking out of the fire commanded him to lead his people out of bondage in Egypt and return with them to the mountain.

Against our better judgment, we decided to go on the slow boat from Aqaba to Nuweiba.  Not really out of choice, but more to do with the fast ferry not running on Saturdays.  The people at the ticket office told Alex and Katie (the couple from England who have been traveling with us for a little while) that the ferry was suppose to leave at 4pm, and we had to get there at 2pm.  Not wanting to be left behind, we decided to get there just after 1pm, only to be told that there is no ferry at 4pm, but there is one at midnight.  Bugger!!!!  We had some of our papers stamped at the port already, so didn’t want to take the chance to try and explain to the guards that we want to leave and come back later.  We decided in the end that we would stick it out there and did a bit of re-arranging in the car and had a bit of a clean out.  Midnight came and went and we eventually got on the ferry at 3am.  We were the very last car to go on (maybe they wanted us t be the first to get out when we get to Nuweiba…who knows.

The ferry wasn’t too full.  I think they sold about ¾ of the 1,200 available seats.  It still wasn’t a very nice trip though.  People were lying everywhere, trying to get a bit of sleep.  We found a little spot for the 2 of us in the restaurant where we had to long seats to ourselves.  It wasn’t long though for the place to get full as well and we ended up having this obnoxious Arab having a conversation with his friend who was only a meter or so away from them at about 100 decibels.  We tried to give the ‘hairy eyeball’ a few times, but it was like water of a ducks back.  We both managed to get a couple of hours sleep eventually after some soothing music on our Ipods.  It wasn’t long though before it was time for sunrise, which meant it was time for prayer session of the day.  True to form, people had alarms going off on the mobiles with the prayer call and it was played at high volume over the ‘PA’ system, even before the ‘sparrow’s fart’.  It wasn’t even 5am yet…

We did eventually make it to Nuweiba, after 4 or 5 hours on the boat, and it was time to face the dreaded Egyptian customs.  We very quickly latched on to a Tourist Police officer who started the process for us.  We knew that we had to get insurance (something only applicable to foreign cars, a most probably a useless piece of paper), get some registration papers, some Egyptian number plates and photocopies of a lot of things and have our chassis number checked (the first time on our whole trip).  We weren’t sure in what order though.  The tourist police officer did a great job though and after about 2 hours, a much lighter pocket (which is quite normal for Egypt) and walking back and forth between all the little building about 10 times, we had our new number plates, our Carnet was stamped (with 3 months validity instead of the normal one month) and our registration papers.

Things didn’t go so well for Alex and Katie.  One of the first things they check with your papers is to see that the chassis number is the same as your Carnet and registration papers.  Unfortunately for Alex and Katie, they failed miserably in all aspects of this.  For some reason, this was something that neither Alex nor Katie checked properly.  So our 2-hour record crossing turned out to be a bit longer in the end.  We couldn’t just leave them there and provided a bit of moral support.  They did eventually manage to get the car in after a bit of negotiation and help from a very nice Syrian guy we met who acted as the translator for them.

We decided to go straight from Nuweiba to a small town called Dahab.  This town is a few hours away from Sharm El Sheikh which is where we use to go and dive.  We found a very nice little place about 30 meters from the sea and it was very cheap.  It was definitely time for us to relax and we stayed there for almost a week, probably the longest we’ve been in one spot since we started our trip.  This was definitely a first for us.  I normally get bored really quickly, but I was so happy to just sit around and relax, do a bit of reading, go for walks etc.  We desperately wanted to dive there as well, but we want to dive in Zanzibar too.  We eventually decided to save our diving money for Zanzibar…lets hope is will be even better than the Red Sea.  We also decided to get a little souvenir for Pumbaa.  We decided to get a custom ‘tattoo’ from one of the local artist.  A very nice desert and camel scene from Egypt.

The little place we stayed at was right on the beach.  During one of the days where we just sat around, someone stopped and looked at the car.  We saw a bit of discussion going on between him and his girlfriend.  It turned out that he read our site a couple of weeks ago, and they also live in Cairo.  James and Lee are both teachers and have been living in Cairo for a while.  They have very kindly invited us to stay with them for a few days when we get to Cairo.  Definitely an offer we will take up.

We eventually had to drag ourselves away from Dahab.  We also wanted to (after being to the Sinai 4 times before) go and visit Mount Sinai on the way to Cairo and see the sunrise.  It was definitely worth the effort of getting up at 2am and walking for 3 hours to get to the top for sunrise.  We were lucky, because it wasn’t that busy.  There were only about 60 or 70 people there, compared to high season of maybe 400 people.  The walk down was a lot easier and also a lot quicker.

We spent the next afternoon and following morning at the man-made wonder, which is the Suez Canal.  It’s the same as so many other port towns, a bit seedy in most parts, but also nice in other parts.  We found a place (parking area) to stay close to one of the ports.  As we later found out, it was a part of the town that was a bit seedier than other parts.  There were loads or syringes and needles lying around, a result of a big heroin problem.  We had to be careful not to step on any of these.  Not all about Suez is bad; we spent the afternoon sitting by the canal, watching the big container ships and oil and gas tanker sail by.  There were hundreds of local people around having picnics on the grassy areas (this was in the middle of the week – not sure if it was a holiday or not), and we very quickly became the center of attention again.  Lots of children around and also a lot of girls who wanted to speak to Mandy and Katie.  They all want to touch you too, mainly shaking your hand and they like to take photos of us on the mobile phones.  It’s definitely the sight of a woman who is not covered up – something that is very unusual to them.  At least we know now what it would be like to be a C-list celebrity.

Next stop is the chaos that is Cairo.  Fingers crossed that we survive it!!!  Until next time.
 

05 May 2009

Did you know – The Great Pyramid of Khufu is the oldest pyramid in Giza and the largest in Egypt. It stood 146.5 meters tall when it was completed around 2600BC.  The Sphinx (known in Arabic as Abu al-Hol which means Father of terror) is carved almost entirely from one piece of limestone, a leftover piece from the carving of the stones from the great Pyramid in Giza.

We made it to Cairo in one piece thank goodness – the drivers are a bit mad here, especially on the motorways.  There are really no rules.  It’s a bit of a free for all most of the time.  You very quickly learn to use your hooter a lot.  Our strategy was to stay in one lane the whole time, the center lane.  What we would think of as the slow lane in normal circumstances becomes the parking lane, the lane for donkey carts, the lane people would use to go the other way and generally just a dangerous place.  People constantly hoot at you,undertaking at lightning speeds and crawling in the fast lane.  Anyway, luckily we had a waypoint on our‘Tracks4Africa’ GPS software for the campsite we were heading to.  The campsite is about 10km outside of the city center and it was very easy to find with the help of the GPS.  The campsite is called Selma camp.  It’s ok there, nothing too fancy.  There was a bit of shade for part of the morning.  The showers weren’t too great,a lot of mosquitoes around.  We did meet some more very nice people here too. Jon and Linda from Norwich in the UK are traveling around Egypt and the Middle East in their very luxurious motor home.  Very cool indeed, literally speaking, with the nice air-conditioning there.

One of our first tasks was to get our visas for Ethiopia and Sudan.  It wasn’t too difficult in the end (you can read about the procedures in our visa section if you’re interested).  We’ve heard of people trying to apply for the Sudanese visas in London and it takes them 6-8 weeks to get it.  They sometimes don’t even get it the first time they apply for it either. It is definitely a lot easier here in Cairo, but oh so expensive at US$100 per application.

We did a bit of sightseeing in Cairo, but not that much,because we spent a lot of our time there at embassies etc.  We went to the Giza pyramids and the Sphinx,which was really cool.  They are absolutely huge.  We went into one of them, but a bit of a disappointment. There was nothing to see inside and it was really cramped and very hot and humid.  We spent most of our time just walking around town trying to take in the chaos.  You very quickly get fed-up with all the attention of people who want you to buy something and the whistles and hissing, even though Mandy did cover up.  Most of the Arab men around here are not really that nice.  They all seem to be very ‘pervy’ and all they do is stare at the foreign woman and they just want your money.

We managed to meet up with James and Lee while we were in Cairo, and stayed with them for a few nights too.  It was really nice of them to invite us to stay with them for a few days.  We also decided to stay in Cairo until the weekend.  James and Lee offered to show us some of the local deserts around Cairo on the weekend.  They also invited some of their friends with.  I think we were six fourbys in the end and also 2 bikes.  We spent the day playing in the sand and on the dunes. I was really glad we did some sand driving, because my sand driving skills weren’t too good.  It was the ideal opportunity to push the boundaries a bit.  Driving around with a fourby weighing almost 3 tons on the sand is a bit more difficult than an empty one. It wasn’t long before we had to drop the tyre pressures to around 20psi.  I must say though, I’m very proud of Pumbaa, we managed to get up some fairly big dunes, even with 180 liter of diesel and 65 liter of water on board.  We also did manage to get stuck, but a little bit of digging by everyone and a good effort by all the girls who did the pushing while the guys stood around with beers in hand giving orders. It was a quick recovery, and 5 minutes later we were on our way again.  It is amazing how soft the sand can be.  It even amazes me more how Pumbaa coped with it all.

We spent one night with James, Lee and their friends in the desert before we went our own way to the western deserts and the oasis towns.  Alex and Katie (our English friends in the Landrover) had to go back to Cairo.  They were still waiting for a new car registration document from England.  We spent our first night in the oasis town of Bahariya and bumped into Jon and Linda again.  They seem to have a small problem with their fuel tank.  They have a small leak where one of the sensors goes in.

We were planning to go to Siwa, which is close to the Libyan border.  You unfortunately need to have a permit and a guide for a stretch of road of about 400km.  The permit isn’t the problem, but you have to pay for your guide.  We didn’t really want to do this, so we decided to hang around to see if we could follow someone else.  We decided instead to head to the Black and White deserts.  The place we were staying at had a group of tourists going that way with local tour company,so we decided to follow them instead. We had a very nice night in the white deserts, but it was very windy and little did we know that we had some really hot and windy weather coming our way.  The group left very early the next morning (about 6:30am).  We therefore had to find our own way back out.  It wasn’t too bad.  It was tricky to find the right tracks most of the times.  In the end we decided not to follow the tracks, but rather go our own way.  We knew were the road was and knew which direction to go in.  This did however mean that we will be driving ‘blind’. It was time to drop the tyre pressures again, because the sand was very soft in places.

We made it out of there, no problems.  The worst was still to come though.  It wasn’t long before we realised that it was going to be a long, VERY HOT day. We had a very strong headwind most of the time, with sand blowing all over the place.  Our temperature gauge inside the car was saying that it was 42 degrees, and that was in the shade.  If you stick your arms out the window, you can only leave it there for about 15 seconds before you had to bring it back in.  It was like a very powerful, very hot hairdryer.  Pumbaa didn’t like it too much either.  The engine temp did creep up every now and again on hilly sections.  We couldn’t use the air-con either, because that meant that the engine temp would rise again.  It was a very hot and uncomfortable day, and it was very hot at night too.  Luckily we only had one day of this extreme weather.  It was down to below 40 the following day again.

Next stop will be Luxor. Looking forward to seeing some nice temples and tombs.  We’ve heard that the Arab men are even worse there.  Lets wait and see.
 
18 May 2009

Did you know – Of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World, which includes the following – Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Statue of Zeus at Olympia,Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, Collosus of Rhodes,Lighthouse of Alexandria. the Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt is the only one still standing today.

We found a nice campsite in Luxor called Rezeiky camp.  It is basically the car park area of ahotel, but there is a pool, some trees with lots of shade and the facilities are good too.  I must say, we’re so glad we bought the ‘Tracks4Africa’ Gps maps. They are very useful and the maps are really comprehensive too.  The coverage of the roads are good and there is a lot of local info on there about hotels, camps, police checkpoints and even water wells in some areas.

Luxor isn’t that big, but is on both parts of the Nile.  We stayed on the east bank, close to the very impressive Karnak temple and Luxor museum.  We stayed in Luxor for a few days, doing about one thing a day,because it was starting to get hot again.   The highlight for us in Luxor was definitely Karnak temple.  The Valley of the Kings was a bit of a disappointed for us.  The entrance fee is very high, like everywhere else, (Egyptian pound 80 per person) and then it’s an additional 100 per person to see the Ramses Vi and Tutenkamun tombs.  All the other nice tombs were closed for some obscure reason.  It was all in all a bit disappointing to be honest. You also not allowed to take any photos inside.

Jon and Linda (who are traveling in a motor home) were also staying at the camp.  We had another few good nights with them before we decided it was time to head off again.  It was almost time for our last stop in Egypt, the border town of Aswan in the south. The famous Abu Simbel is also close (used in a very loose sense, close being about 300km one-way) to Aswan.  We decided to travel there with Jon and Linda because you have to travel in a convoy with armed police.  We weren’t particularly looking forward to it, because we’ve heard some stories of the convoys traveling as if it’s a big race. We on the other hand are more accustomed to travel at a very leisurely speed of no more than 80km/h.  The convoy wasn’t big.  It was only 6 vehicles.  Jon and I decided to stay at the back, with one bus behind them, and we decided to stick to our 80km/h.  The bus was tailgating Jon a bit.  I think there were times where the bus was about 2 or 3 meters away from them, we stuck to our guns and they soon realised that we are going at our own speed.  Abu Simbel is very nice.  It’s just a pity they had to move it from the original place about 100 meter away – on the other hand, a good thing they did move it because it would be covered by Lake Nasser.  We stayed there the night before getting the convoy back to Aswan the following day.  The really frustrating thing about going to Abu Simbel though is that you are only 60km away from Wadi Halfa in Sudan.  There is a land border, but it’s only used by military at the moment.  This meant  we had to go back to Aswan of course and travel the 300km again in a few days time on the ferry.

We stayed at Adam’s Home in Aswan (about 7km out of town).  Not the best place we’ve stayedat, but pleasant, nevertheless.  Adam (a local Nubian) is very nice though, and very hospitable.  He really made us feel very welcome.  He also told us of a very good way to eatour dates.  Simply boil some milk and let the dates soak for a few hours or overnight…simply delicious.  It was also our last night with Jon and Linda because it was time for them to head north again (even thought we tried to persuade them to come with us to Sudan). We weren’t going to be alone for long though.  Alex and Katie were on their way from Luxor to meet up with us again.

We stayed in Aswan for about 6 days, relaxing a bit and ingeneral not doing too much.  We did goon a very nice felucca ride on the Nile. It was generally just far too hot to do anything.  It was in the mid 40’s everyday and for thisvery reason we deiced to go the McDonalds (yes, that’s right) everyday to use the free wi-fi and to have a nice chocolate milkshake.

We will be going to Wadi Halfa tomorrow.  We managed to get first class tickets forthe ferry (this is only a cabin instead of sleeping on the deck) and the cars will follow on the barge to get there one day later.  Nervous times ahead…