We sailed into the port of Aswan the next morning at 07h00. Passports were handed over to all, but me, and then everybody stormed for one small door – chaos. I just calmly sat and waited, the police soldiers on board would maintain order. After a while the police brought the stampede to a halt and allowed me, the only foreigner, to exit. I was still without my passport, now what? Outside I was told that my passport was already at customs and led to the office, where my stamped passport was handed to me thirty minutes later. All my papers were in order, since an Egyptian visa is another one you can only obtain in your country of origin.
I was told that my bike would only arrive in two days and taken to a hotel, about 20km from the harbour, which was also the one in my travel books. All the traditional food I had eaten were beginning to affect my stomach, so I opted for a triple hamburger from the MacDonald’s across the street and happily feasted on it beside the Nile. This was during the fall of President Mubarak and there wasn’t a tourist in sight, leaving all the large passenger boats empty. The only opportunity for a sailing trip were the camel coaches, which meant that every second person accosted you on the street with a deal. After a bit of wheeling and dealing, I booked myself a seat. Afterwards I was told that the price didn’t include the services of his partner, which gave rise to a whole lot of arguing and ended in me refusing to pay more than the agreed-upon amount and us parting on bad terms.
The agent came by the next day and we went to collect my bike that had fortunately arrived on this side without damage and we quickly took care of the paperwork, When undertaking this kind if trip, you are obliged to also obtain a carnet (i.e. passport) for your bike by depositing an amount equal to its value with the AA, which is returned to you when you’re back in your own country. This prevents you from selling the bike in another country and at every border post customs tears out a page. Countries like Egypt and Syria, however, require a deposit of 200%, which meant that for a bike worth R80 000 I had to put down R160 000. They issued me my Egypt number plates, both for the front and back, and since there was only space on the back, I packed the other into my backpack. While doing this, an Arab stood chatting with me and once again warned against travelling through Syria. The same man also managed to get customs officials to let me through when they questioned my papers at the border gate. I waved my thanks to him on the other side and set off for the hotel, from where I would travel to the historic town of Luxor, Valley of the Queen and Valley of the King. I remained rather apprehensive about this leg of the journey, given the two South Africans’ bad experience.
Outside of Aswan the next morning, on my way to Luxor, I encountered my first police road block at the start of the highway. I was told that travelling into Cairo along the highway was unsafe, since it is not yet under guard, and would have to take the old route. Then, to my surprise, they invited me to lunch and I wondered what made me so much more special than other tourists? I lost my fearful and negative attitude right there and started looking forward to exploring this country on my bike. After lunch, I turned back to Luxor, weaving in and out of this town and that one and in and out of heavy traffic, slowing my pace to a crawl. An hour later I saw a turn-off for the highway and realised that if I still wanted to reach Luxor today, I would have to take the risk, the fall of Mubarak or not. It was also the first time since Namibia that I could do 120km/h again. Traffic was light and I reached Luxor by 15h00, where my GPS directed me to the resort on my list. A lovely place, with a swimming pool, from where I would take the day to explore Luxor (there was so much to see, but so little time) and even had company for dinner that evening in the form of a German tour bus operator and his wife. The next day I walked to the temple, the Great Hypostyle Building, the largest hypostyle hall in the world. It was immensely interesting and to think they built this structure block upon massive block, hoisted onto columns, hundreds of years ago. How they managed I couldn’t tell you.
Back at the resort I asked the German about his passengers, who explained that they couldn’t get visas for Syria and he had to arrange with the travel agency director to have all the tourists flown to Italy and at great cost ship the bus from Israel. This would my final obstacle to complete my tour, I couldn’t come all this way only to ship my bike back and fly home now.
The next day I stopped at garage upon garage to fill up my bike, without luck. It could take anywhere from four days to a week for fuel to arrive. I slowly made my way at 60km on my quarter tank to the town of Qena, but couldn’t get any there either. I had no choice but to buy the 5 litres that would get me to the next town of Safaga, along the Red Sea, on the black market at virtually double the price. It just goes to show how different countries could be, this would never have happened in Sudan. Again I crawled along at 60km to the next town. I found a filling station with fuel, but so did hundreds of other motorbikes. An hour later I rode off with a full tank and an extra 10 litres in the spare tank. This was only the third time I had run out, the first two times in Zambia and Ethiopia, not too bad for Africa. I picked up the pace, to 80km/h, and turned off toward the Red Sea. There I stopped to dip my feet into the water and see the mighty hotels of 5 000 rooms each – one looked like a city all on its own.
The wind blew savagely and so I pulled over at a motel to spend the night, managing to wheel and deal myself a room with a view of the sea.
The following day I headed to Cairo, where I knew traffic would be a challenge and rather unsafe. As predicted, when I arrived at 11h00 it was utter chaos and was glad to reach my accommodation safely. It was quite close to the pyramids, but rather primitive and so off I went again to the city to buy something to eat. The next day I headed out to see the Pyramids of Giza and so enjoyed riding without all that baggage weighing the bike down. Upon arrival in the parking lot a policeman asked to sit on my bike for a moment, his yearning to do this kind of tour was clear, of which I took a picture. Thus the safety of my bike was assured when he told me to park it next to their offices, where he would keep an eye on it. The pyramids are quite far apart and the heat made a horse-cart a better option. I negotiated with the owner and off we went.
We stopped at each one, but he would advise me on which one to enter. Only one is made of stone, shipped from Aswan via the Nile, because you can still see where they dug it out. How did they manage to drag the massive blocks from the Nile to the site and where did the rock for the other pyramids come from, because they’re built of totally different material? I couldn’t wait to go inside, but before I did a man offered me an Arabian headdress as a gift. It would seem that the people here are just as friendly as in Sudan. What an awesome moment it was to enter a pyramid and although the pharaohs are in a Cairo museum for safe keeping, I could go down to their original graves. Going inside the pyramids was definitely a highlight of my trip. Upon my return the man who gave me the headdress insisted I return the favour and named his price. I told he can have the hat back and upon his reply that the packaging had already been opened, paid him half his ridiculous price and hurling curses at each other we parted ways.
Wouldn’t you know it the horse-cart driver also upped his price, apparently to feed his camel, which I point-blank refused to pay and we also parted on less than friendly terms. I half expected to encounter the same with the policeman, but he turned out to be one of the few honest Egyptians. He asked to sit on the bike one last time and then took the chance to ask for a ride. I handed him the keys and in absolute ecstasy he rode down the street and back again. I really should have taken his contact details to put on the blog.
On my way back I sat outside a take-away restaurant to have a bite, when a waiter offered me a free bottle of water. As soon as it was open, he insisted I pay him for serving me the water. I was in no mood to argue and paid him. I couldn’t wait to leave Cairo. The next morning I left at 05h00 to avoid traffic, riding through thick mist that I realised was actually pollution. I entered the tunnel under the Suez channel 90km later, on my way to Sisahie Province. The canal was filled with boats and I remember how ships were sunk to block the canal during the war between Egypt and Israel. All ships were forced to sail around Africa and back up, to the great benefit of South Africa where they docked for supplies.
I was now going down the other side of the Red Sea, through a ferocious wind and sandstorm, turning off to the site where God spoke to Moses in the burning bush. The combination of wind and sand created such havoc that taking a photo was futile, I was bitterly disappointed. Later that day I headed inland and stopped at the Monastery of St. Katherine. I still regret not spending a night there, but I was just to intent on reaching the Syrian border to see if this was to be the end of my trip. I’m simply one of those folks who needs to deal with a worry immediately. The tarmac inland was great and it was a lot of fun to ride through the mountains. It is a harsh and stark landscape that must have been quite hard on the Israelites as they trekked for 40 years to the Promised Land. I came across a number of armoured tanks along the road and know how it feels to swelter in the desert heat waiting for some action. A few years ago rebels shot seven French tourists in the Sinai and since tourism is Egypt’s main source of revenue, they make every effort to ensure the area’s safety. I greeted the soldiers with a hoot, to which they waved back, and passed through a road block without being stopped. Just before reaching Mount Nebo I came to the site where God allowed Moses to see the Promised Land and where he was also buried, since he would never come down the mountain again. How privileged I felt to enter the promised Jordan district that Moses forfeited. I may be far from home, but I haven’t even had a flat tyre and all I’ve lost is a number plate…
I continued on to the town of Nuweiba, to take the ferry to Jordan and then it is a mere 120km to Elat on the Israeli border. Like Ethiopia and Sudan, a visa for Israel must be obtained before starting a tour and shows the need to first do research. A visa for Israel closes the door to Sudan and Syria, you are simply not welcome in those two countries and they won’t issue you a visa. I first got a soft drink in Nuweiba and then went searching for place to stay. I found myself again the only guest in a resort beside the ocean, yet the chef (also the owner) still prepared me a wonderful dinner. Such a friendly and sincere man, who went out of his way to make me feel welcome. We chatted for hours and headed down the beach late that afternoon past the many tourist resorts standing empty, the devastating consequences of the fall of Mubarak and political uncertainty. The next day I would go book my seat at the harbour nearby and knew it would be an even greater nightmare to take my bike out of Egypt than it was to get it in, but that was the least of my worries as Syria occupied my thoughts. I arrived at the harbour at 12h00, where everything needed to be unloaded and scanned. Not having a clue what to do, I approached a naval officer for help. I was shepherded from one office to the next, paying a hefty fee at every turn, to eventually have prints of your engine and frame numbers taken that if unclear, would have to be done all over again. I then headed to the covered parking to wait on the ship and was told by the officer that he would return shortly with all the paperwork. A really helpful Egyptian or so I thought. He handed me the documents and then demanded an exorbitant fee for his services, saying he had helped me during one of his breaks. I refused and an argument ensued, until two Jordanians also waiting for the ferry stepped in. The officer quickly took off and the Jordanians were ready to go after him, but I wasn’t interested and left it at that.
The ferry arrived, quite luxurious with shops and restaurants, and I hung back until all the vehicles and people were on board. Once the ship pulled out from the harbour, later than scheduled, I found a seat looking out over the water. I noticed a group of Americans, clearly on their own mission. A Muslim woman struck up a conversation with me, asking where I came from and where I was headed. She, her husband and two children were fleeing Libya to seek asylum in Jordan with nothing but the few things they could carry. My heart went out to her, thinking just how privileged we were in South Africa. Her husband paid me no mind, but she sat and chatted with me for quite some time. We were supposed to hand in our passports upon leaving the harbour, but I somehow missed that announcement (ultimately to my benefit), only to learn about it from an officer as I was waiting for everyone to disembark. He took my passport to have it stamped and directed me to the vehicle department. While the other passengers lined up for their passports, I sailed through all the bike inspections first and then headed for the passport queue. The officer caught my eye and directed me to another office to collect my stamped passport. I sincerely thanked the officer who didn’t demand a cent, he had only done his job. Heading to my bike I waved farewell to the Muslim woman from afar, regretting that I had no way of knowing whether they eventually received asylum.