We then settled down for another beautiful night under the stars, sleeping on the deck of the ferry.
We arrived at the ferry port of Aswan at about 11am the next morning to start the infamous Egyptian immigration / customs procedures. The Egyptian customs officials boarded the ferry and set about processing each of the passengers. Instead of letting the people disembark once their papers had been approved, they forced all three hundred passengers to stay onboard until all of the people had been approved ?!? This took a further three hours. They then opened one of the doors for all three hundred people to disembark. People here do not seem to understand the concept of queuing or just waiting your turn – all three hundred passengers pushed their way towards the door causing absolute chaos. It didn’t stop there! From there all three hundred people had to go through a single security machine and put their luggage through a single baggage security conveyor. Again, no queues were formed or enforced by the officials – instead there was just pushing, shoving, shouting and fighting to try and get through the security. The quiet, subdued people that had been praying so peacefully the evening before had turned into chaotic barbarians. Many sense-of-humour failures were witnessed – including mine on quite a few occasions! Absolute chaos! You would think that a country which has a ‘civilized’ history dating back to 4000BC would have invented a better, more organized system by now!! Ridiculous! Eventually, at about 3pm we managed to get through.
After a goodbye to young Andraes, who was heading up to Suez with his family, on a train, we then headed into Aswan to find a hotel. As the barge would only be arriving on Saturday, we had a day in Aswan to kill before we could get our vehicles. We managed to find a fairly cheap hotel, with a great roof-top view, on the corniche - which is the road along the Nile River.
First things first – find a MacDonalds! I am not a big MacDonalds fan but after a few months of eating dodgy food (mainly) there is nothing better than eating a Big Mac!!! Egypt is the first country, since South Africa, which has MacDonalds.
The following day our vehicles arrived and we set about trying to get them released from customs. We met up with Kamall who had been recommended to us by our Sudanese fixer. Kamall would help us through the endless system of paperwork and bureaucracy. What a day! Egyptians seem to battle to understand the concept behind the Carnet de Passage – they insist that all motor vehicles that temporarily enter Egypt have to be fully licensed as an Egyptian vehicle with the associated Egyptian number plates, roadworthiness tests etc .etc. etc. All of this obviously comes at a tremendous cost that is probably shared between the corrupt officials who refuse to assist unless they receive large amounts of baksheesh (under handed payments).
First we had to go to the traffic office in Aswan and pay various amounts of money to various different officials, just so that they could get the ball rolling. This amounted in total to about £E 50.00. Every one of these officials wanted their share of the corruption. In return we received various informal signatures and stamps to get the process started at the port customs office. We then headed to the port customs office and completed more paperwork and (of course) had to pay a further £E 500.00 ($US 100.00). The customs manager found a ‘problem’ with Alf and Anders Norwegian carnet papers. He refused to accept their carnet as the words ‘Norwegian Automobile Association’ had not been typed on each of the carnet papers – only on the main front cover which also had the official Norwegian Automobile Association stamp. I suggested that they just write it in, but for some reason typed words are official in Egypt – written words are not?!? Ridiculous. All pages on their document had the official carnet number which relates it to the IAA, an internationally recognized body that documents each vehicles existence and movements through the various local Automobile Associations. So the customs manager was just being difficult!! All he had to do was phone the Egyptian Automobile Association and confirm that the carnet was legal. Twatis Maximus sp. (We found out later that he was being difficult because he had a serious dislike for our fixer Kamall! As it turned out, the next day Alf and Anders had to catch a train to Cairo – a 12 hour trip – to get the Egyptian Automobile Association to stamp the carnet on behalf of the Norwegian Automobile Association. They would then have to return to Aswan (another 12 hours). Basically, three days wasted and at a tremendous cost - all because the customs manager did not like our fixer!?!)
I (luckily) managed to get my carnet accepted and then headed off to the Traffic Roadworthy Department. I might mention here that I was not allowed to take my motorbike with me to the roadworthy department because it was not yet allowed out of the port – but with a bit of ‘baksheesh’ that was not a problem and my bike received its full roadworthy certification without it even being there. Once this had been done we had to go and fetch a traffic policeman, pay him some money, and get him to return with us to the motorbike (still at the port) to verify the chassis and engine numbers by stenciling the numbers onto an ‘official’ Lexmark A4 piece of paper?!? We then had to return to the traffic office, drop off the policeman (after paying him baksheesh) and head into the Licensing Centre which was back in Aswan town some 20km away. At the Licensing Centre I had to pay a further £E 126.00 for insurance for the motorcycle (They would not accept the Comesa Insurance that I paid $US 100.00 for and which covers all African countries, including Egypt) I also had to pay for the temporary motorbike license and number plates. Only then could I return to the port customs facility to fetch my motorbike. I then paid the customs officials and Kamall, a further £E 250.00 baksheesh for their help. It had taken me one whole day and cost me about $US 250 to get my motorbike released from customs! This process took me longer and cost me more money than all of the other African countries put together. I have never seen such a corrupt and inefficient system. I wonder how people like these manage to sleep with themselves at night! What annoys me is the arrogance with which these officials conduct themselves, whilst giving a brilliant display of absolute incompetence and corruption.
I was relieved to find that Big Ken had not been damaged during transit. :-)
On my first day in Luxor (7/6), I organized a tour to the West Bank. The West bank of Luxor was the necropolis of ancient Thebes, a vast city of the dead where magnificent temples were raised to honour the cults of pharaohs entombed in the nearby cliffs, and where queens, nobles, priests and artisans built tombs with spectacular décor.
Next we visited Deir al-Bahri. One of the features that stands out on the West Bank are the rugged limestone cliffs that rise about 300m above the desert plains. These have been carved by the Nile as it makes it way through the desert towards the Mediterranean. A strikingly beautiful natural monument. At the foot of all this beauty lies the man-made monument of Deir al-Bahri which is even more extraordinary. The almost modern looking temple blends in beautifully with the cliffs, from which it is partly cut. It is one of Egypt’s finest monuments and I can only imagine how stunning it must have looked in centuries gone by, when it was approached by a great sphinx lined path and when it was surrounded by gardens of exotic plants. The ancient Egyptians often refer to this temple as the “Most holy of holies”. The temple is decorated with some amazingly beautiful Egyptian paintings depicting various scenes of wars, expeditions and meetings with the gods. Set in this surrounding, this is one of the most beautiful temples that I have seen. It is also very well preserved and makes for an amazing visit.
From here we went on to the Valley of the Kings. The Valley of the Kings consists of 63 magnificent royal tombs from the New Kingdom period (1500 – 1000BC). The tombs basically consist of long tunnels angled into the cliffs with a burial chamber (sometimes still with sarcophagus) at the end. The tunnels are lined with various scenes of the afterlife that the pharaoh would be expected to go through before his rebirth. From the first day of a new pharaoh’s coronation the tomb building would start and they would continue to dig down and decorate until the death of the pharaoh. For this reason the lengths of the tunnels differ considerably between the different tombs. The tombs have suffered great damage from treasure hunters, floods and in recent years, mass tourism, but are still a spectacular visit. Scenes depicted on the tomb walls are interesting and give a great insight into the culture and beliefs of the ancient Egyptian.
Next stop was Valley of the Queens. There are 75 tombs in the Valley of the Queens and this was where the queens and other members of the royal family were buried. As these have been less visited, they contain better preserved wall paintings. The most fascinating tomb was that of Ramses II’s favourite wife Queen Neferteri. The tomb is a shrine to her beauty and without doubt an exquisite labour of love. Also fascinating was the tomb of Amunherkhepshef who was the son of Ramses III and who died in his early teens. On the walls of the tomb are magnificent paintings of Ramses holding his sons hand and introducing him to the gods that will help him on his journey to the afterlife. The tomb also contains the skeleton of a mummified 5-month old foetus that it is thought was aborted by Amunherkhepshef’s mother on hearing of her son’s death.
Unfortunately no photography was allowed at the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens :-(
The Luxor Temple is a strikingly beautiful monument in the heart of the modern day Luxor. It was primarily built by Amenhotep III (1380 – 1352 BC) and Ramses II (1279 – 1213 BC), but has been added to over the centuries by Tutankhamun, Ramses III, Alexander the Great and various Romans. In the 14th Century a mosque dedicated to a local sheik was built in one of the inner courts. Both temples in Luxor are spectacular visits.
I got to Cairo in the early evening and managed to catch a glimpse of the pyramids, through the thick smog, off in the distance. The pyramids are an awesome sight and majestically tower high above Giza. They offer a mystical ora to the overcrowded and congested city! But more on the pyramids later ...
In many ways, Cairo is Egypt, an overcrowded city that dominates the country almost as much as it dominates the Arab culture. As with many other major African cities that I have visited, Cairo attracts many people from subsistence livelihoods (along the Nile) towards the often false promises of a better life. As with much of Egypt, visitors tend to enjoy Cairo in proportion to their tolerance levels. Surrounded by horn-blowing cars all squeezing to get into any available gap, buried under a cloud of noxious exhaust fumes, elbowed into a crowd or tricked into being “guided” to a place you don’t want to go, it takes a special patience to enjoy this city. Unfortunately I have none.
I also had to organize a schengen visa for my trip to Europe to catch up with my good mate Olly Rhode. This turned out to be another nightmare. The German Embassy in Cairo only issues schengen visa’s to Egyptian citizens. They said that I need to apply for the visa in Pretoria. However, the German Embassy in Pretoria requires you to appear in person at the visa application which I obviously could not do. I was stuck. After much pleading I managed to get an appointment at the German Embassy in Cairo to plead my case. As it turned out the person who issues the schengen visa in Cairo was also an avid adventure biker and armed with my charity letter from ‘Riders for Health’ he issued me with a full one year multiple entrance visa into Europe!
We decided to take a few days off from the hussle and bussle of Cairo and head to the diving resort town of Dahab on the Sinai side of the Red Sea. In order to spend more time in Dahab, we decided to fly to Sharm el-Sheik and then catch a bus to Dahab. At Sharm el-Sheik we ended up arguing a taxi driver down from L.E. 200 to L.E 20 to get us to the bus station. As with most of Egypt which is frequented by foreign tourists it becomes somewhat annoying and irritating having to argue with locals to be given a fair price. They are intent on ripping off all the foreigners which is not only frustrating, but has left me with a bad taste for the Egyptian locals. In Egypt it is very seldom that prices are openly displayed – instead the shop-owners / taxi drivers / hoteliers / restaurateurs will just quote a ridiculous price and you will then be left having to negotiate your way down to a more realistic and fair compromise.
Dahab is a tranquil seaside refuge from the unrelenting desert heat. It has a long history of luring backpackers – trapping them for days or weeks on end – with its fairly cheap backpackers lodges, golden beaches and a rugged desert backdrop. A short swim off the beach will find you in one of the world’s most pristine coral reefs – ideal for diving and snorkeling.
That evening we decided to climb Mount Sinai. As the temperature in the Sinai Desert gets ridiculous in the day, Mount Sinai is best climbed at night in order to be at the summit to watch the morning sunrise over the desert, and to get down the mountain before the sun starts to heat things up.
In addition, the Egyptian authorities insist that all tourists are accompanied up the mountain by a Bedouin guide. I am not sure what the reason for this is, since the centuries of pilgrims have created a bloody great highway up the mountain and it is almost impossible for anyone to get lost. In addition, the “guides” are not trained in any way and cannot speak English so very few of them can offer any religious insight into the mountain. Another Egyptian money making / rip-off scheme.
I may say here that the reefs are not policed at all and I fear that they will not last for much longer. The small town of Dahab has over 60 dive centres that cater for thousands of divers every year. These dive centres compete for customers and often have 5 – 6 groups going out per day. Even whilst snorkeling, we could see evidence of damaged reefs and even scolded a local Arab for kicking a section of the reef that he was trying to break off as a souvenir!! If the authorities do not step in, I fear this pristine reef will end up being ruined - like that of Hurghada further down the coastline which was one of the most beautiful dive sites in the 1970’s but now has almost no coral left due to over-diving.
On 22/6 we headed back to Cairo to visit the remainder of the Egyptian sites.
The pyramids of Giza are so iconic as to defy description. They have been puzzled over and plundered, visited and studied for 4000+ years. Their attraction continues unabated. The theories about why and wherefore and the speculations of divine intervention ensure that the pyramids will continue to keep alive the names of a father, son and grandson forever. Isn’t that what they were intended to do?
That afternoon we visited Egyptian Museum which houses a bewildering amount of Egyptian artifacts. This museum is one of the world’s most important museums of ancient history. Here the treasures of Tutankhamen lay alongside buried artifacts, mummies, jewellery, pottery and toys of ancient Egyptians whose names have been lost in history.
The following day we left for Germany.
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