Journal 10

Cape to Cairo, to Cairo, to Cairo!

January 06

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Thanks Updated 15.03.06 Virtual Tour of Mel Please join us - added 20.02.06

After receiving the news that we would be in the northern Sudanese town of Wadi Halfa for a while, we thought it was best to get comfy. The hotel in town was cheap, and you could tell (trust me, you don't need the details), so decided it was better to set up camp just outside of town in the desert. We selected a small tree for shelter and then made camp. Andy constructed a shade and shower whilst Cheryl cleared a small area of glass, plastic bags and twigs. It was Friday the next day, so everything was shut. More improvements were made on the camp, including a boundary of stones. We were visited by a few groups of Sudanese throughout the day, inviting us to their homes, or just to say hello.

Our Camp Wadi Halfa Bath time W-H Sudanese visitors to camp
Camp and make-shift shower. Blissful bathtime. Some of our Sudanese visitors.
Walk W-H Camel W-H Sunset at W-H W-H sunset
Wonderful Walk? at Wadi-Halfa. Camel visiting at Wadi-Halfa. Sunset makes W-H look good.

On Saturday it was Andy's birthday. We went to the ferry ticket office, hoping that there would be a ferry to take us up to Egypt. No not today, maybe Monday or Tuesday, maybe Thursday. Not the news we wanted to hear. With nothing to do, not even Internet we decided to go for a walk to the Lake. Picking through the plastic bags and tin cans we made it to the waters edge, but the hundreds of buzzing flies and the threat of crocodiles made us quickly retreat to the sanctuary of our car. Boredom was now really setting in, we tried to fend it off by playing cards, learning Morse code and having catapult competitions. Cheryl tried to cheer Andy up by singing Happy Birthday. All day he lovingly tended to our only bottle of beer (we smuggled it in as beer is illegal here), cooling it by wrapping it in a wet cloth and leaving it in the shade (our fridge had broken again).

The man who was supposed to be helping us to get out of Sudan for a small fee had been completely useless and hadn't done anything for two days. Deciding that if we left it to him we would probably still be in Wadi Halfa next year, we thought it would be better to take things into our own hands. Back to the ticket office we asked again, is there any ferry that can take our car? Yes! On Tuesday. Hooray! But they would have to check to see if there is room, so come back tomorrow. But we want to know now; please can you tell us today? After a two minute phone call they confirmed that yes, there was one space left for us…. excellent. Before we could buy the ticket we needed to fill out a form, but we had to get it from the port. At the port we were told the form was at the ticket office and that we had to go through Mr Hamal (the local Mr Fix it). As we don't speak Arabic this makes the port official's job easier. After some persuasion and the appearance of the port guy's boss, the form we needed eventually appeared. In the end this all took two hours so by the time we got back to the ticket office it was closed. The next morning we got to the ticket office first thing and bought our tickets, happily handing over the ridiculous fee of 520 USD for the ferry. The afternoon was spent getting some of the things done on our two-page list of "Things wrong with Mel". The garage was excellent and charged us hardly anything, so different to most of them.

Andy's birthday Warming Mel Mel on Barge The Barge to Egypt
Andy's birthday Our Russian Trick Mel on the Barge to Egypt

On Tuesday we set all our alarms for two hours before we needed to be at the port (which was ten minutes away). We were taking no chances. Mel was having problems starting in the cold desert mornings, as all our glow plugs had burnt out. To help warm her up we used a Russians trick I had read about of putting hot coals under the engine. It was a technique we weren't planning to use quite as south as Sudan, but it worked. Immigration stamped us out and then we headed to customs. So far we had avoided the infamous Mr Hamal (A guy who charges $50 to help you through customs etc… steep for filling out one form ... and we had managed at all the previous borders on our own). At customs the clerk charged us $20 for what he called clearing. After further investigation it turned out that it was going into his pocket. We complained to the customs official and so got it down to $5, when we said it was too much for filling out one form and it is the man's job anyway! Then we were about to drive down to the barge when Mr Hamal turned up. When he learnt that we had already been processed he started shouting at the customs officials, obviously fuming that he hadn't got $50 off us. He drove away in a huff.

We drove onto the tiny, rickety barge and tied Mel down well. After waiting around for another five hours we were off, waving goodbye to Sudan and the people who had just arrived on the passenger ferry. We were scheduled to arrive in Aswan, Egypt on Thursday. That night we sailed past the magnificent Abu Simbel, the huge temple with four statues on its outside. It was moved when the Aswan dam was built, because otherwise it would have been flooded, an amazing feat. The next day was pretty uneventful, other than when the Captain tried to take a short cut and then ran aground. We watched as lots of water started being pumped out of the back of the barge. I just hoped it was water being removed from the ballasts and not bailing out water to stop us from sinking. Thankfully it was the former and after about half an hour and churning up a lot of silt we were off and still floating!

Arriving at Aswan port early in the morning we were the first car off the barge. After watching the crew drive the others vehicles, making one leave the ground completely we very glad we stayed with Mel. The customs to get Mel into Egypt took all day. Forty minutes to get our passports stamped, another thirty minutes to stamp our carnet for the car. We then had to get a taxi to the traffic department in town about 15km away to sort our car registration. Then taxi back to port with an official to inspect car and then back to the traffic department for more forms. Another taxi to the insurance office, then back to the traffic department for the last bits of paperwork and to pick up Egyptian number plates. At last, after a final check at the port we were allowed to go. We finished within about ten minutes of closing time. If we hadn't we would have waited until Saturday as all the departments are closed on Fridays.

Christmas Eve Where Mel broke down Garage on Xmas Day Christmas Day
Christmas Eve Dinner Broken Christmas Day at the Garage

We spent a couple days in Aswan, including Christmas Eve, where we spent the evening with a few other travellers we met at the campsite. Then on Christmas day we headed off to Luxor. About two hours down the road Cheryl noticed smoke coming from the back wheel. Stopping to have a look on the side of the road, we found that the bearing had been completely worn. We spent the rest of Christmas wandering around garages trying to find a bearing, but with no luck. We became more miserable as the day wore on and we were hassled, conned and sent all over the small town of Edfu looking for the spare part. One garage had a man with a decomposing green nose, so we quickly made our excuses and left. The highlight of Christmas was watching Andy make sparks while making a tool to remove the old bearing. One shop was filled to the ceiling with bearings, but still not our one. The shop owner found us a good mechanic who the next day would drive us to Kom Ombo, a larger nearby town. Christmas dinner was a tin of smoked mackerels and chips. With a local policeman posted outside our car to watch over us, we slept well.

The next day we were woken up by an old man coming to our car, with a tray of tea and bread… breakfast in bed! He turned down any money. The mechanic arrived to take us to look for a bearing. The state of his clapped out car did not inspire confidence in his mechanical skills. His driving was even worse and we were filled with fear for the hour long, white-knuckle ride. By the afternoon we still hadn't found a bearing, even in Aswan. So all we could do was get a train, with Mel's rear axle, to Cairo (again) and hope we could find one there (At least a PART of Mel got to Cairo!). Grateful not to have to get into a car with the crazy mechanic again, we caught the sleeper train. We eventually found the right bearing and did some clothes shopping and then back down to where we had left poor Mel. We had been worrying about Mel so much, that when we arrived and she was where we left her, with the policeman still sat shivering next to her, huddled over a fire, we were very relieved. We drove down the road but after 20 km there was oil leaking from the wheel again. We were in town, so managed to get the axle machined easily and then worked on the car well into the night, but had it all fixed by 11pm.

Shop Full of Bearings On the train to Cairo Feluca on Nile Cairo at night
Bearing, bearings everywhere, but ... Part of Mel on the train to Cairo. Felucca on Nile. Cairo at night.

We spent the next two days driving up the Nile towards Cairo. Having lived here for two years we planned to drive through quickly. After the 1997 Luxor massacre, the Egyptian police want all tourists to travel in convoys to protect them from terrorists. However the convoy travels at high speed, even through villages with all the Egyptian drivers playing the "getting to the front of the convoy" game furiously. This results in a dangerous situation for all involved and it is safer to take your chances with the terrorists. Besides there is no way our car would keep up with the convoy. So we tried to avoid them, but you have little choice. We kept ignoring the road blocks to wait for convoys, but eventually a police car followed us and from then on every 30 minutes or so a new police car would take over from the previous, leading us along the road. All the police cars, lights flashing and sirens wailing just for us seemed a little over the top. Over about the 200 km we had 16 police cars involved in escorting us and we lost count of how many policemen. Once we arrived at the town Asyut we thought they would leave us, but no they wanted to see that we had checked in a hotel. Now we sleep in our car and over months of travelling you can't afford to stay in hotels, at least not ones where you are less likely to catch scabies or have Egyptians peering through keyholes. Hoping that if we walked into town for some food the police would get bored and leave us in peace. But no, as we walked along the street a police car cruised along beside us and waited outside the restaurant while we ate. Eventually we explained we wanted to camp and so they took us to the police club, which was quiet, had nice toilets and was free…. not bad! The next morning we woke and the relay started again.

Police Escort to Cairo Mel finally reached Cairo

For the third time, but this time with Mel we reached Cairo, just in time for New Years Eve, which we spent at the Meridian hotel bar. It was a fun night, with balloons, fake snow and music. The highlight were the flamingos that live in a pond in the hotel drive way. The only down side were the waiters who, trying to take advantage of people who had been drinking, kept trying to over charge us.

We left Cairo after visiting the pyramids and drove east, through the Sinai, which has some spectacular mountain desert scenery. We visited the Coloured canyon, which is a sheer walled gorge with streaks of various coloured rocks. There were patches that looked like raspberry ripple ice-cream. Elsewhere stripes that looked like an oil painters palette of purple, yellow, white and red covered rock face. There were some interesting parts that involved crawling under rocks and edging down passages.

Central Cairo On Road to Sinai
Flamingo at Meridian Central Cairo Road to Sinai camel hitching a ride.
Raspberry Ripples Rock formations A narrow passage
Raspberry Ripples Gymnastics Rock formations Narrow Passage

At the port town of Nuweiba we caught the ferry to Jordan. We could not drive the 20 km through Israel as then we would not be allowed into Syria. The customs to get out of Egypt was equally confusing as getting in, thankfully there was a policeman called Ashraf who helped us through the 11 different offices we had to visit. Then we spent five hours waiting for the ferry to be loaded…painful to watch!

At last we arrived in Jordan, and the formalities were thankfully a lot less complex than Egypt. Now the next problem is getting a visa for Syria…

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