Egypt

Getting into Egypt was an absolute nightmare, not that it was completely unexpected, yet the level of bureaucratic nonsense and corruption is in my travel experience (50+ land border crossings) unparalleled. I’ve written up the complete story in the previous post just in case you are curious, yet I didn’t want to make Egypt just about that.

Once you are in, there are some amazing places to discover. Even though it might need some mental stretching from you, and even me, to forget about the things that went before it’s a waste of time to dwell on the past and not enjoy the present. There are far worse places to be stuck then at a prime diving location, with the beautiful coral reef at our feet we went in for a swim. The best place even being right in front of our hotel and we just rented a snorkel set and walked right into the water. I’ve never seen so many amazing corals and so many fish in one place.

As the weekend progressed we explored some different locations and Jojo even made use of his Padi certificate and went for a dive. When we were out of the water we had some time to wander through the town Dahab and look at the wonderful art being sold to tourists. I have to admit that I love the lamps with the little holes yet we have no space to carry any treasures and I know they are also for sale in Morocco and can probably find them in the Netherlands too so no need to stress about it.

We went out for dinner every night because it was just so cheap, we could not cook ourselves for that price and the meat was delicous. We tried this one restaurant on our first night and never switched because there was a wide variety of choices for a very decent price. Kebab, chicken and fries, it might not sound extraordinary but it was great food.

IMG_4390_WEB.jpg

After waiting for our new paperwork to be sent to Cairo we hopped on the night bus to the capital to pick it up, not only faster but also cheaper and no need to ride in a congested town which is horrible anyways, yet I cannot argue that it was more comfortable. Nope, comfort wise it was a horrible experience. We might be spoiled because we are so used to travel on our own or it’s just not our style but why is there a movie playing all night long at the loudest setting over the speakers…. No sleep for me.

The first day we applied for a Sudan visa and picked up the carnet from the DHL office, it was all quite smooth and worked out perfectly even though we were both really tired from the busride and easily annoyed by the city and eachother. So after finishing our tasks we booked a hotel close to the pyramids and went to bed.

Next morning we got up on time, packed up and walked to the entrance of the pyramids. The only of the original list of the 7 world wonders that still exists which is an incredible feat. All the other structures were destroyed, collapsed or otherwise didn’t make it. To think about the fact that humans made these not a few 100 but a few 1000 years ago is just insane, I cannot comprehend the long term thinking we had back then and the perseverance to build such gigantic structures.

We walked around and noticed how little foreign tourists were around, the other visitors were mainly local school groups who, as soon as they saw any white skinned person, would come by and ask if they could take a selfie. I felt like I was back in Iran/Pakistan where the request for a selfie was just as frequent yet by now I’m not so keen anymore to be the prize digital possession of a random stranger so a gracefully decline all requests. Just as a heads up, if you would meet me and would really want a selfie, ask me some questions first, have a conversation, invest some time and energy and then ask for a picture, I’m sure I, and many others, will be happy to oblige after a friendly two-way interaction.

After walking around the pyramids for a few hours we took a taxi back to the city center, grabbed some food and found some coffee in this hipster alley before we dove into our other tourist activity of exploring the National Museum. It’s big, it’s full and Cairo is busy with building a new accommodation for all its treasures but it’s not ready yet. So we got the tickets including the extra ticket you need to see the golden mask of tutanchamon. I’ve had an obsession with Egyptian ancient history when I was in primary school and read many stories about the discovery of his grave and feel like a trip to Egypt is not complete without seeing these items.

So we walked through the museum, which feels a little unorganised to be honest and marvelled at the size of the statues, the age of the mummies and the precision of the art and the golden mask. I find it hard to imagine how capable human kind was 4000 years ago and fascinating which beliefs they had about death and afterlife and to what effort they went to ensure their status.

All tired and full with impressions we took the metro back to the bus station, bought a ticket and hopped back on the night bus to Dahab. That was what I call a super efficient trip! I will skip the details about the busied back, but is was long, loud and uncomfortable. Even earplugs didn’t do anything and Jojo who can usually sleep anywhere didn’t get more than an hour of sleep.

We arrived back in Dahab with sunrise, around 5am and walked back to our hotel exhausted but happy we got the paperwork. A quick nap and some breakfast and we were off to the port to pick up the bike. As you might have read, we were unlucky and unsuccessful again and left Nuweiba on 1 bike, not two.

The frustration was back at peak level and staying calm, collected and friendly is definitely a challenge for me. Going home and riding through the desert gives some helmet time and a space to cool off, tomorrow we will try again, hopefully more rested too after a decent night of sleep.

What feels like for the million-th time, we ride to the port again and by some miracle, a lot of cash and patience we manage to free the bike from the clutches of customs. It took us the whole day and we ride home through the dark while tears roll over my cheeks of relief. We can finally start the adventure. (more detail in the previous blog post)

Our route through Egypt

Our route through Egypt

We decide to stay in Dahab just a little longer to recover mentally from this rollercoaster ride, it’s a nice place, we can stay within budget easily and the room is good enough yet soon the tickle of adventure starts itching and we plan our next rides through the Sinai desert.

We have to follow the southern coast of the peninsula because the north is controlled by extremists who disagree with the government. The military is very active and has many checkpoints along the main highways and we are not allowed to take the main road crossing the Sinai, which would have been way faster. Instead, we have to go down to Sharm Al Sheikh and then back up all the way to the Suez canal.

Our first day back on the road is a short one, we ride to Sharm in an hour. Stop for groceries at a bigger supermarket and leave for the Gas Muhammad National park where we can camp. It’s amazing to be back in the tent and live the outdoor life again. The sunset is amazing and there is nobody around. What an amazing start of the bright side of Egypt.

Our second day riding over the peninsula we are confronted with the security measures taken by the government. Soon, we are not allowed to travel by ourselves but require an escort to ride over the highway. Later we find out that they also do this for vans full of tourists but it feels highly unnecessary. It requires us to wait long times for the car to be ready or to show up from the next check point and other parts we are allowed to travel freely again, but we are moving along and the views of the desert are splendid. I always imagined deserts to be just sand, but this one is mountainous with ever changing shapes and curves. A delight to ride by. Sometimes we see the sea and other times we head more inland and lose sight of if. We manage to get through 2/3 of the way and get dropped off at a hotel we mentioned we want to stay at. Not ideal since I prefer to hotel shop before settling on a place, but no choice today. I skip a dip in the pool, it’s already pretty full…

Our last hotel on the Sinai peninsula

We try to leave on time so we can get somewhere today, yet where we are going to make it to is a big question mark. We have no idea how many police escorts we will need to wait for and how long it will take for them to let us through the Suez tunnel. Technically motorcycles are not allowed on the peninsula and getting in from the other direction sounds nearly impossible. Yet we have heard that it’s usually not too much hassle to get out of the Sinai. We find out rather soon since things seem to work this morning. As we approach the tunnel we can see the ships lying in the water to our left. A line of cars appears and we join at the end although things don’t seem to be moving. After a 10min wait we find out why and a convoy of military trucks and cars comes by and passes us without stopping. Now the lines starts moving and when we get to the first checkpoint we are referred to a building in the back. A quick 5min check of our passports and we are waved through, that was definitely easier then I imagined! We ride through the iconic tunnel and come out on the other side. You could say that now we are finally on the African continent but as technicalities have it, it’s a little bit more complicated than that. It also doesn’t feel very African yet.

We head straight down and keep following the coastline yet now on the other side of the sea. This section is a perfect highway, no checks and we speed along the road, it almost feels like we are flying. Leaving the peninsula and all the police and military nonsense behind us, or so we think. We make great progress riding towards Hurgada and calculate that with this speed we can easily make it there before darkness. Jojo picks a hotel to stay at while I make snacks. Irony has it that right after we start riding we hit another police roadblock where we need to get an escort again. Yet, this guy is making it seem like it is an impossible task. We wait for over an hour for him to fix a car with a few guys inside and as we ride away it dawns on my he probably wanted money, yet the only thin I did was keep nagging him if we could go already, haha. The escort quickly leaves us alone and we are back up to speed, the next police stops are faster to arrange their shit and we just make it to Hurgada before darkness falls.

It’s strange, because I’ve read about this place so many times and it used to be this European holiday hotspot for sunlovers and kitesurfers. The number of hotels and restaurants certainly suggests that it was once busy and bustling yet now it feels almost deserted. It’s sad to see that the amount of people who relied on tourism for their income are now struggling waiting or praying for the foreigners to come back. The sun is still shining and the wind is still blowing yet fear keeps people at bay and opt for other destinations.

We move on and the same pattern repeats itself, riding, waiting, police escort, little freedom of choice on which road to take. We are forced to riding along the nile to Luxor and in comparison with the empty desert highways this is like a chicken coop. Cars, bicycles, tuktuks, people, animals everywhere. Side streets and speed bumps every 500m and soon it drives me crazy, I’ll take India over this madness any day! Not because it’s busier here then in India, but the speed bumps are the worst. You have to slow down for them, even though on the bike I sometimes choose to stand up and power over them but there is usually one indicating a side street where you will have to slow down to look for upcoming traffic anyway.

The other fascinating difference is the density of people and the greenery that intensifies as you approach the Nile. 95% of the population of Egypt lives on the shores of the Nile and the rest of the country is basically empty desert. The water of the river brings life and the colour of the green is intense after weeks of only red, brown and grey.

In Luxor we stay in a bit overpriced hotel, but the parking is great and the breakfast included. It’s time for me to show Jojo the best part of ancient Egyptian culture in my opinion, the temple of Karnak. 11 years before I traveled with my family to Egypt and we visited all the highlights by bus, boat or airplane and this temple is the craziest thing left on the planet by these people which is still so clear in my mind after all these years.

They say a picture is a thousand words, yet these pictures don’t do justice to the place. It’s impossible to capture the feeling of walking through the pilar room, a realisation of how small we are. The temple was built over hundreds of years, with each pharaoh adding their own piece to the complex, trying to outdo his predecessors making it bigger and bigger with each year.

The columns in the main entrance are jaw dropping, so tall and wide, it’s impossible to imagine how they would have built these so long ago. Even two people would not be able to hug one of them and having a whole room full of them is beautiful. We wander through the complex for a few hours, fascinated by the art and architectural wonders.

Next day we take a trip to the other side of the Nile to the Valley of the Kings. A taxi ride away, in the mountains of the desert, the touristic destination feels quite deserted. There are more people trying to sell stuff then people to buy it. We buy our tickets, which permits you to enter three of the graves, although for the famous ones you should pay extra. We set of to explore and wander around, I’m pretty happy it’s not summer as the temperature is already rising and walking in the sun is breaking me a sweat. We decide to go to one in the back first and enter the tunnel leading down to the grave. This one is special because the guy died earlier then planned so not all the hieroglyphics are finished beautifully showing the process of carving them into the solid wall, a great insight into the art making.

It feels like we are tomb raider or indiana jones, walking among these ancient treasures ourselves, studying and investigating the hidden clues. The last tomb we visit is the biggest one, and the busiest, yet absolutely mindblowing. The way they carved such straight lines out of solid bedrock, decorated every inch of wall and ceiling surface and all for the promise of a good life in eternity.

The next day we set off again, heading to Aswan this time. We manage to escape the city without facing any police and are happily cruising over a desert highway as we see another checkpoint in the distance. From there, it is only 1,5 hours to our destination, yet as you could have guessed, that is not what was going to happen. I dreaded talking to the officers there yet I put up a smile and ask for permission to continue, at first I am ignored but I keep pushing until we finally get the answer, not going to happen. We will have to ride back to the waters edge and follow the shores of the Nile until we reach the city. Google maps says we still have 4 hours to go. A huge bummer, also quite literally as we hit those pesky speed bumps every 200m or so. I lost count and almost my mind.

We spent some time finding a suitable hotel in the city which turned out harder then imagined, all are full or don’t have adequate parking for the motorcycles. Only after night has fallen do we find a place to stay for a decent price. The guy behind the reception is genuinely friendly, which is hard to come by in this country. Most of the time it feels very fake because they are too stiff in their role as service provider, they are nice because they want you to buy something from them or they are not nice at all and just want your money, but this guy is different and it is lifting our grumpy moods.

Aswan has a few things to see but the only thing we did there was visit the police station to acquire a slip we need to leave the country, proving we don’t have any outstanding tickets. Luckily the directions and instructions on iOverlander are very good because without this, it would be impossible to find by yourself. The building is situated in a normal residential looking flat and no visual ques outside that would indicate a department of the police or traffic police, yet once we are inside we are helped by a friendly officer and outside with the piece of paper in our hands in less then 10min. The rest of the country can take note of the work ethic of these people!

Another task for the day was to find a jerrycan that could help us bring some extra fuel to Sudan as the reports said that we might face some problems getting it. We decide we wanted to keep to a budget and don’t spend more than €5, yet this seemed problematic to find something that would work and not leak. So we spent the rest of the day walking through the town looking through stores and asking around. In the end we settled on a big plastic container that would hold 20L for us.

We decide to stay another night to take our time and relax a little, since we like our hotel and hosts that much and the breakfast lady is the best. She is Sudanese and makes us a delicious meal every morning and on the day of our departure she decides to braid Jojo’s hair because it is so long. Meeting her made us so excited going to Sudan.

After our short break in Aswan, we moved on south to Abu Simbel, the last stop before the border with Sudan. We crossed the dam that marks the start of the Nassar lake. Now we would not be following the Nile anymore but riding straight through the desert and not a police escort in sight! Finally a feeling of freedom and we used that to stop at the wrecks of busses and cars on the side of the road. Some more recent then others, yet at this really old one we spent some time taking pictures because the sights was quite cool. After half an hour 2 cars showed up and out came some military personal, protecting us from the sand so we quickly hopped back on the bikes and continued riding.

We camped on the parking lot of the last tourist site we would visit in Egypt and visited the temple in the early morning where the incredible thing is not the fact that is was built by the ancient egyptians, but that it was moved to this location in the sixties because it’s original location is on the bottom of the lake.

Abu Simbel Temple

On our way to the next country!

Our last day included a short ferry ride crossing the lake to the other side, we were joined by lots of Sudanese people who came to Egypt to work or to shop. A last run in with police checks on the other side before we were granted permission to ride to the border. I shall not bore you with the details of the crossing, but leaving was, for us, a whole lot easier than coming in.

Watch the videos too!