ARAB REPUBLIC OF EGYPT
PART 1 GENERAL INFORMATION
Capital city: Cairo
Population: 100 million
Currency: Egyptian pound
Km travelled: 2480km
Days in Egypt: 30
Complicated country and travelling overland from Sudan meeting the corrupt officials makes you think twice if you are welcome as a foreigner/tourist. It is amazing how the government allows border officials to be so corrupt while everyone is aware of the various schemes. (same in the Port of Alexandria) Some say Egypt is the cradle of civilisation. Islam is the official religion and Arabic is the official language. Majority of its population lives around the banks of the Nile river, Cairo and Alexandria. Over the last 30 years terrorist attacks have been severe and numerous. Various groups like Al Gama Al Islamiyah, Muslim Brotherhood and Al Quaida have targeted Government officials, tourists and Christian Copts. This has done lots of damage to the Egypt economy, the largest being tourism. This has devastated the livelihoods of many Egyptians. Other major income earners are coal, natural gas, oil and hydro power. The Suez Canal is another money maker with an average of 50 ships passing daily. With the new Suez Canal bypass this will increase to nearly 100 ships per day. The estimated income will be around 13.5 billion dollars by 2023, however, there are doubts as the growth of 10% estimated has been less than 4% sofar. Another threat is the opening of the Northern Sea Route between Europe and East Asia (due to shrinking ice) making the journey a lot faster and saving 4000 nautical miles compared by taking the Suez Canal.
Busy, crowded, filthy and overwhelming. It is one of the largest metropolitan areas in Africa. It has enormous pollution and traffic is chaotic. Alternative to driving is to take the Metro but with over 1 billion passenger rides not much better. However, Cairo does offer plenty to see. I do not like museums, but the Egyptian museum located at the Tahrir Square is a must. Tahrir square in the middle of Cairo is another highlight and it includes the American University and the headquarters of the Arab Leag. It is also known for the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. Cairo tower with revolving restaurant at the top giving you a bird’s eye of Cairo, pollution permitting. Old Cairo contains the ancient Roman fortress of Babylon, old Coptic churches, Coptic Museum, Muizz street a 1-kilometer long street with markets, coffee houses and the oldest synagogue in Cairo. Islamic Cairo features the Mosque of Sultan Hasan, The Al-Azhar Mosque. The areas around the old walled city and around the Citadel are surrounded by lots of mosques, tombs and fortifications.
THE GREAT PYRAMID OF GIZA.
A few kilometres south west of Cairo are the 3 Pyramids (UNESCO World Heritage Site), the great Pyramid of Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure. The great Pyramid of Khufu is the largest of the 3. Khufu’s pyramid is perhaps the most colossal single building ever erected on the planet. Approximately 2.3 million blocks of stone were cut, transported, and assembled to create the 5.75-million-ton structure, which is a masterpiece of technical skill and engineering ability.
The second largest city in Egypt and the major port, extending about 32 km along the coast of the Mediterranean. A few highlights are the Lighthouse (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world), the Great Library, the Necropolis, Pompey’s pillar, the temple of Taposiris Magna and Kom El Shogafa. Don’t forget the tramway network built in 1860 and the oldest in Africa. Some of the carriages are from the 1930’s. Other must do’s are the El Alamein battlefields, home to war memorials, the British memorial, the Australian memorial, the German memorial and the Italian memorial, as well as cemeteries, and landmarks reminiscent of this important part of the town history. Famed for the decisive victory of the Allies over the Axis forces in the WWII North Africa campaign, El-Alamein is located half-way between Alexandria and Marsa Matrouh on the Egyptian North Coast.
Luxor, once an Ancient Egyptian capital, feels like an open-air museum. Enjoy superb sunset views at the majestic temple complexes of Karnak and Luxor and enjoy a sunset river cruise.
As the name states (Luxor means Palaces) this major travel destination in Egypt has many palaces, vast temples, ancient royal tombs, and great scenery and does not disappoint. The city sightseeing is divided in 2 (East bank of the Nile and the West Bank of the Nile)
East Bank; Luxor Temple—Temple of Karnak
West Bank; Valley of the Kings—Valley of the Queens, Ruins in the Western Valley
Arriving from Abu Simbel (as we did) Aswan is an amazing town located on the Nile river. The river flows around small islands covered in palm groves and tropical plants. We were surprised about the many points of interest. The temple of Philae, Agha Khan Museum, St Simeon Monastery. Walk along the river esplanade, (even Mc Donald’s has founds its way here to cater for the tourist), try one of the floating restaurants, take a felucca Nile trip, enjoy the Nubian culture as we did at Adams Guesthouse where we camped outside the gate. Other points of interest are the busy Souq, the island of Elephantine and the Aswan Dam. This dam is 4000-meter-long 1000 wide at the base and 40 meters wide on the top. Up to 11000 cubic meters of water can pass through the dam. The reservoir is what is called Lake Nasser
This small village is where we arrived from neighbouring Sudan. It is 280km south of Aswan. Tourist only seem to arrive on day trips to visit the Abu Simbel Temples. For us it became a 2 day stay enjoying the peace and magic of this Nubian town at your own pace and discover the true spirit of Abu-Simbel, gaze at the magnificent statues for hours and avoid the hordes of tourists arriving usually in the early morning. It will also allow you to meet the Nubian locals at night and get a glimpse of the hearty Nubian culture by listening to their Nubian music. The majestic Abu-Simbel Temples are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is located on a hill overlooking the Nile River. The temples are dedicated to Ramses II & Nefertari, Amazing temples and one of the highlights in Egypt.
RED SEA COAST
Located between desert and the sea, and south of the Sinai, the Red Sea Riviera is a long coastal area full of beautiful beaches and tracks that lead to the Red Sea. it offers perfect diving, snorkelling and lots of very nice remote beaches. Healthy coral reefs, lots of underwater wildlife including dolphins and dugongs. Swim in a giant aquarium to see a multicoloured world of corals and any colour of fish you can imagine. The location we liked the most was Marsa Alam and south of Wadi Lahami near the Sudan Border.
Lots of golden dunes. Amazing rock formations, Canyons and great oasis to camp overnight. Once in the Desert, sand and black rocks give way to the awe-inspiring sight of a magical landscape full of strange limestone concretions that are shaped like giant mushrooms, fjords and icebergs.
We were unable to visit and were stopped/turned around by the army at the tunnel in Suez
Old Cairo has probably the greatest concentration of medieval treasures in the whole of the Islamic World. The Giza Necropolis is one of Egypt’s best-known tourist attractions; it is the only one of the seven wonders of the ancient world still in existence. Other major tourist attractions are Luxor, Aswan, Abu Simbel, the beaches on the Mediterranean around Alexandria, the beaches on the Red Sea around Hurgharda, Marsa Alam and Sharm el Sheik. Besides the Nile valley, Egypt’s landscape is desert.
Egypt is one of the driest and the sunniest countries in the world, and most of its land surface is desert. South of Cairo, rainfall averages only around 2 to 5 mm per year and at intervals of many years. On a very thin strip of the northern coast the rainfall can be as high as 410 mm, mostly between October and March. Egypt has an unusually hot, sunny and dry climate. Average temperatures are high to extremely high during summer. The cooler Mediterranean winds consistently blow over the northern seacoast, which helps to get more moderated temperatures, especially at the height of the summertime.
Summer: 17 degrees at night to 40 degrees during the day
Winter: 9 degrees at night to 26 degrees during the day
Rainfall: minimal Dec to February
Summer: 17 degrees at night to 35 degrees during the day
Winter: 9 degrees at night to 21 degrees during the day
Rainfall: minimal Dec to February
Summer: 20 degrees at night to 48 degrees during the day
Winter: 11 degrees at night to 30 degrees during the day
Summer: 20 degrees at night to 48 degrees during the day
Winter: 6 degrees at night to 35 degrees during the day
Summer: 20 degrees at night to 50 degrees during the day
Winter: 10 degrees at night to 38 degrees during the day
PART 2, BLOG PICTURE AND GALLERY
BORDER SUDAN TO LUXOR
Our last night in Sudan we bush camped around 5 km south of the border on the shores of Lake Nasser. We were surrounded by the dunes of the Nubian Desert, the eastern edge of the Sahara Desert on the opposite side of the lake. It is desolate rocky area with no vegetation.
The border crossing was easy and took 1 hour and 20 minutes on the Sudan side and just under 2 hours on the Egypt side (queue for the passport stamp took longest) BUT BUT BUT our fixer did not read my email I sent a few days earlier and we had an issue with our scooter.
ABU SIMBUL to ASWAN
Tired we arrived at Abu Simbel carpark which became our overnight campsite just in time for the light and sound show with just 2 other tourists. The Egypt tourist industry is on its knees and many hotels and guest houses are closed.
We got up the next morning up at 5.30 AM for the sunrise at Abu Simbel. Until 8.30AM we were the only people there. The Abu Simbel temples are two massive rock temples situated on the western bank of Lake Nasser, about300 km southwest of Aswan by road. The twin temples were originally carved out of the mountainside during the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses in the 13th century BC, as a lasting monument to himself and his queen Nefertari. Their huge external rock relief figures have become iconic around the world. The complex was relocated in its entirety in 1968, on an artificial hill made from a domed structure, high above the Aswan High Dam reservoir.The relocation of the temples was necessary to prevent them being submerged during the creation of Lake Nasser. It is believed that the alignment of the temple was positioned by the ancient Egyptian architects in such a way that on October 22 and February 22, the rays of the sun would penetrate the temple and illuminate the sculptures on the back wall, except for the statue of Ptah, the god connected with the Underworld, who always remained in the dark.
From Abu Simbel to Aswan, tourists and trucks must join a Police convoy. We were late (Convoy leaves at 10AM and 4PM) and not wanting to wait till 4PM we left on our own without any hassles at any of the road blocks. In Aswan we stayed at Adams Guesthouse and we can’t recommend them enough. Mo or Mohamed is one of the most helpful guys you can meet and he chauffeured us around town to get all our paperwork sorted. (Most important the traffic fine certificate for our truck and scooter) Aswan is a busy town located just north of the Aswan Dams on the east bank of the Nile at the first cataract.
ASWAN to LUXOR
Aswan has a hot dessert climate. Aswan and Luxor have the hottest summer days of any city in Egypt. Aswan is one of the hottest, sunniest and driest cities in the world. Averages high temperatures are consistently above 40 °C (104.0 °F) during summer (June, July, August and September) while averages low temperatures remain above 25 °C (77.0 °F). Summers are long, prolonged and extremely hot. During the various stops our thermometer peaked at 55 degrees C near the border and 52 degrees half way Aswan and Abu Simbel. The climate of Aswan is extremely dry year-round, with less than 1 mm (0 in) of average annual precipitation. The desert city is one of the driest ones in the world, and rainfall doesn’t occur every year; between 1994 and 2001 they had no rain. (7 years) With almost 4,000 hours of annual sunshine, it is very close of the maximum theoretical sunshine duration.
Aswan is one of the sunniest places on Earth. Construction of the High Dam in the 1960 and 70’s has had a significant effect on the economy and culture of Egypt. The ability to control floods, provide water for irrigation and generate hydroelectricity were very important to Egypt’s industrialisation. Before the dams were built, the Nile flooded every year during late summer, when water flowed down the valley from its East African drainage basin.
Luxor is often called the world’s greatest open-air museum with Karnak, Luxor Temple, Valley of the Kings and the valley of the Queens just to name a few. Although a small town by Egyptian population standards, Luxor is quite extensive and is best divided up into several ‘districts’ . The main one the East Bank, the Luxor Temple, the Temple of Karnak, The Museum, and our campsite was in this area. The West Bank is the location of the major ruins including Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens and other important sites; the Western Valley ruins. In Luxor security was very strict, the reason being the Luxor massacre and the killing of 62 people, mostly tourists. Targets of terrorism in Egypt have included government officials, police, tourists and the Christian minority. Many attacks have been linked to Islamic extremism and terrorism. The Islamist movement al Gama’a Islamiyya targets high-level political leaders and killed hundreds in its pursuit of implementing traditional Sharia Law in Egypt. An Egyptian doctor and leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad group, is believed to be behind the operations of al Qaeda. Four out of 30 people on the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation “most wanted” terrorist list is Egyptian. Luxor is one of the most popular destinations in Egypt, and one of the must-see destinations in Egypt. We are told that Luxor contains about a third of the most valuable monuments and antiquities in the whole world, which makes it one of this planet’s most important tourism sites, with monuments such as The Luxor Temple, Karnak Temple, the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, Deir El-Bahri. The Temple of Luxor, and the huge temple of Karnak are the world’s largest temple complexes. Our campsite was at the Rezeiky hotel/campsite just a minute walk from the Karnak Temple. It was hot in Luxor with temperatures hovering around the 48 degrees. Lucky our campsite had a pool. The surrounding area is beautiful, with the Nile flowing between the modern city and west-bank with the Theban escarpment.
It was an early start to beat the heat and explore the west bank of the Nile and the isolated Valley of the Kings. This is home to the tombs of the great pharaohs of the New Kingdom (1550 – 1070 BC). They are hidden within a wadi (or valley) formed over millennia by rainfall and water runoff.
The Valley of the Kings has the royal cemetery for 62 Pharaohs and is located on the west bank at Luxor. The Valley of the Queens is an isolated cemetery, at the southern part of the vast necropolis of Thebes, on the west bank of Luxor. It contains about 70 tombs, mainly belonging to Queens, Princesses, Princes and Nobles, who lived during the XIX and XX Dynasties. Our last visit was the Temple of Mut.
LUXOR TO MARSA ALAM (RED SEA)
We were off for some R&R and were looking forward to the Red Sea. The Red Sea is a seawater inlet of the Indian Ocean, lying between Africa and Asia. The connection to the ocean is in the south through the Gulf of Aden. To the north lie the Sinai Peninsula, the Gulf of Aqaba, and the Gulf of Suez leading to the Suez Canal. The Red Sea is about 2250 km long and, at its widest point, 355 km. It is the world’s northernmost tropical sea. Our first stop was Marsa Alam we were allowed to camp at Shakkara Village. Perfect spot and the reef on our doorstep. Marsa Alam is in the far South of Egypt, located on the western shore of the Red Sea. While snorkelling turtles, crocodile fish and much more marine life is a common sight just 20 meters from the water’s edge. The Red Sea has clear azure waters and an incredible amount of exotic fish and coral – which is why is so highly regarded as a diving destination. In fact, it arguably offers some of the best diving and snorkelling experiences in the world. I hate to admit it but due to the proximity of the reef to the beach (no need to travel by boat) it is even better than the Great Barrier Reef at home.
Marsa Alam also has some inland attractions, such as the Emerald Mines and the Temple of Seti I at Khanais. But we became so lazy we never moved. Our days consisted of Breakfast, snorkelling, reading, Lunch, snorkelling, reading, Dinner and early nights after we admired millions of stars and watched the satellites come over.
MARSA ALAM TO SUEZ
Next was the town of Hugharda a holiday resort filled with luxury hotels, but most hotels had either closed or where nearly empty, like the hotels and resorts in Luxor. The Red Sea resort of Hurghada took on a growth explosion thanks to tourism in the 1980s. The Hurghada of today comprises three main centres and numerous self-contained tourist villages.
Hurghada is a beach resort town stretching some 40km along Egypt’s Red Sea. To the north lies El Gouna or as the locals call it the Monaco of Egypt. Not sure if I agree. Still further south is New Hurghada where there are a concentration of up market hotels and restaurants. All this development has made Hurghada one of Egypt’s most popular resort towns on the Red Sea coast. As we were moved away a few times by police and army we decided to book into a hotel (very disappointing as the Red Sea has miles and miles of deserted beaches perfect for bush camping). However with all 5-star hotels empty we stayed at the Movenpick for 50 Euro per night including breakfast. Eager to bush camp again we checked out after 4 days to continue further north to Ain Sokhna (the Hot Spring) just south of Suez and the entrance to the Suez Canal and only 120 km east of Cairo.
One-and-a-half-hour drive on the new highway, Ain Sukhna is fast becoming one of the top getaway vacation spots for the people of Cairo. Ain Sukhna was disappointing not only for the fact we got moved on by Police and Army, but we also picked the wrong hotel. A 5 Star Hotel but no alcohol, the beach bar was closed and so was the international restaurant!! The only choice, a small very poor buffet, hence we checked out next morning.
This time to venture to the Sinai. BUT again disappointment, no permit, no entry! That night again moved on by police, no Bush camping and the hotels where all very basic and the ones we visited were aimed at the locals and not western tourists. We had enough, so time to move on.
The Suez Canal is an artificial sea-level waterway in Egypt, connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea. It was constructed 1859 to 1869 and was officially opened on November 17, 1869. The canal offers watercraft a shorter journey between the North Atlantic and northern Indian Oceans via the Mediterranean and Red Seas by avoiding the South Atlantic and southern Indian Oceans, in turn reducing the journey by approximately 7,000 kilometres (4,300 mi). Its length is 193.30 km (120.11 mi), including its northern and southern access channels. In 2015, 17,500 vessels traversed the canal (50 per day). In August 2014, construction was launched to expand and widen the Ballah Bypass for 35 km to speed the canal’s transit time. The expansion was planned to double the capacity of the Suez Canal from 49 to 97 ships a day. The “New Suez Canal”, as the expansion was dubbed, was opened with great fanfare in a ceremony on 6 August 2015. On 24 February 2016, the Suez Canal Authority officially opened the new side channel. The Suez Canal has enjoyed increased traffic in recent years, with roughly 50 ships passing through its waters every day. Shipping tolls allow Egypt to rake in around $5 billion per year. The canal separates the African continent from Asia, and it provides the shortest maritime route between Europe and the lands lying around the Indian and western Pacific Oceans. It is one of the world’s most heavily used shipping lanes.
SUEZ TO THE WESTERN DESERT
Back inland into the Desert. This time we were smarter and avoiding road blocks we entered the Western Deserts. Living in Australia for the last 35 years we have covered many deserts, but deserts remain mysterious places for us. 25% of Egypt is the Eastern Desert. Climbing up the Red Sea Hills from the Red Sea coastal plain temperatures dropped at least 7 degrees before we reached and crossed the Nile River and entered the Western Desert.
The Western Desert covers about 700,000 square kilometres and accounts for about 66% of Egypt’s land area. It spans from the Mediterranean Sea south to the Sudanese border and from the Nile River Valley west to the Libyan border. It includes Siwa (we never made it due to running out of time) El Faiyum, Bahariya, Farafra, Dakhla, and Kharga.
We are told the last significant rain fell six years ago which caused natural vegetation to remain green for two years. The Western Desert is one of the driest areas of the Sahara. Parts of the Western Desert have bizarre, ghost-white rock formations sprouting from the desert sands. One of the surprises was the Fayoum area so close to Cairo. Fayoum is one of the oldest towns in Egypt, inhabited since Pharaonic times, and known to the Greeks as Crocodilopolis, as the locals would worship a sacred crocodile. The town itself is full of traditional souks and a Hanging Mosque, this one is built without minarets. From here a short drive to Wadi al- Hittan, alongside Lake Qarun, a huge lake on the edge of the desert.
Not only a perfect spot of bush camping but the so-called Valley of Whales at Wadi al-Hittan boasts spectacular scenery along with being the site of the discovery of hundreds of fossils belonging to early forms of whale, sharks and crocodiles. Whole whale skeletons can be seen in the sands. This area is a UNESCO World Heritage area.
WESTERN DESERT TO CAIRO
Cairo and the first stop, the Giza Necropolis. This is where Egypt’s number one tourist attraction is situated, the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. Despite more complete out of control guides and other rip off artists supported by local police and army (how else could they operate the way they do) it is a destination not to be missed. Like in most places in Egypt it is “rip off the tourist” territory. So be forewarned: treat every single one of them with contempt. Initially it annoyed my wife as she felt I was very rude, but it only took a few days in Egypt and she found out herself what type of people they are.The Pyramids and Sphinx are the oldest surviving members of the 7 Wonders of this World.
Each Pyramid is a tomb to a different King of Egypt and in front of the pyramids lies the Sphinx, or Abu al Hol, the father of terror. We learned that the pyramids are around 5000 years old. Imagine if those stones could speak! More than 20000 workers were used to build the pyramids. 2 million blocks of stone weighing 2500 kilo each just to build one Pyramid! We never went inside the pyramid because the queue was long, and people told us there is nothing to see.
The sound and light show is interesting, and you do learn a little more about the pyramids. Not far from our campground was the Pyramid of Saqqara which many believe is the oldest Pyramid in Egypt and hardly attracts any tourists, hence few touts. Our next destination was the Egyptian Museum. The Egyptian Museum in Cairo contains the world’s most extensive collection of Pharaonic antiquities. We are not museum people however we enjoyed just over one hour in the museum.
The museum houses more than 100,000 Egyptian artefacts, making it the biggest collection in the world. Some of the artefacts are not always on display. Some travel abroad for exhibitions, while others are kept under lock and key or wrapped in plastic. The museum is also famous for its Royal Mummies Room, home to several real mummies, some of which are on display. Photography is no longer forbidden but at an additional cost, but it excludes the area where Tutankhamun’s gold faced mask is located. Another area we enjoyed was Old Cairo, a very original area with lots of ancient souks, soaring minarets, Coptic churches and synagogues and a fortified citadel. For us the best were the bustling alleys and markets. The most touristy one is the famous Khan el Khalili souk, also interesting but you are confronted with the in your face touts. This does not happen in the out of the way alleys. Common practice in Egypt as well as in many other countries is the negotiating. Don’t be afraid to offer 20% of the asking price, and do not trust the sellers. It may sound insulting at first, but you get used to it. Remember: once they let you go you know you bid under the final selling price. Try another vendor 1 km away and start a little higher. Treat them like they treat you and never trust them. Most important do not feel sorry for them, you are being regarded as a walking ATM machine! Our next visit was the City of the Dead. Cairo is a city of 20 million people and every inch of footpath and road is overcrowded, cars go bumper to bumper madly honking their horns and people are yelling and screaming trying to sell you goods. But in the City of the Dead, the streets are quiet, very narrow and mostly unpaved. Every family in Cairo that can afford it has a family tomb in the City of the Dead. It is so unreal, to walk along the narrow streets and see workshops, cafes and small shops. Men play domino and drink tea. One person said: Living with the dead is a good thing for an old person, they do not talk. For centuries it only housed the dead, it was built for life in the hereafter.
Today the poorest of the poor all over Egypt are moving in and between its tombs to find a new home among or in the houses of the dead. Over one and half million people live in the City of the Dead amongst the dead. Unofficial figures show an even higher population and statistics show it is growing rapidly. We gave the Cairo Tower a miss as the smog in Cairo was thick, hence no good view of the city. Tahrir Square is a major public town square in central Egypt and was the location and focus for political demonstrations, the 2011 Egyptian revolution, and the resignation of President Mubarak. It is right in front of the Egyptian museum. During our visit police and army were present in anticipation of the planned November 11, 2016 demonstrations. Our last tourist attraction to visit in Cairo was the Mohamed Ali Mosque which is amongst the most interesting Mosques in Egypt on top of a hill overlooking Old Cairo.
CAIRO TO ALEXANDRA
The far west of the Western Desert was closed to visitors. Instead we spent our last days in Egypt with our truck on the far North-West Coast of Egypt. During this time, we visited Al Alamein, a small village on the road to Marsa Matruh and the Libyan border. This is where three major battles occurred around El Alamein between July and November 1942 involving Australian, New Zealand, English, South African, Indian, Canadian, Italian, German and Greek troops. This area has Italian and German military cemeteries on Tel el-Eisa Hill. The Italian cemetery is a mausoleum containing 5.200 tombs.
Many tombs bear the soldier’s name; others are simply marked “IGNOTO”, i.e. unknown. There is also a separate Greek cemetery at El Alamein. We visited the German and later in the day the Commonwealth of Nations war cemetery. This is built and maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission with graves of soldiers from various countries who fought on the Allied side. Buried here are 6,425 identified Commonwealth service personnel and 815 unidentified ones, besides 102 of other nationalities. The Battle of El Alamein, fought in the deserts of North Africa is one of the decisive victories of World War II. The Battle of El Alamein was primarily fought between two of the outstanding commanders of world war two, Montgomery and Rommel. The Australian 9th Division, led by Lieutenant General Leslie Morshead, played a key role in two of these battles, enhancing its reputation earned defending Tobruk during 1941. The Allied victory at El Alamein lead to the retreat of the Afrika Korps and the German surrender in North Africa in May 1943. When we visited the Burma Railway line in Thailand or Anzac Cove and now these cemeteries, we started to realize that the hell those guys had to go through so far from home to give us in Europe our freedom, is beyond believe. As Dutch citizens living in Australia, Anzac Day is something which has become very special to us having visited the battle fields around the world as part of our world tour. Unfortunately having also spent time in war zones we WONDER WHAT THE WORLD HAS LEARNED FROM IT ALL? And with that I mainly refer to politicians and the army!!
Our next and final stop in Egypt was Alexandria. The second city of Egypt, Alexandria sits on the Mediterranean coast and looks a little like a European Mediterranean city in atmosphere with wide boulevards and open gardens, if it wasn’t for the dirt and filth around the streets. Founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC, the city was a centre of Greek civilization and home to the Pharos. For centuries there has been a strong Greek community in the city. Modern developments sit side by side with traditional Islamic buildings. On the shores of the Mediterranean you’ll find the spectacular Qaitbay Citadel and the pristine Maamoura Beach frequented by the rich and powerful. Then there are the beautiful Shallalat Gardens, the Montaza, the Ras el-Tin palaces, the Palais d ’Antoniadis and the modern Bibliotheca Alexandria. For us the reason we were in Alexandria was to get our truck cleared by customs ready for shipment to Italy. Our 28 days permit expired and we had to make sure the truck was off the road by November 1. Unfortunately, our ship was delayed by over a week hence we needed to fill in spare time. The city also has Greco-Roman landmarks, old-world cafes and sandy beaches. Its 15th-Century seafront Qaitbay Citadel is now a museum. Today the library is reincarnated in the disc-shaped, ultramodern Bibliotheca Alexandrina. Bob the fiancé of Nermien (our shipping agent) was one of the architects involved in the design. Much of Alexandria’s coastline is bordered by the popular Corniche promenade, which ends at Montaza Palace, a complex featuring a 1932 royal residence, public gardens and beach access. However, Egypt being a Muslim country, laying on the beach in a bikini or bathing suit as a woman is not comfortable with many people staring at you. We were lucky to have great company in Alexandria with Nermien and Bob, not only for a wealth of information, but also for great lunches and dinners. After customs cleared the truck, it was time to leave Alexandria and drive back to visit Cairo once more and cover the highlights. No more truck!?! Now in a hotel. What a difference: no more freedom, but time to catch up on all the world news, via satellite TV.
PART 3, VIDEOS
- AFRICA & THE MIDDLE EAST
2. Africa, Middle East compilation
EGYPT, IS IT WORTH IT FOR THE OVERLANDER ON A BUDGET?
YES IT IS, BUT EXPENSIVE IF YOU WANT TO ARRIVE IN ALEXANDRIA
BORDER CROSSING: LEAVING SUDAN TO EGYPT.
By this time, you have had enough experience with border crossings coming from the South. It is not as difficult as people make it out to be. Leaving Sudan is easy and takes just over 1 hour. Local fixer is Mazar, well-liked and friendly. For 10USD he will do all the work while you have breakfast. No need to use a fixer if you want to do it yourself as all very straightforward. HoweverMazar is a very friendly person with lots of local knowledge.
Entering Egypt from Sudan in 2016.
If all your paperwork is in order it is not that difficult. Entering Egypt took less than 2 hours. This included a long queue at the visa office. No need to use a fixer. Kamal is the most known fixer and controls many other fixers and officials. He is a wheeler and dealer and very expensive $50 USD. I recommend not to use him.
IMPORTANT: Ensure your paperwork (Carnet) is in order to avoid paying bribes (I learned the hard way, more about this later). At the time of our crossing October 2016, people turned up with a Sudan carnet which was rejected at the border. (only bribes will get you in, but it is a lengthy process if you want to bargain and you need the service of Kamal the local fixer at high cost). We travelled all around Africa without a Carnet de Passage (we used Temporary Import permits) however it became clear from talking to others that entering Egypt without a carnet is very difficult and time consuming. Having to pay 1500 Euro for the scooter carnet with the ADAC we decided not to bother and only organized a carnet for the truck. (we had this sent to us while in Nairobi, from Germany) In our case, we turned up with no carnet for our scooter.
Not having a carnet for the scooter made the Egyptian corruption machine going full blast. “Give me 7000 pounds and I will organize the paperwork”, I rejected this. Long story short: they made me off load the scooter and I had to meet with the custom boss in Aswan. The custom boss agreed that I would get the scooter back and it would be sealed until I ship from Alexandria. Sounded like a good deal and no $$$$. I arrived to pick up my scooter and things changed. They wanted money for storage, and 1000 USD for all the work done. I rejected this again as the custom boss told me the deal was sealing the scooter. 9 hours later in 50 degrees heat I went to see Kamahl the (in)famous fixer, (had no choice) to ask him “what do I have to pay to get the scooter back?”. A quick round around the Custom office, Police office, Egyptian Automobile association (office is diagonally across from the mosque) and gate people and the cost came down to 500USD. in the end after more arguments and negotiations I paid a total of 350USD and got the scooter with proper paperwork, so I could export from Alexandria 5 weeks later.
Welcome to Egypt! A well-organized corrupt nation run by the military who do not seem to care!
MY ADVICE: get a proper carnet from your own automobile association and ensure it is valid for Egypt. Do not trust the validity of the Sudan carnet nor trust the Egyptian one as it would be very difficult to get your money back (Read: you will most probably not). Having said this if you have time 350USD is better than the 1500Euro ADAC charges.
I have met bike riders with Sudan carnets and they were rejected at the border however if you are willing to pay bribes, doors seem to open quickly!!! Both had to pay huge bribes. This is what we learned: paying bribes opens all doors in Egypt where ever you are.
Tourist Visa for Egypt is valid for 30 days. (You can extend to 45 days), But the truck only receives 15 days*1 but can be extended to 28 days (AFTER 28 DAYS NO MORE EXTENSION POSSIBLE, REGARDLESS OF THE CARNET). I suppose a good bribe will also solve this issue. Traffic certificate is valid for 14 days for the truck, but can extend to 28 days. Traffic Certificate for the Scooter 14 days but can extend to 28 days. Both obtainable in Aswan.
*1 Our truck is 12000KG do not confuse with a 4WD Land cruiser.
COMESA is not accepted at the border! I tried every trick in the book but had to pay, one for the truck and one for the scooter. All part of do not trust an Egyptian. This scam is managed by the fixers at the border with full support of the local government officials. No doubt all receive a kickback.
Total cost for the truck to get into Egypt: 1332 Sudanese pounds (not included Visa) or AUD $ 205.00 USD 151.00 or Euro 135 based on the exchange rate of 8.8 pound for one USD.
Black market will get you a rate of around 15 pounds. (2016) (not at the border, the rate was around 10 pounds for USD at the time). However, since we left Egypt the banks now also pay 15 pounds instead of 8.8 pounds when we visited in October 2016.
Egypt is a beautiful country but 95% of the people we met can’t be trusted. Big exception are people like Nermien (CFS Shipping in Alexandria), Mo from Adams Guesthouse in Aswan and Maryam who runs Al Sorat Farm, a great campsite very close to the Pyramids in Cairo and a hand full of others we met on the way.
Leaving Egypt from Alexandria, we used CFS shipping: contact person Nermien Narmish (CFS) charges the following: (2017)
Trucks E 650 when departing Egypt, E 970 for arriving in Egypt. 4X4 & bikes departing E 500 Euro, arriving in Egypt 870 Euro. Time required: 1 day for documentation and 2 days for clearing.
Total 3 days when departing.
Total 3 days when arriving (but we hear some take over 7 days)!
New Campsite in Alexandria: Nermien (owner of CFS shipping) has a house just 15 minutes from the Carrefour and 10 minutes from the airport. She charges 20 USD for a large truck and 10USD for a bike or tent including electricity. She is a trustworthy person and we have been looked after well by her. She belongs to the 5% of people we trust in Egypt.
We have now left Africa and after 7 years on the road (3.5 years in Africa) it is time to ship to South America.
In 2015 and 2016 we travelled around East Africa using a TIP without any issues, but Egypt needs a lot of forward planning. I would not recommend waiting until the border but have all sorted beforehand or obtain a carnet for Egypt via your Automobile Association. Unless you are a good negotiator and have enough time, you can try your luck at the Egypt border coming from Sudan.
I do not have the experience of arriving from Europe in Alexandria. Please note this is October 2016, things change daily in Africa. I now know if I would have paid around 900USD to Kamal for our truck he would have organized a carnet via the Egypt Automobile association plus a 100USD fee to him. (October 2016)
Due to the high cost of leaving Egypt and the relative short time you can stay it makes Egypt very expensive to visit. If shipping out of Alexandria, flights to your next port plus accommodation, clearing charges etc. etc. all add up.
IN SHORT, a VERY EXPENSIVE EXERCISE visiting Egypt.
Entering via Alexandria you must allow between 3 and 7 days so you must allow for accommodation costs.
Alternative 1 Travel to Israel via Jordan to Nuweiba (Egypt) border*1
Alternative 2 Travel to Israel via Taba Border to Egypt*1
Alternative 3 Travel via Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and ferry to Port Sudan. (we did this in reverse in 2010 but instead of Israel we travelled via Syria to Turkey)
*1 don’t ask me why but entering/leaving Egypt via land borders is very simple and fast (few hours) compared to arriving or leaving via Alexandria. Arriving via Israel will also allow you to be on the ship with your car.
Bush camping is officially not allowed in Egypt but many places away from army/police/coastguard and in the desert, are suitable.
DRIVING IN EGYPT.
Arriving from Sudan entering Egypt is easy, traffic is like other African Cities. However coming from Europe it could be a bit of a shock for those not used to chaotic driving conditions.
Alexandria and Cairo are like driving in Mumbai, Madras, or New Delhi in India and I do understand that if you are a new arrival from Europe this is a daunting experience.
So, for those who arrive in Egypt from Europe for the first time.
1, Traffic Lights, Pedestrian Crossings, Police officers directing traffic,
Traffic lanes (2 lane, 3 lane or 4 lanes roads) are all part of the decoration around Cairo and Alexandria. Hazard lights and blinkers are all seen as decoration; No one cares, and most important: beep the horn!
First, if there were any markings on the pavement it would make no difference; at best they are so faded that you will hardly see them. And even if you could they are ignored anyway. Cars form as many as 8 lines of what is supposed to be four lanes in one direction. Drivers are constantly honking their horns to let others know that they are either speeding or coming past either on right or left-hand side. Most of them come so dangerous close that many times mirrors touch each other, resulting in many cars without side mirrors. Overloaded trucks which look like they are about to tip over move from left to right and back again, motorbikes/ scoo ters/ donkey carts/ tuk tuks zipp around every which way. Cars are literally only inches from your car regardless if they are speeding or moving slowly in a traffic jam. Not just the road itself is poorly marked but so are the street signs. This combined with rough pavement and potholes all adds to the fun.
Next are the street vendors, standing next to piles of garbage literally or in the middle of the road selling their wares food, tires, etc. in what should have been the right lane of the highway. Taxi vans just stop in front of speeding cars to pick up or drop off passengers, while tuk tuks and three-wheeled motor carts, dump trucks and other large vehicles effortlessly race down the highway in the wrong direction; they even enter highways using exit ramps in opposite directions! Next you will see a family of five, including a baby all riding on one motor scooter and swerving left to right in traffic.
Constant traffic jams and the car behind you flashing headlights and honking the horn want you to move over when there was nowhere for me to go. All traffic comes to a hold on a 4-lane highway (which had become 8 lanes) and everyone keeps beeping. On many occasions you feel like being in a live video game. Watch for anyone speeding or about to pass you left and right with inches to spare. It is constant mayhem. Overloaded trucks, mini buses moving right to stop while trying not to be in the way if its load decides to topple or pick up passengers. That is if you are lucky, as many just stop in the middle of the road. Beware of that donkey pulling that cart while people are dodging traffic while crossing the road. Not to mention to constant move over to avoid potholes or deep piles of sand or garbage. If you are lucky to have lane markings they are ignored and my suggestion: stick to the middle at any time.
BUT who am I to question what they do and how they do it? It suits Egypt as it is a country with many rules interpreted different, no system, no proper rules hence every rule is interpreted by every public servant different. A corrupt police force who loves road blocks as it must be a major money earner as 80% of the cars are not roadworthy , 90% drives uninsured and over 50% without a license. Like the public service, driving is disorganised. Major cities are very dirty with piles of garbage everywhere, and no driver seems to have any respect for life and traffic laws. But if there is no enforcement of traffic laws, and you have corrupt police and army controlling road blocks and doing car checks the irresponsible and aggressive driving practices will continue. Once away from Cairo and Alexandria other parts of Egypt are a lot easier to drive.
MY TIPS FOR DRIVING IN CAIRO AND ALEXANDRIA
When in Rome do as the Romans do
- Don’t stop, keep on moving.
2. Only care about what happens in front of you, do not worry about any cars next to you or behind you they will stop…… Or not!
3. Never lose your concentration, you never know when a vendor will appear in the lane in front of you or a truck will be barrelling towards you going in the wrong direction. You must constantly figure out how to avoid accidents. Keep an eye out for road blocks as they could be in your lane.
4. Do Not Give any space between your and the car in front of you. If there is an opening, a motorist will take it. It does not matter if you drive a large 12000 KG motorhome or a land cruiser, any bit of space allows for motorists to randomly cut you off.
5. Forget about lanes and create your own as drivers in Egypt do not know how to maintain lanes. As unnatural as this may seem, this will force you to abandon the concept of lanes yourself. Seek openings to manoeuvre around. I preferred to drive in the middle. The busses, taxis and minibuses normally drop off on the right. BUT not always, it could ease be in the middle lane!!
6. Do not use your blinkers. It is a waste of time, no one looks at it. Expect drivers to dart around the highway with no indication as to where they will go or turn next.
7. Left Turns and U-Turns, unless you are fortunate enough to encounter a traffic circle, left turns are usually accomplished by turning right onto a road and then making a U-turn against the traffic. Egyptian drivers create their own short-cuts driving over dirt mounds or an opening between dividers in between the roads.
8. Speed Bumps: drivers will drive as fast as possible only to abruptly stop once approaching a speed bump. Some of them are small enough to drive over with minimal impact; while other speed bumps seem to be as large as the pyramids. However, none are as bad as the once we have seen in Kenya and Tanzania. Worst section was the road from Aswan to Luxor
9. Road blocks and Checkpoints, manned by police and military personnel are everywhere in Egypt. I have no idea what they achieve as the state of most cars is so poor that you wonder how police allows them to be on the road. Based on the many terrorist’s attacks I wonder if the army presence makes any difference. Or is it all part of the lack of proper systems?
I have to say in the end I quite enjoyed driving in Cairo and Alexandria, it helps that we drive with a large steel bumper bar and huge winch on the front but also due to the lack of rules. Our 150DB Air horn did its job, we scraped a few cars, but no one cares. Driving in Cairo or Alexandria makes driving in Manhattan, Bangkok, Naples, or Dar Es Salaam in peak hour feel like driving in a small desert town.
We handed over our truck for shipment to Italy. Our driving in Egypt has come to an end and so has nearly 4 years of driving in Africa.