The journey

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Wrexham, Wales, United Kingdom
For the past 5 years, me and my best friend Nathan have talked about the possibility of travelling around the world by land and sea, and so finally we have a route, savings and time to set off around the world. What we are doing is living out a dream, a dream we share with many people worldwide, a dream of travelling this vast, diverse, beautiful and interesting planet, but unlike the many others who keep it as a dream, we have the tenacity to make this dream a reality.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Days 39 & 40: Egypt & Sudan

Day 39

The ferry to Wadi Halfa was due to depart in the afternoon, but we first needed to complete all of the Egyptian border formalities at the port just south of the High Dam. We arrived at the port at 9am to start the customs check, get the carnet stamped, get our passports stamped and finally to drive the Landrover onto the barge which will take it into Sudan.

The barge is a separate boat to the passenger ferry and takes a few days longer, so once we had driven the Landrover onto the barge, we proceeded to the 2nd class area of the passenger ferry to the upper deck to meet fellow travellers and backpackers who were also heading south through Africa.

On board were 3 couples also driving 4x4s to Cape Town, Jack and Ryan that we met at the embassy in Cairo, along with 3 more backpackers and 6 cyclists. One of the cyclists from the UK was cycling to Cape Town to raise money for mosquito nets for Africans in the fight against Malaria. He told a story of how in Egypt had camped behind a mosque, and awoke the next morning to find himself bitten over 100 times in the face by mosquitoes leaving his face swollen so that he couldn’t see through one eye for a day. He had fallen to sleep not bothering to wear his mosquito net!

Day 40

The night on board the ship was pretty crap. I didn’t take my sleeping bag on board and couldn’t get any sleep on the cold and windy deck of the ship, even when I tried to sleep inside a chest full of lifejackets, using them as both pillows and a duvet.

Early that morning though we passed the Abu Simbel site on the west bank of Lake Nasser, a site only accessible by an organised tour, but one we could view at best and for free from our ferry journey.

The disembarkation from the ferry was chaotic at best. The ferry had been loaded with tonnes of electrical goods that the Sudanese were buying in Egypt to take to Sudan, and the scramble off the ship, out of the port, onto a bus and finally into taxis was fraught with tussles past people carrying anything from big boxes of headphones to washing machines.

Days 37 & 38: Egypt

Day 37

The next stage of the journey into Sudan required us to get a ferry along the Nile from Aswan to Wadi Halfa, but first we had to book the ferry, and hand back our temporary Egyptian licence plates to the police.

The first step involved going to the traffic court to get a document which proved we hadn’t been involved in any accidents or been caught speeding. After that we headed to the Traffic Police office to hand back the plates and receive another document we would need for customs. Only then could we book ourselves onto the ferry.

The rest of the day was spent trying to be productive and finding someone to fix the cover for the rooftent that was ripped on day 1 when I drove the Landrover under a low car park ceiling in Brugge. We found a local cobbler who sewed it back together with leather for 30EP/£2.60/€3, and then headed off to the souks to buy some meths, spices and to get our laundry done.

Day 38

With one day remaining before the ferry we decided to change the oil on the Landrover, and so we found a local disused garage with a pit to use. Whilst underneath the car, we found out what the skeaking coming from the rear suspension was. The speed bumps throughout Egypt had taken their toll, and the shock absorber bottom washers that adjoin the bushes had sheared over the retaining bolts resulting in a large amount of ‘give’ in the shock absorbers. We decided to leave repairing it until we arrived in Sudan.

After the oil change, we travelled south to visit the Philae Temple on an island in the middle of the Nile. When the Aswan dam was constructed, it left the surrounding area completely flooded, including an old temple site dating back at least 2000 years. For a long time the Philae Temple was under water, but with the help of UNESCO the Egyptian Antiquities Department took down the temple brick by brick and re-built it on a new higher island which can be visited by tourists.

In the evening we finally finished watching ‘Withnail & I’ on DVD after four times in previous evenings of trying to watch it, only to fall asleep half way through.

Days 35 & 36: Egypt

Day 35

Due to the speed bumps and police checkpoints, we were travelling on average at only 30mph/50kph, but we knew we would reach Luxor by nightfall. By now in the journey we were both becoming extremely capable of overtaking, which is commendable considering that in that having a right hand drive and driving on the right makes overtaking large vehicles very difficult as you can’t see past them without pulling out completely, and the blind spot to the left is very exposed.

At one stage on a single carriage road, we were overtaking a Tuk-tuk, which was overtaking a donkey and cart, whilst on the other side of the road, a minibus was overtaking a lorry. The number of near misses had extended past the digits of both hands, but the only accident we witnessed was a motorcycle crashing into a man riding a donkey.

We arrived in Luxor, found a hostel and once again chilled out for the night taking advantage of the happy hour on the roof terrace knowing we only had a few more days before we entered Sudan, a country where alcohol is forbidden.

Day 36

We spent the morning touring the impressive Temple complex at Karnak, before heading over to the west bank of the Nile to see the rather unimpressive Colossi of Memnon.

We had read that travelling between Luxor and Aswan as a foreigner was only permissible when in convoy with the police due to terrorist attacks in the past targeting western tourists. It appeared though that this ridiculous system has been stopped, and we passed through each police checkpoint with no problem, at each one expecting to get stopped and escorted along the road.

On arrival in Aswan we tried to find somewhere to camp to no avail, but we did manage to get a game of football on the go with some local kids in the village where we were looking for the camping ground. Final score: Team Nathan 4-4 Team David.

Days 33 & 34: Egypt

Day 33

Caz had to get back to Sharm Al Sheikh for her flight, and rather than getting a 7 hour bus, she had found a cheap domestic flight from Cairo, and so our first drive of the day was to the airport just outside Cairo.

After saying our goodbyes we drove back through Cairo heading south to see how far we could get before it went dark. Trying to find our way back through the city was an absolute nightmare, and after two hours we had found the Pyramid Road which leads to the highway, and we heading south at 60mph/110kmh.

The sun was descending rapidly to the west, so we headed for a town called El Faiyum where we found a hotel for the night so we could resume our journey refreshed in the morning.

Day 34

The highways of the previous days around Cairo we knew would not be seen again for a long while. The road that roughly follows the route of the Nile down to Aswan was a single lane for 95% of the distance, and passes through numerous villages, each with a series of Traffic Police road blocks and annoying speed bumps.

As we headed south it was noticeable that the skies were getting brighter, and the people were getting darker. The friendliness of the Egyptian people was still the same as ever, and one local businessman even paid for our falafel and fuul naan sandwiches as we stopped off along the way.

We arrived in Asyut trying to find a cheap hostel, but the one that we had in mind was full, so we searched for another cheap hotel before heading out for food. We found a small café where we ordered some cheap food, and at one stage had 12 separate plates and bowls on our table, with everything from soup, salad, humus, chips (they call them potatoes here), rice, half chickens and bread. We paid our 40EP/£3.60/€4 and left feeling more than quite full.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Days 31 & 32: Egypt

Day 31

Me and Nathan awoke early to go to the British Embassy to get a letter of invitation which we needed for our VISA for Sudan. The whole process is a bit of a joke, as the letter costs £25/€30 and is just a photocopy of a standard letter that they give to everyone, but we knew this and we knew we wouldn’t get a VISA for Sudan without one. We eventually found the Sudan embassy but had forgotten to bring some passport photos. It would have to wait another day.

The three of us then headed for the Egyptian Museum which displays over 130,000 artefacts relating to Egyptology. The jewel in the crown is the gold death mask of Tutankhamun, which is probably one of the most recognisable historical artefacts in world history.

It was an important day for Egypt as they had recently got through to the final of the African cup of Nations hoping to win it for the 5th time, and the atmosphere in Cairo had been building up all day. We decided the best place to watch the game was in the city centre hostel with the locals who worked in the hostel. Egypt scored in the last ten minutes to beat Ghana 1-0 and to ensure that Cairo wouldn’t be sleeping that night.

As soon as five minutes after the final whistle, the whole of downtown Cairo was awash with people celebrating on foot, on bikes, or in cars with flags and fireworks flying high in the night sky. The party was non-stop, and we thought it would be rude not to join in!

Day 32

Nursing hangovers, we awoke to a much quieter city centre than usual. Many people had even closed their businesses for the day after the victory in the football. We returned to the Sudan embassy to complete our VISA application and bumped into two other Brits who were taking a very similar route to us through Africa, but with public Transport.

After a cup of tea (very British) we exchanged contact details, knowing we would see each other along the way down to Cape Town. If any friends of Ryan or Jack have been directed to this site from their Facebook group, feel free to browse the photos of all of the places Ryan and Jack will have seen during their trip!

We wanted to find a swimming pool to go for a swim, searching all day in vain only to find a small hotel pool that was in the shade and freezing cold. We decided not to bother, and to chill out around the cafes of Cairo instead.

Days 29 & 30: Egypt

Day 29

The next morning we awoke to find Romana still being extremely clingy, and waiting for us outside the hotel. By this stage I was convinced he was gay and was attracted to me and I was trying my hardest to shake him off without just telling that I’m not gay.

The four of us went to see the Suez canal taking a passenger boat across the water, and whilst I tried to avoid Romana, Nathan and Caz were lapping up my misfortune, laughing and giggling as I was trying commenting on attractive girls we were passing, trying to make my position clear without being direct.

We eventually went our separate ways much to my relief, and drove on the Cairo through the chaotic traffic that churns up in the city on a regular basis. The Romana jokes from Nathan and Caz continued for the rest of the evening, as we stayed up drinking Arak and looking forward to visiting the pyramids the next day.

Day 30

With the traffic and parking in Cairo being an absolute nightmare, I awoke early to move the Landrover to a better parking place, and then we had booked a tour of the Pyramids at Giza and Saqqara along with a trip to Memphis which included a tour guide and transport for a reasonable price.

First up was the short drive out to Giza to see the Pyramids and the Sphinx. Things started to go badly when we arrived at the smaller pyramid as I had lost my entrance ticket to the tomb. After paying again, we descended the small entrance tunnel deep inside the humid pyramid. The air pressure and humidity was too much for my nose, which then started to bleed all over the floor. Whilst trying to find some tissues from her bag, Caz dropped 600EGP/£54/€60 inside the tomb before we headed outside again. Once she had noticed, we all knew it was too late, but it was still worth trying to go back and find it. On the way back down, Caz smacked her head against the low ceiling of the pyramid entrance and knocked herself out for 30seconds!!! The tour guide was convinced we were drunk or had been smoking the local herb!

We got to see the Sphinx in Giza before heading to Saqqara and Memphis to see the other sites. It was an amazing day, and we were all glad that we had arranged for a guide and a driver, as trying to navigate Cairo by ourselves would have been impossible.

Days 27 & 28: Egypt

Day 27

With no real itinerary we got on the road just after midday and arrived at St Catherine’s Monastery 3 hours after closing time. Then we were informed by one of the Police officers on one of the many random check points on Egypt’s roads that Caz would have problems travelling on to Cairo with us as she didn’t have a full VISA issued at the airport, and only a free one valid in Sinai.

The closest place we could get one from was Nuweiba Port where we had entered by sea the previous day, so Nathan and Caz decided to try and get the VISA that night, whilst I drove around trying to find a campsite.

We had arranged to meet back at the port at a certain time, but in trying to find the campsite, I bumped into two other travellers looking for the same place, and we spent an hour trying to find the place. When we eventually did, I booked us in for the night and returned to pick up Nathan and Caz, who by this time were worried something bad had happened.

We spent the evening chatting to a guy called Robert from Belgium who after poor health had quit his work, sold his house and decided to travel the world ‘following his nose’ on his motorbike for the foreseeable future. The guy was a legend, and I hope we meet more people like him on the trip.

Day 28

We set off early to arrange a VISA for Caz, and after an hour, everything was sorted and we were on the road to Cairo. The intention was to camp somewhere outside of the capital, and we arrived in a town called Ismailia at a petrol station whose owner invited us in for a cup of tea telling us camping was impossible, but could direct us to a cheap hotel in the town.

Following his instructions we arrived at a run down hotel where little English was spoken, but already after 10 minutes waiting in reception next to the hotel café, we had been offered tea, coffee and hashish! The rooms we checked into were the most run down I’ve ever seen, but for 85EGP/€8.50/£7.60 per night for the three of us, we weren’t complaining.

Egypt were playing in the semi-final of the African Cup of Nations that night, and we decided to stay and watch it on the big screen set up in the hotel. After every Egyptian goal or Algerian red card, the Egyptians and us went wild, and by the end the score was 4-0 to Egypt with Algeria only having 8 men on the pitch.

Whilst in the hotel we met a local called Romana who drove us around the streets of Ismailia at 60mph/110kph celebrating with the Egyptians and setting off fireworks in the centre of the town. This was the most random night of the trip so far.