Egypt: Civil Unrest and Deserted Ancient Attractions


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Africa » Egypt » Upper Egypt » Aswan
October 23rd 2013
Published: November 6th 2013
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After the week-long emotional high of Libya, we were soon brought back to earth by the worst place on earth: the Egyptian border offices at Salloum. Suspicion, arrogance, repeated searches, requests for "tips", and endless bureaucracy was the theme of the day. We were ushered into the dark, grime-smeared corridors of a rotting building to get our passports stamped. Shifty characters loitered about, eyeing us up with what seemed to be a mixture of curiosity and resentment. Finally we were issued through to a dark room with a large desk where three uniformed guys sat. We were introduced to "The General" who with incongruous politeness informed us that we would need to purchase our visa on exit from the country and then waved us away.

I had organised a fixer to travel from Cairo to sort out our entrance to Egypt as we did not have a Carnet De Passage for Egypt due to the excessive cost. A Carnet essentially guarantees a country that a vehicle will not be permanently imported into the country, and Egypt is particularly paranoid about this. As Egypt was our only way through to the east of Africa it was quite important that we didn't stuff it up. Our fixer seemed to have paid off the right people, and we trudged from one administrative area to another without major hold-ups. It still took us five hours to get through everything, and then when we thought we were free, we accidentally rode two meters past where we should have, which resulted in an annoying power-trip by the guys at a check-point. Our luggage was searched item by item, including the contents of my computer. "Welcome to Egypt" smirked the border guard.

Once we finally escaped the clutches of the border officials, we rode to our hotel in Salloum. Normally I'm not overly fussy about accommodation, but the Sert Hotel was a... rather unpleasant. It was clear that the extent of the cleaning between each guest was to straighten the sheets, and pick up any rubbish. Honestly, it must have been months since the bathroom was cleaned, and I was reluctant to sit on the bed, let alone sleep in it.

On leaving Salloum we were met by friendly police officers, who escorted us towards Cairo. Later in the day we apparently caused a small ruckus when we didn't turn up in Alexandria that night
as planned. We had made a last minute decision to push on to Cairo. Sorry about that.

The army in Egypt currently has a huge presence. Tanks and machine gun positions are everywhere, and the guys are in position all day by their guns. No mucking about. I can understand how the army can control the country despite the resistance of the 30% or so of the population that support Morsi.

As we approached Cairo we encountered the famously intense traffic. I've been in cities with driving chaos before, but normally it seems to follow some sort of pattern. In Cairo it's pretty much first in first served, assertiveness/aggression is the name of the game. That, combined with the dust, noise, and heat, made for difficult end to a long day.

After reaching our hotel we were able to escape the madness of the streets below, and enjoy the view of the pyramids that seemed to only be a stone's throw away. They really are an incredible feat of egotism. Huge, symmetrical, and ancient. Something you need to see once in your lifetime.

One benefit of the recent unrest in Egypt is that we had world
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Some Egyptian tourists wanted me to hold their baby and were taking photos of me and her. The cool thing was she seemed to like me and cuddled in! Made my day.
class attractions to ourselves. We saw two westerners at the Giza pyramids, none at the Pyramids of Sakara, and after walking through an army blockade to get to the National Museum near Tahrir Square we pretty much had the place to ourselves. Standing in a room by ourselves with Tutankhamen's gold funerary mask, and wandering the empty expanse of the old museum building crammed with artefacts was a special experience, and one that may be hard to repeat once Egypt settles down.

We had intended to shoot through Egypt, but realised too late that our timing was poor. We arrived on the eve of Eid, the Islamic equivalent of Christmas. This was a real issue because getting out of Egypt was one of the main administrative hurdles of our trip. This is because the road border to Sudan has been closed for forever, and the only way south is on a ferry that runs once a week south along the lake that formed as a result of the damming of the Nile. Obtaining a Sudanese visa is easier said than done as well, and takes a few days. So between the weekly timing of the ferry, the Sudanese visa,
SafagaSafagaSafaga

Coral Garden Resort
a week where nothing is open, and the usual Egyptian bureaucracy and inefficiencies, it looked like we would be stuck in Egypt for another two and half weeks. This was painful news as we wanted to spend the rest days we had up our sleeve in areas further south, and not in a big chunk in a country with civil unrest, and rude, two-faced, money-grabbing men. But ah well, after waiting in Cairo for a few extra days to see if the Sudanese Embassy in Cairo might open on the day before Eid (it didn't), we headed south.

Our first night we stopped near Safaga, halfway down the Red Sea. As we were going to be waiting for a couple of days, we splashed out on a 50 Euro twin room at a quiet diving resort. Slightly surreal hanging out next to a palm tree lined beach with a beer, after scuba diving in the excellent coral-laden bay right in front of our room.

A couple of days of doing nothing was a bit much, so we headed off through mountainous desert towards Luxor. Another couple of days were killed exploring the ancient attractions in Luxor. I've seen
Temple of Queen Hatshepsut.Temple of Queen Hatshepsut.Temple of Queen Hatshepsut.

As usual the place is empty of tourists. Pretty cool really.
plenty of Egyptian artefacts in various museums in Europe, but seeing the monuments in the heart of ancient Egypt meant more. Running your finger over the granite edges of hieroglyphs sunk deep into massive columns that stand where they were erected 3,500 years ago is a buzz. And, as we had come to expect, our exploration of these sites had an air of discovery due to the complete lack of other tourists. The valley of the Kings blew me away most of all; a featureless dry valley infested with the long, elaborately carved and coloured tombs of Pharaohs long since dead and dried. Wow.

After half a day of wandering around in the baking sun on the west bank of the Nile, I headed back to our accommodation for a wee nap under the room fan. However, this was scuttled by a call letting us know that the ferry had been delayed, and there was a chance that if we could get to Aswan that night, we might be able to get the Sudanese visas in time to catch the ferry which was now leaving in three day's time. An uncomfortable speed-bump plagued ride through towns nestled on the Nile saw us reach Aswan in the dark.

The next morning we met the world-famous-in-Aswan fixer Kamal. On meeting him I was slightly concerned. His slow drawl, apparent absent-mindedness, and slow-motion blinking did not fill me with confidence that he would be able to navigate the various complexities of a getting us out of Egypt by Wednesday. However, in a uniquely efficient and friendly way he discharged our traffic court responsibilities, cleared our customs documents, obtained our Sudanese visas, sorted some mysterious police formality, obtained the Egyptian visa we needed to retrospectively organise, loaded the bikes on a rice barge that would arrive three days earlier than the usual vehicle ferry, got us a much sought after cabin on the passenger ferry, changed our money for an excellent rate, cleared us from the border, booked accommodation in Wadi Halfa, and found us some Heineken. Kamal, you are a high-performance sloth genius. I think I love you.


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6th February 2018

By far, the best picture of the pyramids. Glad it showed up on my screen

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