18/03/2012 The Titanic effect
Sometimes you get more than you bargained for. It applies to our Africa trip much more than ever.
Leaving Sudan was much more adventurous than expected. It all started
very easy. We found a good fixer to help us with all the paperwork. Many
other overlanders describe the border crossing between Sudan and Egypt
as the worst nightmare they experienced in Africa. The only way to
travel between the two countries is the ferry between Wadi Halfa on the
Sudanese side and Aswan in Egypt, a 17 hours boat trip on Lake Nasser.
There is only one boat per week. And if you have a vehicle the amount of
paperwork you need to do drives many travellers into sheer madness.
However, thanks to our smart fixer Martin and me, we arrived in Wadi
Halfa on Tuesday. And on Wednesday both of us and both of our bikes were
on board the passenger boat to Aswan.
It's quite a decent sized boat, there were some 500 people on board. And
lots and lots of luggage. Some people arrived with huge bags of
firewood, some sort of grain and whatever else. Our bikes had to be
sqeezed into the entrance doorway once everyone was on board. The fact
that the bikes effectively made the exit impassable in an emergency did
not seem to worry anyone. Why would there be an emergency anyway.
Our boat departed at around 5pm that Wednesday and a routine quickly
developed. Martin and me and the other few overlanders on board stayed
outside on the open top deck to enjoy the scenery. Most other people
crowded downstairs in the hot and sticky common areas. The restaurant
served some oily beans and bread with not much taste. In front of our
bikes a small market appeared with women selling spices and small items.
All spread out on some colourful sheets on the ground. Lots of people
crowding around the bikes, items stored on top of our bikes. A really
African atmosphere developed on board. Wherever we went on the boat
there were people chatting, people eating, people smoking, people
sleeping. Up outside on the top deck some Polish overlanders pitched a
tent which heavily moved in the strong wind. Up there it was also the
place for prayer. When the Imman announced prayer time over the
loudspeakers big crowds gathered on the top deck, spread their little
carpets and prayed facing the east coast of Lake Nasser. After watching a
beautiful sunset we crossed the invisible water border to Egypt.
Announced by big spotlights shining on the majestic temple of Abu Simbel
right on the West shores. The huge statues of Ramses IV shining into
the darkness of the surrounding desert and the lake. Rolling out our
warm sleeping bags in a sheltered corner of the top deck we soon fell
asleep under a clear sky full of stars.
At around 5am the next morning the loud voice of the imman out of the
speakers woke us from our sleep. And soon a big crowd was praying next
to us while we pretended to sleep in our corner. Watching the stars at
the time I was wondering why they no longer prayed towards the East.
Because now, according to the Polar Star our ship was heading East.
Minutes later I was asleep again.
Just minutes after that an almighty rumbling noise of steel grinding
onto something woke us up, the ship moving violently. People jumped up
from their sleep. It was still dark. The boat leaning signinficantly to
it's right hand side. And the back of the boat well below where it
should be. Everything was now on some weird angle. What happened? Did we
hit another boat? But there are no other boats on Lake Nasser.
Announcements were made in Arabic language over the speaker. People
nervously scrambled around the old timber boxes with the life jackets
inside. Martin, looking at the lower deck at the back saw the rear of
the ship being flooded. Shit. Whatever just happened, it wasn't good.
More people in life vests crowded the upper deck nervously looking down
the sides of the vessel into the darkness below.
What do you do? The boat was sinking. Just not yet. There might be more
minutes. Or hours. Or it might not sink after all. But the leaning angle
and the water in the rear seemed a clear sign. What to do? What to
take? I just grabbed my passport, my credit card and the backup memory
chip with all my Africa pics and stuffed it into my pockets. With our
lifevests on we waited for the things to come. By now news spread around
that we hit a rock.
We waited and nothing happened. The ship did not change it's leaning
angle. The water level at the rear remained constant. The mood on board
calmed down. And the sun started to rise.
Now having daylight the rock in the water was clearly visible to all. It
sticked out of the water by maybe a meter. And continued underneath the
surface as yellowish haze in the dark waters. Our ship sat on the part
that sticked out of the water, the front well above the water surface.
On the right hand side of that piece of rock. We seemed to be in a
stable position but stuck. And alone. On both sides the coastline seemed
much too far away as to be able to swim there. And what we saw was only
desert. Yellow sand dunes against a blue sky. No mobile phone reception
of any network.
With nothing better to do I started filling my small backpack with
things I knew I could not replace so easily in Egypt. Like my documents,
my little computer, my camera. My diary. Some presents collected during
the journey. And my cash money. I was hundret percent sure that at this
day my luggage would need to be left behind. And also my little Suzuki.
During the collision Martin's bike fell against mine. At the same time
as some people fell out of their beds. Martin put both bikes back on
their side stand. The little market around them disappeared. Someone
placed a life vest onto my little Suzuki. Would that help?
As far as I knew our boat was the only vessel on the lake. Apart from
some slow freigt barges. And some small Police boats. How should we ever
get 500 people back to dry land? Or our poor motorbikes deep down on
the first deck? Blocking the exit?
And so we waited. And as we waited the situation on board calmed down
more and more. Roumors spread. Like there will be another boat arriving
at our position in four hours from Aswan. Or that there will be no boat.
Or that there will be Police boats ferrying the passengers across. The
Polish guys using a satellite phone. And also some Spanish overlanders
talking to their embassy. One Egyptian passenger borrowing the satellite
phone to call All Jazeihra. As he said - without the press nothing
would ever happen. And nothing did happen. Arguments developed on board.
With people fighting. And calming down again. The sun was shining and a
cool breeze kept temperatures comfortable. At around ten o'clock the
news seemed to consolidate around the fact that another vessel was on
the way from Aswan to arrive here at 2pm. By now the food in the
restaurant was finished. Also the tea bags. Only instant tea was still
being served. People started taking their life vests off.
The mood on board was now litterally the famous 'we are all in one
boat'. Many people talked to us. About many things, mostly about Egypt.
And Islam. Many people kept praying. We were all alone out there on a
rock on Lake Nasser, the 500 of us. The GPS showed our position miles
away East of the usual course. We were now inside a bay of the Lake. And
waited for help.
There is nothing we could do apart from waiting. It's such a helpless
feeling. You don't know what happens to the boat. Rumours spread that if
we had hit the rock just a bit more to the right the ship would have
rolled onto it's side. Wind and waves could still do that. Or the
pointless attempts of the captain to revers the boat off the rock with
full engine power. We had no impact on whatever would happen to us. The
knowledge of this really calmed me down. I don't know why but I hardly
ever felt so calm as back then. Calm and also extremely aware of
everything around us. Looking into the faces of our fellow passengers
and knowing that most of them don't know how to swim. There was the
young blind guy, being helped by an older man but always smiling. There
were the ladies who the night before had their own little market stalls
around our motorbikes on the lower deck. Still dressed into their
colourful cotton sheets, sitting underneath the life rafts chatting.
There was the Imman constantly praying with his little string of marbles
in his hand. And so many more people with such an uncertain future at
the time. Having my little backpack within reach I knew all I could do
was done. Now it's just waiting.
It was around 3pm when two small outboarder speed boats arrived. Full
with Police people who boarded via the sunken rear deck. And then, just
after that, a small grey dot appeared on the horizon South West of us.
An announcement was made that this was our rescue. The identical sister
ship of ours. 'When boarding please take the same posotion as on our
current ship'. It still took a long time for that grey dot to show the
outlines of a ship and finally arrive. Although Aswan was to our North
the ship came from the South because it had overshot our location by
many km and had to turn back. Finally, 12 long hours after we hit the
rock another ship carefully docked right next to us. I thought if worse
had happend that morning these 12 hours would have had a very deadly
potential for many of us.
Calmly but completely unorganised people started to jump across to the
new ship on all decks. The two ships laid side by side, railings
touching each other. With a significant height difference at the front
and the rear.
Luggage was thrown across. Someone moved our motorbikes out of the way
and crowds of people streamed through the door into the other ship. We
were promised we can move the bikes across too once everyone else was on
board. So we should be the last passengers to leave. No worries.
By design the only doors of the ships were located at the front part.
The part which was raised by our ship resting on the rock. So even
though the two doors of the two ships met horizontaly there was a step
in height of around half meter. Which means the top of the door of the
new boat was around half a meter below ours. And the bottom of our door
half a meter above theirs. Which reduced the clearance of the way
through by a meter. Enough to not fit the bikes through so easily. It
took a lot of people to help, we had to turn down the mirrors, Martin
had to take of the windshield. And still it was not easy to get the
bikes through in the hot sticky air of the lower deck. Eventually though
both bikes were parked across the exit door of the new boat again. With
only minor damage and scratches. All good.
Now our new boat attempted to pull out the stuck boat from the rocks.
Connecting the two with a long steel cable. The stuck boat in full
revers power. Our boat steaming forwards. The steel cable snapped
instantly. The stuck boat not moving. Our boat neither. Looked like the
snapped cable did some damage to our propellers. Divers were sent down.
While we were eating tasteless beans on board, courtesy to the shipping
company. It took another hour till we finally got on our way again. Just
when the sun went down at 7pm we were cruising North the four to five
hour trip to Aswan. At around 9pm I was sleeping back on the top deck
again under a clear sky of stars. Stirred up from the events of the day
sleeping was not easy. Hours later excited shouting woke us up. 'ASWAN'
people screamed at each other happily. It was now 11pm. Many came to us
saying 'Welcome to Egypt'. 'Thanks and welcome home for you' I replied.
The same night all of us had to clear immigration, get all our luggage
off board. Including the bikes. Which we parked at the Customs area. We
would not see them again till Saturday. Customs was closed on Fridays.
For all foreigners the shipping company arranged free accommodation in
Aswan for two nights. While unloading local journalists started
Finally, after 3am on Friday morning we were sitting on our beds of the cheap hotel room. Happy to be there, so happy.
Saturday we hope to clear all the documents for our bikes. It's
incredibly complicated and we hope that our fixer can help us here two
so we can finish everything in one day. Fingers crossed. Welcome to
18/03/2012 Sudan to Egypt border crossing
Arriving in Wadi Halfa, our last town in Sudan
Parking the bikes in the exit way like this would not be possible in
Australia. But here we were instructed to do so. Who expected an
After we hit the rock - people scrambling on the open top deck where we were sleeping that night
Looking down the side of the ship. The rock clearly visible under water.
The part of the rock sticking out of the water had now a big ship sitting on it.
12 hours after our accident the MV Sinai arrived to our rescue. It was
the identical sister ship to ours. It was also the first time ever I
have been rescued.
Looking back at our original ship still
stuck on the rock. The front raised out of the water and the rear very
close to the lake surface. Small Police vessels managing the scene.
Well there is good news and bad news. Bad news is that Ferry services
seem to be cancelled for the time being. E.G. the one supposed to leave
Aswan yesterday. Not a good time to be overlander.
Good news is that the damaged ship did not sink after all. They somehow
got it off the rock and it is now sitting in Aswan to be repaired. So
services might recommence soon.
After the Lake Nasser adventure cruise we spent some time relaxing in
Aswan. In parts because it's worth celebrating to be here with our
bikes. And in parts because Egyptian Customs are not the most efficient
ones in the world. We left Sudan from Wadi Halfa on Wednesday, arrived
in Aswan at Thursday late night and finished all the Customs procedures
on Saturday afternoon. Crossing this border took us four days! But now
we are free, have visa, Egyptian registration plates, insurance,
authority to ride on Egyptian roads and contributed positively to the
Egyptian Customs revenue. At times it was so ridiculous that it's
almost worth paying an entrance fee to see this spectacle. Papers in
Arabic and English flying around, being filled in by a whole bunch of
people, getting mixed up, getting stamped by a whole different bunch of
people. In between the tea brakes, the long disruptions to loudly argue
with each other. And calming down the situation with another tea. All
taking place in dirty offices while sitting on cheap broken chairs.
Certainly one border crossing to only perform once in your life.
19/03/2012 Aswan pics
I decided to spend the Sunday in Aswan while Martin is on a quick tour
to Abu Simbel. Aswan is a nice place. And against all the reputation
that Egypt developed with travellers we are not being hassled. People
are very friendly here, we hear a lot of 'Welcome to Aswan'. Which
again, after our shipping story, sounds like a sweet melody to me. Also I
heard from locals that we made it into local TV news, broadcasting that
late night interview, me in front of my little Suzuki on our arrival at
the Aswan pier after the prolonged boat journey
Back in Wadi Halfa my little Suzuki earned herself a full load of good
Sudanese motor oil. And today in Aswan she got her airfilter nicely
cleaned, her chain polished to shine with the new chain oil, her tyres
are back to perfect pressure. And all the little things that happened on
that boat journey got rectified by me. The handlebars bent straight
again. The indicators put back in place. And also the bent mirrors.
She's a happy bike again. And to celebrate, both, she and me, just the
two of us, did a big celebration loop around Aswan today. Nowhere
special, I just wanted to go, to ride, no matter where. The km just flew
past, accelerating through the gears in the chaotic Aswan traffic. To
the happy noise of her little single cylinder. Just go and go and go.
Through the city, past the market. Past many concrete apartment estates
with streets full of taxis, motorbikes, horse and donkey carts. Along
the Nile river with the ancient necropolis on the West bank across the
water. Just go, no matter where.
It happened right there, while I was riding aimlessly around, that I
felt relaxed, back to normal. The suspension of the previous days, the
boat incident, the customs procedures, all falling behind while racing
through Aswan on my little Suzuki. And never catching up again. That one
night on the ship it felt like we came so close to loosing our bikes.
So close. Sitting on my bike now felt rather special. And really
enjoyable. All good again. The journey continues.
According to other travellers a journey through Libya would now be heaps
easier than under Gadhaffi. The visa now readily available in the
embassy in Cairo within five days. No invitation required, no tour
company, no escort through the country. Two Italian motorcyclists came
through Libya on their way South with no hassle. If all that is true
Libya is shaping up as the way to go to Germany for us. The overland
route through Syria looking darker than ever.
But for now we will enjoy more of Egypt and hope the place is better
than it's reputation. Until now it certainly is. And there is lots more
to see and do.
While stuck on board this leaning ship...
...this is what I was dreaming about. Being free again, riding my little Suzuki.
(Sunset at the Nile river in Aswan, now with Egyptian number plate)
Aswan city centre. It is here where most river cruise boats finish their
journey. There is lots of them parked on the East bank. But not many
tourists are around. The recent events in Egypt scared lots of visitors
away to other destinations.
Greetings from home. An Aussie flag on a Felucca as an attempt to attract more costumers.
The first Big Mac since South Africa. Believe me, it was a really good one!
Little Suzuki and big Mosque in Aswan
The first week in Egypt is over. And to our own surprise we enjoy the
country a lot. Many other travellers have warned us about Egypt, about
being constantly hassled, ripped off, annoyed and asked for money. But
it didn't happen. Not to any extent to talk about. Which is good. There
are so many highlights instead. Little things like crossing the
legendary Aswan Dam on our own motorbikes. Or riding along the Nile
river. On beautiful paved roads running parallel along it's banks within
the long narrow green oasis of Date Palms. A strip of oasis which runs a
few hundret meters either side of the river.
We made it all the way to Luxor. If Egypt is world famous for it's
history then Luxor is one main focal point of it all. Being the old
capital of the pharaonic empire Luxor is full of history. On the way
from Aswan to here we already stumbled across the awesome Edfu temple.
Which is huge and impressive. But Luxor is certainly a league above.
First, arriving quite late, we were extremely lucky to find a good place
to stay. Many hotels and hostels asked for exorbitant prices. We
already gave up and looked for camping somewhere in the bush when we
decided to give it one more go. Asking some local advise they sent us to
a cheap hotel at Station Street. Martin waited at the bikes and I went
in to inspect the rooms. And hey, they ticked all the boxes. Whatever I
asked was immediately replied to in our favour. Cheap room? Yes. Free
Wifi internet? Sure! Breakfast included? Yep. Hot shower? Yep. Clean
room? Yep, looks brand new. Safe bike parking? Yep, just bring it into
the staff quarters. With so many 'yes' we just couldn't say 'no'. We
parked the bikes inside the hotel, driving them up the entrance stairs
and through the restaurant, through two more doorways and into the staff
living room. Parking right next to the TV. Very safely. So my little
Suzuki will enjoy some good entertainment after all.
From then on we explored Luxor by foot. The Luxor temple, the Karnak
temple, the promenade along the Nile river, the market. There is history
everywhere. It's hard to feel excited by some old ruined temples. But
then, if you are made aware that some of these have been there for up to
4000 years it makes the whole thing awesome. These walls and statues
are twice as old as Christianity, 20 times as old as modern Australia.
And are still standing tall. You can still look into the perfect faces
of various Pharaos in their statues of granite or sand stone. The same
stone faces as people had looked into while in Europe the Greeks
developed their first democracy and let it go bust, while the Roman
Empire rose and fell. Pretty much all events of modern and classic
history have dawned and passed away while these statues of the Pharaos,
these walls of stones filled with hyroglyphic texts and pictures, these
grand obelisks, have been standing in the desert unchanged. In fact have
been standing there way before all classic history events. Considering
the age of these structures I must say visiting them became an awesome
event. Much more so than photos will ever be able to show.
People here in Egypt are very proud of their 'Revolution' which
eventually ousted long time president Hosny Mubarak. The fact that now
the country is governed by the military does not seem to worry anyone
here. In fact people said they love their military. And we did see their
presence. A few tanks on the street in Aswan. Some huge helicopters
flying over Luxor. Some road blocks. But nothing threatening at all.
What the 'Revolution' did however, was to scare tourists away. Tourist
cruise ships are parked along the river in incredibly big numbers. With
no one on board. The tourist industry has suffered and continues
suffering. The horse drawn coaches in Luxor are now drawn by very skinny
horses. The hotels are mostly empty, some even abandoned. People seem
to be very happy to see tourists and most don't dare to hassle us. Many
more welcome us to Egypt, to Aswan, to Luxor. Again we are invited for
tea and coffee. As if everyone tries to improve the image of the
country. Which, right now, makes it a very pleasant and cheap place to
visit. World class historic sights? You've got them mostly to yourself.
Another consequence of the 'Revolution' is a shortage of fuel. Diesel is
almost impossible to come by, petrol is easier but still not available
everywhere. There are long queues at service stations. But if fuel is
available, it is cheap. One litre for AU$0.30 is pretty cool, isn't it?
After spending three nights in Luxor it is time to leave tomorrow.
Towards the big metropolis of Cairo. We would love to ride the road
connecting a few Oasis in the Western Desert. However, we learned today
that some travellers got turned back at Police checkpoints. So we shall
see how we get to Cairo. Inch'allah.
The entrance pylon to Edfu temple
Our safe bike parking in the Oasis Hotel in Luxor. The hotel's staff living room.
Sphinx at the Luxor temple
The Luxor temple. In here you find heaps of statues, columns, obelisks,
hyroglyphic texts - a true paradise for Egypt fans, archeologists and
uneducated tourists like us. You can estimate the grandness of the
temple if you compare the size of the statues to the size of the
tourists walking inside the area.
Our bikes posing in front of the 'Memnon Colossi'. These two statues are all that remains of a once big temple.
The funerary temple of Pharao Hatschepsut near the Valley of the Kings
Once more things developed differently than
expected. Both, Martin and me, we were looking forward to take the
Western Desert route from Luxor to Cairo. A route leading away from the
busy roads along the Nile river and into the lonely deserts of the
Egyptian Sahara. It would link some exotic oasis along the way featuring
awesome hot springs and historic sights. All in all a very pleasant
route to choose.
30/03/2012 Egypt pics
However, things started to develop differently when
we tried to buy petrol in Luxor. Because there wasn't any. Luxor is one
of Egypts major cities and a top tourist destination. But all petrol
was sold out on all petrol stations. And there wasn't any black market
either. We simply did not have sufficient fuel to embark onto a lonely
desert adventure yet. So let's find petrol first.
We travelled North along the Nile river on our
quest for fuel. But the same picture everywhere. Petrol stations which
had run out of petrol days ago or just yesterday. No fuel anywhere. Much
further North, in Quena, we were able to secure a few litres on the
black market. But all petrol stations here were out of petrol too. Under
these circumstances we considered it foolish to embark into the desert.
If cities like Luxor had run out of petrol, how likely would it be to
find any in some remote oasis? After all the desert route stretches for
So we started re-routing. With the fuel we got from
the black market guys in Quena we could reach Hurghada on the Red Sea
coast. There should be fuel for sure. And if not, at least we were stuck
somewhere cool with a beach.
So off we went towards the Red Sea. It is a long
stretch through the Eastern Desert to get there from Quena. But is is a
fantastic tarmac road. The landscape is rather uninspiring. Lots of
gravelly flat brown desert. But the main theme of this journey to the
Red Sea was wind. Really strong northerly wind. The closer to the Red
Sea we came the stronger the wind got.
We camped one windy night in the Eastern Desert.
Martin even pitching his tent inside a deep cable trench to shelter from
the wind, me camping in the shadow of a big stockpile of gravel for the
When we finally reached the port city of Safaga the
next morning the wind became the overwhelming theme of the day. It was
one thing that this city had no beach. But in this wind a beach would
not have been a great place to be anyway. However, in our first glimpses
the Red Sea indeed looked awesome. It presented us with the perfect
pattern of turquoise and deep blue patches of water on an ocean without
waves. But the coastline around Sufaga is mostly built up. With the big
port. Some concrete ocean promenade. And rubbish tipps. We only stopped
for a minute. And happily filled up our tanks at the service station
which had petrol to sell. And then continued North along the coast line
in search of a better beach. After all, for me it was the first time to
be back at salty waters since leaving Dar Es Salaam in November last
If you are like us and you did not know it yet -
Egypt's Red Sea coast is a prime destination for European holiday
makers. A cheap location for diving and snorkelling and spending some
time on the pool of some average resorts. And that is exactly how we
found it. If there was a beach it was owned by a resort. The resort's
security would not let us anywhere near their beach. If you don't arrive
there by bus they are not interested in you. Not even bothering to
appear friendly they immediately let you know that you're not welcome
there and you should go away now. Don't even park in front of the gate.
We did at one place. Outside, next to the gate. In line with other cars
and buses. It triggered some nasty language from the security guys
rushing towards us. Us, by then frustrated and ignorant of them, stood
our ground. Just a minute later a guy from the hotel management came
along to ask what we thought we were doing there as well. However, we
were outside their high walls so we stayed. And walked along their high
walls all the way to the water. To sit down and relax for a while.
Enjoying the turquoise waters of the Red Sea. Watching the dive boats of
the resort pass by. Curious what it was all about, on our way back we
walked along the water into the resort's reserved beach. No problem to
get past the security guy there with our white skin and foreign accents.
And what can I say. What we saw quite shocked us
after travelling all those months through Africa. In there the signs
were written straight in German. Announcing the day's entertainment
options. Lots of tourists were sleeping on their beach beds in the sun.
Getting tanned. Being massaged. And entertained. The whole place was run
by a German travel agency. And resembled perfectly a little island of
Germany in the Egyptian desert. And desert was all that was around that
resort. There was no escape for the 'inmates'. That's how we would feel,
spending our holiday in there. And that is again when we appreciated
our freedom. To just walk out the front gate, mounting our bikes and go.
The day continued this way. We would ride through
the desert with a view of the turquoise Red Sea waters to our right. We
would be overtaken by lots of tour buses. We would fight against the
strong headwind. And every now and then a bunch of huge concrete
buildings would appear at the coast, boasting some exotic sounding
resort name and being surrounded by high security walls.
At the end of that day we arrived in Hurghada, the
capital of all Egyptian Red Sea holiday resorts. 15km before we even
reached Hurghada we rode through a city of resorts and hotels. One right
next to the other, each one with an even fancier architecture and
fancier name. Never in my life have I seen so many of them. And how can a
town exist of just that? Where do normal people live? Are there any
locals? We rode past exclusive shopping malls, MacDonalds, Pizza Hut,
Burger King. And no where was there any public beach access. We could
see the beautiful water in the background. But big walls and security
fences left no gap to go there. Being shocked by this I remembered how
lucky we are in Australia where beaches can not be privately owned.
Hurghada city though was a surprisingly pleasent
place. There were actually (slightly) more locals than tourists. And
some shops. And cheap local restaurants. We stayed one night in Hurghada
in the Sea Wave Hotel, a small but lovely hotel a few blocks away from
the beach and the main road. And therefore affordable. The owners of the
hotel were mega friendly and we had the best time in Hurghada just
chatting to them. Which compensated a lot for the frustration of the
When we left the next morning the strong northerly
wind blowing in our face became the prominent feature of the day again.
The ongoing push against your body makes riding a very tiring activity.
And the wind makes it so cold. For the first time since the cool
mountain elevations of the Ethiopian highlands I had to wear my jacket
with the warm winter lining and a woolen neck warmer to feel somewhat
comfortable. Just that we rode along the ocean coast at around zero
elevation. Through the Egyptian desert. I would never have though it can
get so cold during the day here.
Once, in between two resort towns we just left the
road today, rode perpendicularly from it straight through the stoney
desert towards the ocean. There was no road, no path, just flat hard
ground. For maybe two to three km. Arriving at a point at the coast
where there was no resort, no security, no walls. Not another person in
sight. There and then, seeing our tyre tracks in a straight line from
the road in the distance, seeing our bike parked against turquoise sea
waters, we remembered why we are travelling again. Because we're free.
Camping in the windy Eastern Desert. Martin's
pitched his tent inside the deep trench on the right hand side. A
perfect wind shelter.
The entrance to one of the Red Sea tourist resorts.
We would have an argument with the resort's security for parking our
bikes in the parking lot outside their gate. We won.
425km to Cairo.
Going a few km off road straight through no man's land once got us to this spot right at the Red Sea.
Sheltering from the wind in the Eastern Desert. We set up our tents inside these abandoned buildings.
For many hundret km we rode along the perfectly
turquoise waters of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Suez. Unfortunately you
cannot feel the cold northerly wind on this picture.
Cargo ships in the desert. From this angle you can't see it. But it's there. Underneath the ship. The Suez Canal.
Four days we spent in Cairo. First and foremost to inquire about the
visa situation for Libya and Syria and to decide which way to go from
here. And of course also to do some sightseeing and to experience the
city of Cairo. A place which 25 million people call their home. More
people than the population of the entire continent of Australia. If so
many people choose to live in Cairo it must be an awesome place indeed.
31/03/2012 Cairo pics
As for the two first and foremost points: neither the Libyan nor the
Syrian embassy would give us a visa for their country. In Libya the
situation becomes more uncertain with time, foreigners got kidnapped.
And no further visa will be issued until the situation has calmed down
to a secure level. Also the border between Egypt and Libya is closed,
even a visa would not help us at the moment.
The Syrian embassy in Cairo told us they issue visa only for residents
of Egypt. Which we are not. We could get the visa in our home countries.
Or, if we are lucky, at the border. Judging by past experiences we
decided to trust our luck and try the Syria way. Otherwise, with Libya
and Syria closed, we would be stuck.
According to latest news the situation in Syria seems to be getting more
and more under control. Hopefully they get their issues sorted within
the next 4-6 weeks for our arrival.
However, our success was much greater in the sightseeing business. I
must say Cairo is awesome. In my imagination Cairo was a dirty noisy
busy place, chaotic and full of touts hassling poor tourists. And
although all these points are true I really loved Cairo.
I loved it because it is full of life. Just imagine 25 million people!
So all the dirt, the noise, the chaos is caused by people making their
life there. The streets are full of cars and Chinese motorbikes,
constantly honking. Driving within centimeters of each other in total
disregard of lane markings or traffic arrows on the pavement. But still
respecting each other. Whenever a small space opens there is a car to
fill it quickly.
For pedestrians, crossing a road is an adventure by itself. There is no
traffic lights. Almost none. You can imagine what it means to cross five
lanes of constantly moving traffic with only a few centimeter wide gaps
in between moving cars. Well it means, you will hear a lot of honking.
But slowly walking into the traffic it magically starts flowing around
you. An unbelievable experience.
We stayed at the Ismailia Hotel right next to Tahrir Square. It's this
square which became the focal point in the Egyptian Revolution in 2011. I
remember TV pictures of the square being filled with shouting crowds,
holding up posters and flags. I remember pictures of the square being
shut off from the rest of the city by army tanks. Back then no one could
predict what the army would do. There were pictures of people being
beaten by police, taken away by secret service agents. Pictures of dead
people lying on the pavement. Just one year ago.
During that one year the situation has calmed down. The army decided not
to shoot it's people but to form an interim government instead. Egypt
was back to normal. But is now heating up again.
Cairo people are very proud of their revolution. But they do realise now
that the 'interim' situation seems to become longer lasting than
expected. So again people start to protest on Tahrir square. We could
hear them in the early mornings from our hotel. Many people talk to us
about the recent events and their concerns for the future of their proud
country. There is still a lot of graffiti. There is a life size doll
hanging from it's neck from a light pole. There are still makeshift
tents on the Tahrir Square roundabout. And protest posters. One of the
tents features a photo exhibition about the 2011 revolution, showing the
crowds filling the square. And showing the casualties, terribly
disfigured dead bodies. Every evening videos of these past events are
shown from a screen. A constant memorial to the people's revolution.
Although today Tahrir Square is filled again with traffic, there are
still tanks in Cairo. One here, one there but certainly a constant
presence throughout the city. Due to their role during the revolution
Police has completely vanished from the streets of today's Cairo. For
their own safety. Which leaves the city sort of lawless. And many people
warned us of the spike in the crime rate. But we had more the feeling
that people celebrate the absence of police with fun activities. Like
kids riding motorbikes against traffic on the roundabout. Doing wheelies
stopping only centimeters from honking cars. The law is now in the
hands of the people who take care of each other. The mood more that of
celebration than of fear. And it is this what makes me love Cairo. A
city full of life and energy.
People shout out of cars 'Welcome to Egypt' towards us. Random people
cross the street for us to shake our hands and welcome us in their city.
Again, we get invited for tea. There is a lot of positive energy in
this town, beaming from it's people. And there are so many of them.
Filling the streets till late at night. Shops are open late, the
footpaths are full of people, moving, talking, shouting, laughing,
having tea together.
If it wasn't for the dirt you could think Cairo is a place in any
Western country. There is an underground metro system, heaps of shiny
high rise buildings. There's designer shops, latest electronic stores,
there are expensive cars, upmarket restaurants. All the popular fast
food and pizza chains. The world's famous luxury hotel brands. It's all
And there is the other Cairo too. At prayer time you can hear a three
dimensional choir of mosque minarets and their loudspeakers. There is
the old citadel, inside it the biggest and oldest mosques I have ever
seen. From up the old walls of the citadel you can spot the pyramids in
the hazy distance behind the skyscrapers. From up there the sounds of
people, cars, horns and minarets appear like coming from many old
scratched records playing all around you. And there are the markets
selling all these exotic spices, garments and souvenirs.
Apart from the general flair of being in Cairo there were two distinct
highlights for me. One was the Egyptian Museum. The mother of all
museums. Whatever was found in the tombs of the Valley of the Kings, in
the temples and excavations in the desert, it's all displayed there.
Most importantly the contents of the undisturbed tomb of Tut Ankh Amun, a
whole wing of the museum filled with treasures of this rather
unimportant child pharao. But the by far most impressive exhibition was
the royal mummy room.
When you travel through Egypt you will come across temples, pyramids,
statues, obelisks - all linked with one pharao or the other. Ramses,
Tutmosis, Amenophis, Seti, Cheops, Hatschepsut and so many others.
Ramses II sticks out for his extraordinary monuments. Extraordinary in
size and numbers. The temple of Abu Simbel features four twenty metre
high statues of him. The temples of Luxor and Karnak many more. And
here, in the Egyptian Museum, you can meet the real guy. After seeing so
many of his monumental statues, in the museum you can look into his
face, the real face of the man himself. The one guy behind all these
huge temples. The original face behind all these colossal statues. Lying
here peacefully, eyes closed, the hair grey as for every other old man.
Bare feet and wrapped in cotton. His monuments crumbling to dust all
over Egypt during the course of the past millenia. And still, today,
3500 years after he died, you can look into his face. His skin black and
dry but still smooth enough to show his features, his lips, his
wrinkles on the forehead, his pierced ears. It's the face of an old man.
You wouldn't think he's been dead for long.
Altogether the museum shows the mummies of 11 pharaos. Seeing them after learning their stories sure gives you goosebumps.
The number two highlight for me in Cairo was, as expected, the Great
Pyramids of Gizah. You can see them in the distance from high points in
the city. But once there they are truly massive and very very
impressive. The oldest one more than 4500 years old and still 140m high,
as high as a 45 storey building. Although the plateau they are standing
on is still part of the desert, the city encroaches very closely. Just
behind the perimeter fence you see the roads, the high buildings, even a
golf course. And the noise of the city is everywhere. Another fact I
like. These old monuments of the dead are still surrounded by life.
In all cases we were lucky, kind of, that the latest unrest succeeded in
scaring tourists away. So both, the Pyramids and the Egyptian Museum
were far less crowded than we would have expected. In fact most other
visitors beside us were locals.
So four days after our arrival in Cairo we left today. We chose Friday
because it's holiday in Islam, reserved for prayer. Therefore there is
almost no traffic on the road. Getting through Cairo on our bikes with
no issues at all. The wind blowing away the layers of dust which
accumulated on the bikes while parking for four days. We are now on our
way to the Sinai peninsula. And then Jordan.
We are now at the East Coast of the Sinai peninsula. Life here is very
comfortable. The wind has ceased. The air is warm and clean. The water
of the Gulf of Sinai turquoise and clear. Again I am sitting here in the
warm evening air just outside my tent in a wadi. Surrounded by
mountains and shone upon by the full moon.
We spent a few days in Dahab. Dahab is quite strange, the whole town
seems to be built for one purpose only: to serve tourists. Unfortunately
not our kind of tourists. When you arrive here with your own noisy
motorbike, with your dusty clothes, the smell of not having had a shower
for a few days, the sand baked onto your sunscreen saturated skin, then
yes, you sure stick out. Dahab is a town for divers who stay in hotels
or resorts and worry much less about money than we do. They are clean.
They arrive in buses. They use aftershave. Is not the type of fancy
resorts, resembling Disney castles as we found in Hurghada. But still
the big hotel brands are all there. There was no 'local' part of town.
At least we couldn't find one.
The main attraction of Dahab is the 'Blue Hole'. It's a deep hole in the
coral reef some 10km outside of town. Although it's famous for diving,
snorkeling is also heaps fun there. We thought to just pass by on our
way out of town and snorkel around the hole for a bit.
The Blue Hole is easy to find. There is a big stretch of restaurants and
dive shops just there on the beach. Hundreds of cars parked everywhere
and water and land are full of tourists fiddling with diving gear. We
also met Sofia and Jordi again, two overlanders we keep meeting again
and again since Nairobi. Sofia and me, we were both hungry. So we
embarked on a mission to find some affordable food where there is no
affordable food. The southernmost building, quite far from all the dive
hype, seemed to be best place for it. There were a few camels parked in
front of it. And a few local Bedouin people inside. The only affordable
things they seemed to have were peanut bars. And with something as
simple as a peanut bar a truly remarkable story began.
The shop was owned by an old Bedouin man. After our time in Dahab and
the experience with the other expensive shops and restaurants around the
Blue Hole I guess we started a bit straight forward, asking for the
price before even saying hello. The old man spoke no English. But
gestured us to relax and to sit down on the cushions inside. We sure
needed to calm down a bit. And he had something amazingly calming on
him, hard to describe. We sat down on the dirty but comfy cushions. He
brought us the peanut bar. And some tea. We took our time to relax a bit
and enjoyed our tea. When the other young Bedouin fellows started
talking to us. They were playing Domino while asking us all the typical
questions of where we are from, what is our name etc. The guy speaking
the best English worked with camels, offering camel rides to tourists.
But not bothering us with it. A few minutes later we were all sitting
together playing Domino. And drinking Mirinda Green Apple, really
awesome stuff. Time was flying and Sofia and me, we probably spent two
hours in there when we left to finally go snorkelling. By now it was
afternoon. After so much relaxing we decided to not travel any further
that day. To camp just there. And to snorkel the Blue Hole. A quite
impressive bit of ocean to see. The shallow coral reef right next to the
beach steeply drops into a perfectly circular more than 60m deep hole.
You happily snorkel along the beautiful corals and find yourself
suddenly staring into a bottomless deep blue abyss.
When we came out of the water some of the guys we played Domino with
earlier invited us to sit down at some beach chairs in front of the shop
of the old man. The old man quickly joined us. Nothing else to do for
him, no tourist would ever venture down the street far enough to find
his small shop. We had some good conversation when the other Domino
players arrived with their camels. Camels are big animals. But standing
right next to one makes them seem huge. While we were chatting the
camels had a bath in the ocean right next to our motorbikes. And became
very happy and clean camels. Once clean and sun dried the guys asked us
if we wanted to try riding them. What an offer. Of course! So up we
went, Sofia and me on our two camels. Up in the sky, these beasts are
surely tall. And bloody shaky when they move. And they move fast! My
internal risk assessment just screaming into my head 'HOLD ON!!!'.
Racing all the way up and down the beach we did and had heaps fun. Very
different riding style compared to my little Suzuki. When we arrived
back and safely touched the ground again with our own feet the guys
invited us with them. They had as much fun watching us as we had on top
of their animals. 'I want these people to come with us!'. They promised
us it only takes 20min. And we would see their home. And their 31
camels. It sounded good so we joined them. A nice group of Martin and
Sofia sitting on their two camels and me with the two young Bedouin guys
walking alongside them. The sun was low, the temperature comfortable.
All tourists had left by then, being back in their hotels in Dahab. We
had the whole beach to us. Us three tourists and some Bedouins and some
Their place was truly a camel paradise. 31 camels happily chewing grass
and other leftover food from the shops in town. A small shack in pretty
desolate state formed the home for the people. And outside a fire place
with cushions and blankets covering the sandy ground defined their
social area. Of course we needed to have at least one tea together.
Tea was boiled in a small black pot, not unlike a typical 'Jeannie in
the bottle' type of dish. Right next to a slowly burning big branch of
an Acacia tree. In this pot was as much sugar as there was water which
made the tea delicious. It was a perfect scene. Us sitting there, just
us in the vast landscape. Sitting around the fire drinking tea,
surrounded by camels noisily enjoying their meals. The fire slowly
burning with lots of aromatic smoke. Nothing else. Bedouin people
understand to generate a relaxing atmosphere like no other people on our
trip. So again time flew fast. After I don't know how many cups of tea
more people arrived. They brought more glasses so more people could
drink tea. They also brought dinner, fish and bread and salad. And lots
of Marijuana. And a Shisha (waterpipe). Soon the air was filled with the
aroma of smoking Marijuana, the smell of fresh bread and fish and the
smoke of the slowly burning acacia branch. There was a lot of quiet calm
conversation and laughter. There was music, played with a big blue
water barrel. And people singing and all of us clapping our hands.
Watched over by 31 camels in the moonlight.
Many many hours later, each of us having consumed at least 15 cups of
sweet tea, we walked back to the Blue Hole area and to our motorbikes.
The whole group came with us. Once there the old man from the peanut bar
shop offered us to sleep for free on the top of his house's roof. Of
course we did. So we slept after a great day on a roof top right next to
the ocean, next to the famous Blue Hole. Watching the stars and the
moon from our sleeping bags while the tea kept us awake. A really
awesome day. It all started with one peanut bar.
We still don't know for sure how to move on from here. Syria is still
closed and visas will be hard if not impossible to be obtained. Jordan
is now very close but seems to be a dead end. And now, that we are
almost ready to check out Jordan, another door opens on the other side
of Egypt. We found out that a Transit Visa for Libya is very easy to get
in Cairo. No letter of invitation required. Getting through Libya would
still be the most interesting option. Also an opportunity to stay
longer in Africa, after all this is an Africa trip. The only problem we
have now is that our Egypt visa expires sooner than we can get a Libya
visa. I am sure we will figure something out during the next few days
and the journey will go on again. Insh'allah.
08/04/2012 More Sinai pics
12/04/2012 Last days in Egypt
The Blue Hole area near Dahab when we arrived. It's a crazy place for tourists
The beach front at the Blue Hole later - all cars, all tourists disappeared by 3pm
View from our roof top sleeping place - only our bikes and Sofia's and Jordi's car remain at the beach.
My little Suzuki in the wadi near Dahab where I am typing this very report.
Many weeks of dust and sand and dirt leave their mark
Plans can change quickly and often even reverse. All of you who
already considered us in Jordan - nope, we're not there. We're back in
Cairo. In fact I am sitting on the balcony of our cheap but good hotel
right now. Eight floors below me I can see, hear and smell the constant
chaos which is Cairo traffic. Horns sounding like three dimensional
beeps all around. I can hear people's voices. Talking and shouting.
There is a small protest on Tahrir Sq, the ever repeating slogans in
Arabic coming through the loudspeakers right to our balcony. We are in
the middle of a huge concrete jungle, a fast ocean of brown dusty
concrete buildings, their roofs filled with rubbish and Chinese
satellite dishes. So different to the calm empty desert which is Sinai.
12/04/2012 Last Egypt pics
What are we doing back in Cairo? After all this time in Sinai we were
almost ready to go to Jordan. It was all so close. We could see Jordan
and also Israel just there, on the other side of the narrow Gulf of
Sinai. But we hesitated to take the last step. Because it would commit
us to a dead end which is Syria. And the only exit from that dead end
are expensive boats from Israel straight to Europe. No, we don't want to
go by boat. We want to ride our motorbikes. Ride for as far as
And then we gave the Libya option another go. By phone, calling the
Libyan embassies in Cairo and Alexandria. There was one visa we did not
know it exists last time, when we first came to Cairo and went to the
Libyan embassy. And that is a Transit Visa. We cleared everything over
the phone to a degree when it was worthwile coming back to Cairo and to
apply for the visa.
So Cairo it was. Our Egypt visa is almost at it's end so we had to
hurry. Nuweiba to Cairo, 500km in one day. We raced through Sinai, the
black mountains, the orange desert, the tunnel underneath the Suez
Canal. We raced through the sandstorm cleaning all the dead mosquitoes
from my little Suzuki. We raced with the trucks along the big highway
between Suez and Cairo. We mingled with traffic in Cairo. Which was most
fun. Just imagine a city of 25 million people and no traffic lights.
Simply none. And the city works. Somehow.
At the Libyan embassy everything sounds easy. No letter of invitation
required. No escort during our time in Libya. Only $16 fee. And only one
day processing time. The only problem with it, and there is only one,
is the validity. Which is seven days from date of issue. Ten if we are
lucky. So we have seven days to leave Cairo, get to the border, arrange
all border formalities for us and our dear bikes, to cross Libya and
exit to Tunesia. It will be a lot of riding. No time for sightseeing.
But we found the exit we were looking for. Once in Tunesia it will be
easy-as to get to Europe. With many short ferry services connecting
Tunis and Marseille or Genua. And best of all, we stay in Africa for
longer. As I've said before, this is an Africa trip!
I'm not sure what to think about Libya right now so I don't think. To
apply for the visa we had to go and see the Libyan consul herself. She
warned us in person that Libya is dangerous and we should consider our
options very carefully. She also insisted on a letter from our home
embassy stating our intent. To make sure our home embassy is aware that
two of their citizens voluntarily choose danger over safety. Since
German people do not require a visa for Tunesia but Australians do I
will cross Libya on my old German passport. And the German embassy gave
us the letter. They don't seem to worry much about their citizens.
In order to make it all in seven days we need to ride and ride and ride.
We need to fly through Libya. Hoping deerly that nothing goes wrong. We
spent the last two days to bring the bikes back into their best shape.
Clean airfilters, clean and lubricated chains, new oil. They will be
There will be neither the time nor the internet availability to post
another trip report till we reach Tunisia. In around seven days. Or ten.
Hopefully. Wish us luck!
Riding motorbikes in Sinai is awesome. Good roads, great mountains, no traffic.
The Gulf of Sinai
The motorbike of the cook in our campground in Nuweiba. It is still in
daily use. Brand 'Dayun' 150ccm. With broken lights, half the crash bar
missing, bent clutch lever. In fact, there was no clutch cable. Also no
front brake lever. The tank badly bent and a piece of yellow foam used
as lid. The tyres completely worn. No mirrors too. Or side stand. The
speedo still working but fastened with cable ties. But why not? The
clutch can be manually operated on the little lever right on the engine
block. If there is a rear brake you don't need a front brake. Using foam
as tank lid does both, it prevents fuel from spilling out but lets
enough air through to avoid a vacuum inside the tank. Worn tyres are
still good tyres. Mirrors can be replaced by a good look over your
shoulder. And who needs a stand if there are trees to lean the bike
against? All good! It's the ultimate way to save weight.
Our campground in Nuweiba by moonlight. The lights on the far side of the water are already from Saudi Arabia.
My view right now. The concrete jungle of Cairo at 10pm. From the
balcony of our hotel in Cairo. Not a bad view for a $5 hotel, right?
Change of plan again. Or not change of plan. I don't know. After all
the encouraging promises the Libya visa proves more difficult than
expected. It's very frustrating.
15/04/2012 Still in Cairo
So yes, by now we should be at the Libyan border. But again I am sitting
on the same balcony of the same cheap hotel in Cairo, writing this
report, same as last time.
It all started last week Sunday when we were in Nuweiba, Sinai,
discussing the future direction of the trip. The Jordanian border was
within reach. So was the Israeli one. But both, Martin and me, preferred
the Libya way. So we rang the embassy in Cairo. Again and again. It's
hard to get through. The line is either constantly busy or not answered
at all. "Welcome to the Libyan embassy in Cairo. If you know the
extension number, please dial it now. Otherwise wait for the operator".
More often then not the 'operator' seems to be in a world different from
the one of her phone. Or, if there is an oparator she will connect us
with no where. Usually the phone is ringing after the taped message. And
ringing. And ringing. And ringing. But sometimes we did get through. A
lady called Hanaa, who spoke very good English, promised to research if
they could issue a transit visa for us. She said we might need a letter
from our own embassy. And that we should call back in an hour. So we
did. But no one answered. In fact no one answered for the rest of the
So we enjoyed the day at the beautiful beach in Nuweiba. Trying to call
again and again. With no one picking up the phone in Cairo.
Monday morning we tried to call once more. And Hanaa picked up. And said
yes, if we come to Cairo, if we bring the letter from our embassy, we
sure would get our visa. The problem we saw was to get the letter. Our
government currently has a travel warning for Libya and usually in these
cases they don't support you travelling there. Hanaa's comment to our
concern was that even that should not be a major problem. Nothing we
couldn't solve once we are sitting together. However, Martin remained
suspicious. It's 500km between the beautiful sunny beach in Nuweiba and
the Libyan embassy in dusty Cairo after all. So only I went. Straight
after the phone conversation on Monday morning. 500km straight to Cairo
on my brave little Suzuki flying through the Egyptian desert landscape.
With a big smile on my face for I love riding my little motorbike.
Tuesday morning I went straight to the German embassy in Cairo to ask
for the letter. And to my surprise they said 'yes'. So I arranged one
for Martin and one for me, to be ready for pick up on Wednesday morning.
Even the efficient Germans need one day for a short letter. And 25 Euro
each. However, to stake things out I went to the Libyan embassy
straight after. To finally meet my phone friend Hanaa. And ask for the
As it turned out Hanaa is the Libyan consul herself. I was more than
impressed to find myself sitting on an expensive leather sofa in a huge
airconditioned office. With her excellency the consul and an ensemble of
Egyptian and Libyan flags next to her heavy wooden desk. She was
extremely friendly, extremely encouraging. She took a long time to
explain the visa to me, all it's conditions. No problem. As you would
expect from a consul she had fantastic conversational skills. We just
needed the letter from our embassy and within one day we would get the
visa. No problem. For sure. Happily I told Martin the good news over the
mobile phone. And he too embarked onto his 500km journey across Egypt
to Cairo. He too endured the headwind, the sand storms, the checkpoints.
And the endless straight road through the desert of Sinai. To arrive
tired and beaten at our cheap hotel in Cairo.
Wednesday we both got up early to make our way to the German embassy to
pick up our letters. They appeard quite simple for the heavy 25 Euro
fee. No official letterhead. Cheap font set. But who cares, they were
official letters. And had a stamp on it. In good spirit we took them
straight to Ms Hanaa.
The Libyan embassy is quite a mess to get into. There is a constant
crowd of people in front, trying everything to get in. There is shouting
in Arabic language, there is pushing, there is waiving forms and
passports. Even fighting. But we made it through. And we made it in.
This time not into Ms Hanaa's nice office. She came to us in the waiting
room. Couldn't believe we had the letter. There was nothing wrong with
them. Exactly what she wanted to see, no complaints. But still, no visa
for us. Apparently the person issueing the visas was not in that day. We
should come back the next morning, on Thursday. Ms Hanaa promised us we
could get the visa on the same day. And even lured us with a ten day
validity instead of the typical seven days for a transit visa. So on
Thursday we would get out of Cairo. Towards Libya. Just in time before
out Egyptian visa expires on Saturday. We left the embassy so confident
that we even bought an expensive Lonely Planet travel guide for Tunesia,
our destination on the other side of Libya.
Back at the hotel Martin grew suspicious. I don't like it when he does.
Because more often then not he is right. Why did we never fill in an
application form? Or were asked for a passport photo? Or any document at
all? Why does the consul herself need another person to issue a visa?
Why did she not tell me the day before that the actual visa person would
not be in on Wednesday? Why did she give us the letter from the Germans
back without making a photo copy?
However, we packed everything that afternoon. All ready to go to make
the most of the short time we would get on our Libya visa. And went back
to the Libyan embassy on Thursday morning. Today morning. And fought
our way through the shouting crowd again.
Ten minutes later a guy in suit and tie came to see us. To notify us
that today no visa could be issued because 'the system is down'. He gave
us his mobile number to call him on Monday. Which would be two days
after our Egypt visa expired. He knew. But that's not his problem. And
Ms Hanaa was currently too busy to see us. Good bye. The way he treated
us felt like we wasted his time and our time and we all know anyway that
nothing will happen on Monday either. So we left. And had a coffee
outside in a small coffee shop. Shocked and frustrated Martin and me, we
didn't talk much. And ordered another coffee instead. Calling Ms Hanaa
on the phone she was first 'busy' and then 'out of office'.
Our situation the following: it was Thursday mid day in Cairo. We would
get new information about a Libya visa on Monday, five days from now.
Maybe. Not sure. Rather unlikely actually. Our visa for Egypt and the
papers for our bikes would expire on Saturday, only three days from now.
Egypt is not a good place to overstay the validity of your papers. To
renew things in Egypt it would take at least one full day. Between
immigration, customs, traffic police and insurance company. And the many
km in Cairo traffic between their offices. Friday all offices are
closed in Islamic Egypt. So there was only the rest of Thursday. A few
hours left. And, if open, Saturday. No one knows about Saturday. There
is a ferry from Nuweiba to Jordan on Friday morning. But not on
Saturday. It's 500km East of Cairo. And there is a land border crossing
to Israel which, ones used, will make our passport useless for most
Islamic countries in the world. Including Syria. Even though Israel
might kindly stamp a separate sheet instead of our passport, most
countries can by now identify the Egyptian exit stamp as the one on the
Israelian border. The border too would be 500km from our small comfy
coffee shop in Cairo.
Martin and me, we address our frustration differently. I am more the
type to sit down, calm down, think. Martin more the type of immediate
action towards alternative ways. So while Martin set off to catch
tomorrow's early morning ferry to Jordan I chose to remain in Cairo for a
few more days to arrange the extension of my Egyptian paperwork. We
will catch up in a few weeks time in Jordan to attempt the Syria
crossing together. Or in Egypt if the Libya visa issue is solved.
Everything is open again.
For some strange reason I am no longer in the mood for sightseeing. I am
sure Jordan is a fantastic country for it, there is Wadi Rum, there is
the ancient rock city of Petra. But, you know, travelling for many
months can make you tired. Also my mood is set on Africa. I love Africa.
I don't feel ready to leave yet. Not in the hurry of a split second
decision. Instead of sightseeing in Jordan I need to spend more time
with people in Africa. And the people we met in Egypt so far, they're
awesome. And it's the contact with people which gives me the energy,
makes me enjoy this journey so much. What's awesome too is the fact that
Martin and me, we are independent enough to indulge in our own
preferences for a while and meet again to continue together. We did it a
few times before. And found together again. And it worked perfectly
Pretty much every day since our visit to the Blue Hole in Dahab we are
in phone contact with the Bedouin people we met there. They keep
inviting us back, to spend more time together. Learn about each other.
Exchange our languages. 'Please come back!' For me, this is so tempting.
I love people. I love to spend time with people. And to learn from
them. And to share their life for a while. And Bedouin people are heaps
interesting people. Last Monday I felt really sad for leaving Sinai in
such a hurry for Cairo. Once out of Egypt we would most likely never
meet again, how would there ever be the chance to? And therefore not
having time for another catch up with them felt like a deeply unpleasant
necessity while I was riding through the desert to Cairo. But now, now
the opportunity is there. So here's the plan. Once all the paperwork in
Cairo is completed I will have everything in order to remain in Egypt
for another three months. Heaps of time to say yes to the repeated
invite. Yes to coming back to the Blue Hole in Sinai and spend some time
with our Bedouin friends. While trying to solve the Libya problem. It's
near the Jordanian border so Martin is never more than a day's journey
So for now, I'm just sitting on my balcony in Cairo. The city is buzzing
underneath me. There is music, cars honking, there is voices of people.
It's Thursday night. So the mood is heating up for the big protests on
Tahrir Sq on a typical Friday. Tahrir Sq is right next to the hotel.
Tomorrow will be interesting.
Still in Cairo, times are getting happier. My last trip report from two
days ago was written during a time of utter frustration. But it's not
that bad. Being of an optimistic nature I am sure we will get the Libya
visa sooner or later. In the meantime I was succesful in some other
important matter. I bought myself time. And renewed my visa for Egypt.
And the papers for my little Suzuki. To my surprise it was quite easy to
do so. Expecting another buerocratic nightmare of the likes we went
through in Aswan. Extending the visa required only three visits to the
immigration department, each lasting no more than five minutes. The
first one to fill in the form and pay the fee (whooping $2.00). The
second one, one morning later to give them the passport. The third one
two hours later to pick up the passport with a three month visa stamped
It was also handy to have the immigration department sitting in the
building right next to my hotel. Visa extension - no worries.
Even the paperwork for my little Suzuki could be finished within one
hour. Costing another $10.00 for a two months extension. Not bad, hey?
Only problem was that the Customs office is at the airport, 20km from
the CBD. To get there traffic slows you down to make it a one and a half
hour one way trip during which you age another five years. Cairo
traffic is special, it perfectly resembles a river. Traffic flows all
the time, slowly but constantly. Distances between vehicles are only a
few cm. Same as a river, traffic fills all spaces. Lanemarkings don't
matter. If a tiny space opens somewhere it will be filled by a vehicle
immediately. If a road is full traffic spills over onto oncoming lanes.
Or footpaths. Same as an overflowing river. After a while, if you 'get
in the flow' it's actually fun. Particularly on a motorbike without
luggage. It's the margins that give you grey hair though. Cars, trucks,
buses, they move past you with a few cm to spare to your handlebars. But
never touch. Really skillful drivers these Cairo people.
Extending the papers for the bike is hardly possible without a fixer. So
I used one. That's probably why everything got finished within an hour.
But all forms and documents are available in Arabic only. No
translation. They are obviously meant for foreigners. With foreign
registered vehicles. But still, only in Arabic. It was quite interesting
to see my fixer working for me though. The first ten to twenty minutes
it was just about collecting forms from several offices within a 250m
radius and filling them in. The number of sheets in his hand constantly
The remaining 40 minutes were spent delivering these forms again to
different offices. In the same 250m radius around my little Suzuki. The
sheets in my fixers hand getting fewer and fewer. At some stage, when
there were only a very few left, he gave them to me and announced that
we are finished. Too easy! Apart from receipts the only paperwork of
significance was a handwritten comment in Arabic on the back of my
Carnet sheet stating that my bike can remain in Egypt till 14th June.
Handwritten and stamped. Too easy indeed!
Christian life in Cairo follows the coptic calender. Which strangely
celebrates Easter this weekend. One week after the rest of the world
celebrates it. So yesterday, the Coptic good Friday, everything was
closed. And I had to wait till today with my papers.
However, Islamic Cairo sees Fridays as holidays too. So people don't
work. And traditionally, during the Egyptian revolution last year Friday
was the day of mega protests. The revolution is now over. The military
still governs the country. And elections are scheduled in six weeks.
Leading to these elections the protests on Tahrir Square are getting
bigger and bigger again on Fridays. And yesterday was a big one.
Estimated half a million people, right next to my hotel, shouting
slogans like a huge choir. Their slogans echoing back from the concrete
of the high rise buildings around the square. Being mixed with the beat
of drums, the honking car horns and protesters holding speaches through
their loudspeakers. And sometimes also mixed with the calls for prayer
from the surrounding mosques. Starting mid day and going late into the
night. Truly massive.
The courtyard of our hotel was used by many as a quite zone. So it was
filled with people relaxing, their posters rolled up against the walls.
Of course the courtyard is also the place where my little Suzuki is
parked. She provided a welcome bench for people to sit on. Or to put
their stuff on. Or to lean their stuff against. Too late to get her out
with all roads now closed. Egyptian people are a friendly lot though. I
checked for the bike a few times and people jumped straight off her. I
told them they are welcome to sit on it, just to take care. And they
did. Unharmed but dirty and surrounded by a pile of rubbish I freed her
today to ride to the airport for her paperwork. All good.
Sticking around in Cairo makes you meet people which in turn makes your
stay quite pleasant. Often random people on the street, mostly young
ones, are heaps keen to take a photo with you on their mobile phone.
Often they also ask you to take a photo of them with your camera. The're
posing in some heroic way, say thank you and keep walking. Others
randomly invite you for things. Mostly older ones invite you for tea. If
you only make some time to talk to them. Talking with foreigners seems
to be highly regarded. The conversation often goes around the
Revolution, the good and bad things that came out of it and the
uncertainty of the soon to be election. Which is cool with me. I have
seen what I wanted to see in Cairo. And am now happy to make time to
talk. And so I learn about the whole Revolution issue as well which is
quite interesting. And tea is just awesome.
Tonight however will be my last night in Cairo for a while. My business
here is finished. To find out if the 'system' is running again in the
Libyan embassy a mobile phone call will suffice. And till that happens
there is now time and opportunity to explore Egypt beyond the usual
places in more depth. So my little Suzuki and me, we shall enjoy the
freedom of the open road once more and be released from the noise and
the dust of the city. Stay tuned!
15/04/2012 Cairo pics
Some more impressions of Cairo. Having nothing better to do I grabbed my
camera and started walking around town for an hour, saying yes to
everyone who asked for a photo to be taken.
15/04/2012 Friday on Tahrir Square
These kids just leaving the mosque after their Friday prayer.
These two guys travelling on a truck full of chairs. They made their driver stop the truck so I could take a photo of them.
Making new friends in the hotel lobby
This lady is working in the kitchen of our hotel. Asking her for a
coffee would make her smile and swing into action straight away. She
made some awesome coffee for us.
Cairo features some huge mosques. There is
actually two mosques in this picture, in between them is a narrow path.
If you walk along it you feel squeezed in by the huge vertical stone
walls on either side. A particularly impressive experience at prayer
time with praying sounding loudly from the speakers outside the mosques.
Praying here sounds like singing, and it's loud. So loud, the sound
overwhelms everything else, even the honking traffic around the mosques.
26/04/2012 S...t happens
Friday protests on Tahrir Sq, just outside my cheap hotel.
Looking down onto the gathered crowd
The morning after. My little Suzuki in the
hotel yard, exhausted for playing her part in the revolution, providing
a relaxing chair to some of the protesters during Friday afternoon.
If anyone ever complains about Egyptian people again, I will start a
fight. Egyptian people are awesome. This time I really needed them. And
they were there. Finally, after all those months I had my first
motorcycle accident. But let's start the story at the beginning.
Currently I am in Egypt staking out options of how to get to Europe by
bike from here. Mainly concerning the Libyan diplomatic missions or
boats from Alexandria. While Martin is on his way to explore the
situation at the Syrian border. The plan was that, if nothing works from
Egypt I would spend some time with our Bedouin friends and then follow
Martin to cross into Syria together. Living with Bedouin people sounded
So I went and spent a couple of days in Alexandria. To my surprise it
doesn't seem that hard to find a ship from there. There are ships to
Turkey, to Greece and to Italy. No regular services though but they
would still take motorbikes and passengers with them. I could have
booked one leaving for Turkey on the day of my arrival in Alexandria.
But that was too early for me, I wanted to stay in Egypt a bit longer
and visit my Bedouin friends on Sinai. They kept inviting me daily on
So off I went on my little Suzuki from Alexandria to Ismailia. The road
leads nicely through the Nile delta area, it is very densely populated
and there is a lot of traffic on pretty bad quality roads. Just after
the small town of MitGhamr, I was travelling next to a truck on a
multilane road, all of a sudden this green car appeared in front of me.
Inching across the road in front of the truck and into my lane. By then
it was too late for me to do anything but hitting the break. I perfectly
T-boned the green car into it's driver door at around 40km/h.
Things I remember from the immediate moments afterwards was the loud
bang, the world spinning around me while sliding along the asphalt and
the grinding noise of my bike sliding along following me closely.
Unfortunately back in Gondar, Ethiopia, my protective motorbike pants
were stolen from my tent. So all my sliding now happened in my thin
polyester tracking pants. No good.
Coming to a stop after what seemed like an eternity I was still aware
enough to get myself off the road. Sitting there on the kerb, watching
my poor little bike on the asphalt, fuel spilling out of the damaged
tank. Stuff from my panniers littering fhe road. I was immediately
surrounded by a group of shocked people. I remember seeing a lot of
blood around my left knee.
As they carried me across the road to their house some others collected
my stuff and pushed my bike across as well, fuel still spilling out. At
their house I remember how I grabbed my first aid pack out of my
panniers and found myself lying flat on a sofa soon. The first aid pack
full of sterile bandages and plasters was probably the best medical help
I would find for a while.
I could see a big flap of ripped off skin hanging from my left knee,
muscles and tendons clearly visible. How could we fix this here
somewhere smalltown Egypt? I found a big cut too on my back. And a lot
of scratches on my left ellbow. But there was no pain. Just shock. I was
surprisingly aware of what was going on around me. The family who took
me to their house bandaged the worst wounds up nicely for me. I felt bad
for staining their sofa with blood. They seemed to be just as shocked
as myself but really made an effort to care for me. They brought me
fresh apples cut in peaces. And water with a lot of sugar disolved in
it. I still remember the sweet taste.
They spoke no English. But somehow communicated the word 'doctor' to me
again and again. Does it mean I jned one? Or they take me to one? Or one
would come here? And indeed 15 minutes later an ambulance arrived.
People gestured me the question if I would need anything out of the pile
of my stuff. What would you take? Within a secojd or two I grabbed my
mobile phone charger and a bag with my clothes and the folder with all
my paperwork. Already on the stretcher towards the ambulance I was also
smart enough to ask someone to pass me the GPS from my bike. I would
have to leave everything behind, at least I wanted to be able to find my
way back here. The family made it clear to me they take good care of my
stuff. Dont worry. In a last glimpse I saw how someone sticky taped the
damage in my little Suzuki's fuel tank. And the door of the ambulance
closed. The paramedic talking to me in Arabic. Man, you feel so alone in
such a moment.
Just 5 minutes later the doors opened again and I was rushed into the
hospital emergency. Wounds were cleaned and stitched. X-rays and
ultrasound images taken. While an English speaking police officer asked
me questions. Right then I was aware of thevfact that my bike and
everything was with strangers, I did not know their name, I did not know
their location, nothing. And how good an idea it was to take the GPS of
all things with me. Half an hour later I was pushed to my bed in a
wheelchair. A two bed room. Next to me a young guy with his family
visiting. No one speaking English.
What a situation to be in I just thought to myself. Not knowing where I
was, for how long I had to be here, what was wrong with me, what would
happen to my stuff. A young nurse came along and with a smile connected
me to a glucose water infusion. Because there is no food service in
Egyptian hospitals. Only BYO. Have you got someone to bring you food?
No. Thank you. Alone would be a perfect description of how I felt right
there. So alone. And that is where it all turned around to the better.
At around 8pm that evening the two Poice officers who interviewed me in
the Emergency department came to visit me. Just like that. To see how I
go. And to my everlasting gratefulness they brought along a big bag full
of fresh bread rolls. And cheese. More than I could eat. And a cold 7UP
lemonade. They sat with me for a bit while I was hungrily digging into
the food. How awesome. Good to have someone to talk to.
I was still eating when they left. Calling my Bedouin friend in Ismailia
he was shocked to hear that I wouldn't make it to him tonight. Ismailia
was more than 100km away from here, he couldn't help me much.
However, just a few minutes later, around 10pm, the door opened again
and a three more visitors came. It was the family who took care of me on
the accident scene. These strangers come to visit ME? They quickly
rearranged the room, pushed my food aside and replaced it with more food
from their many bags. 'This is what we call dinner' translated their
son while pushing away the 'dinner' from the police guys. The other two
smiling and talking Arabic. I learned that my rescue angel's name was
Said. He was a big dark skinned man, somewhat in his fifties.
Bedside tables became dining tables, newspapers became table clothes.
And the dishes never stopped to come out of their bags. Meatballs,
steak, fries, fresh bread, cheese, salads, chips, youghurt drinks,
orange juice, lemonade, spring water and much much more. They stayed
till around midnight. Reassuring me I was alright, my bike was in good
care and they already started repairing it for me. 'What?' They also
left their names,phone number and a description of their home location
written in Arabic. I could show this to a taxi driver. Or just call them
and they pick me up from hospital and let me stay at their place till I
feel better. My stuff was in good care as well. Apparently police
turned up to collect it but they did not give it to them. I was now
their 'son'. And I could leave my stuff with them for as long as I
needed. In these two hours I had the happiest moments in my life.
Complete strangers appearing as angels.
I asked the nurse to take out my infusion. I obviously did eat and
drink. Way more and way better than I would have dreamed of that day.
I wasn't actually in such a bad state. And I could now feel it. I walked to the bathroom myself. What an achievement!
My knee was stitched up with eight stitches, my back with a further
three. My ellbow was bandaged but nothing serious. My left wrist had
some overstretched tendons and hurt a bit. All X-rays were clear. And so
the doctors gave me the 'all clear to go' for the next day.
Next day morning I did not have to much time to myself either. Fellow
patients invited me for tea. The hospital's general manager came to say
hello and inquire about how happy I was with the service of his team.
And Ameen, my Bedouin friend, came all the way from Ismailia to visit me
and pick me up. I was really happy to see him there because I now knew
everything was getting sorted. Believe me, if you are in a s...t
situation and there are people who put so much effort into making you
happy - well it makes you happy. Really happy. Many times I just did not
know what to say and had to fight tears. I also let Martin know who
straight away wanted to come back from Jordan to see me. But there was
no need to, everything was going to be alright.
The MitGhamr hospital not only did a great job stitching my limbs
together. They also did it completely for free. No money charged.
Ameen and me, we soon left the hospital. Me limping behind him. First to
Police to make a statement. Then to the other Police to make a
statement. Then to the judges commision to make a statement. Always
accompanied by lots of sweet tea. Finally we were free at around 3pm.
First of all I was keen to go and see Said at the accident location. All
my stuff and my poor little Suzuki was still there. I was keen to see
her, wanted to know in what state she was. If she could be repaired. I
did not remember to much about her from the day before.
It was a strange feeling to be back at the accident scene. But Said
received Ameen and me like family. We were soon sitting on the sofa,
still blood stained with my blood from the previous day. And having tea
together. However, I felt restless and wanted to see my bike. Said and
his family already had dismantled the tank in order to repair it. It
would have been finished if they had had the tank key. Said showed me
how they already bent the handlebars straight again. Also the gear shift
lever was slightly bent in. Apart from that my little Suzuki was in
great shape! Even without tank we could start her little engine at first
go! What a great bike!
The luggage panniers too were okay. One strap got ripped off. Appart
from that no damage, nothing ripped, nothing torn. Not bad for a pair of
cotton panniers who slid along asphalt with the whole weight of the
bike on them, right? Some of the stuff inside was not so lucky though.
Some plastic stuff like my electric power plug converters or some
spraycans like my mozzie repellent broke to pieces or spilled all over
the place. But the important thing here was: there was nothing that
could not be fixed! Marco okay? Tick. Bike okay? Tick. Equipment okay?
Tick. All good.
Ameen's home was still some 120km away. So it was soon time to leave. It
should be a long and hard journey for my stiff limbs squeezing into
cars, tuk tuks and pick ups.
Said happily offered me to leave my bike and all my stuff with him for
as long as I wanted. He would take care of the bike and whenever I was
ready I should come back and continue the journey from his house. And I
had no reason to not trust him.
Just before sunset we arrived at Ameen's home near Ismailia. It's
actually not in Ismailia but almost 20km from it in the countryside. It
is Bedouin territory so most people live in tents. There are lots of
camels, donkeys and sheep. And irrigation makes growing tomatoes,
chillies or melons possible. Pretty much an area of sandy desert with
many square patches artificially turned green by irrigation. Ameen's
family had a brick house and was no longer living in a tent. There were
mother, father, three brothers, six sisters and many of their wifes,
husbands, sons and daughters. Also three dogs, lots of chicken, and some
goats. Goats so tame they come into the house and eat the food crumbs
from the floor.
Even though it is not a tent the house very much resembles one.
Everything happens on the floor. There is no furniture. Just cushions
and foam matresses on the floor. During the day people sit on them.
During the night people sleep on them. All in one room. There is no
electricity or tap water. Just a water pump outside. Cooking happens
with a big iron box on short legs which is carried around inside and
outside the house. Timber is burned in it to cook tea. Tea is
omnipresent, is drunk at any time, day or night. And Ameen's family is
the most welcoming family I could have wished for. An undiscribable
friendliness that makes you feel all warm inside. Everything is shared,
no single person ownes something by himself. Which at first I was not
used to. Water is drunk out of some glass that goes around. Food is
served on one big tray of plates and everyone sits around it. And just
naturally my stuff is used as if it is 'ours' too. No questions asked.
But I don't mind.
So here I am right now. Being welcomed to live a Bedouin life in a
rather traditional Bedouin family. It will probably take around two
weeks until my knee and wrist is bendable again to a degree that I could
ride my bike. I will spend these two weeks here. I can stiffly but
without pain move around freely and am so in the best position to make
the most out of this strange situation. And I must say I actually enjoy
it. Heaps. My little Suzuki and most of my luggage is some 120km away at
Said's house. He is calling me every day. It's all in good hands.
Could be worse. No worries.
In MitGhamr hospital the morning after. Ameen visiting me to pick me up.
Hospital security almost sent him back, why would someone visit the
At Ameen's family home. Life largely takes place sitting on the floor.
And of course, tea is important. Sweet tea comes with every meal. At
least once in between meals. Whenever a guest arrives to the house (and
there are many). And whenever there is nothing else to do. In average
there are four spoons of sugar for a small glass (half size of a Scotch
My Asylum provider for the time being. Ameen.
The family home is in an area where lots of veggies are grown by irrigation. Here a chilli plantation.
Thanks for the nice messages everyone! You guy's are awesome!
Don't worry, I'm not too bad. Just taking it easy at the moment.
Most of my wounds are completely healed. But frustratingly the big one
on my knee got a bit infected and takes a little bit longer. But
nothing serious, nothing some antibiotics can't fix. It's just a matter
of patiently waiting. And waiting. Changing the bandaging every morning
hoping to see progress. And there is progress, but just a little. I
guess when you are on a holiday time really feels longer...
In the meantime Ameen and his fantastic family take very good care of
me. They feed me, give me heaps of tea to drink and take me along to
everything they're doing on the chilli farm. Pity that my knee prevents
me from part taking in any farm work, would be interesting.
However, I am never alone. There are always people sitting with me or
taking me somewhere. So I meet a lot of them. Which I really like.
Although men and women live their lifes very separately. They eat
separately, they drink tea separately, just everything. So I only sit
together with other men and boys. A bit of a pity.
But it's a good life here. A very relaxed one. And as such exactly what I need.
I'm careful with prognosis for the future but if the beautiful Dr.
Jasmine here in Ismailia is right my knee should be fixed by the
weekend. And I can then re-unite myself with my little Suzuki! Cross
fingers for me, okay?
Twenty days have gone by since the accident. The recovery takes a bit longer than expected. But it is all on track.
I am still in Ameen's small country estate near Ismailia. I always find
it incredible how time flyes. It's been 20 days here in this place for
me! 20 days!
The one thing which took so long to heal was my knee. It was the most
serious of my injuries anyway with a 3cm by 10cm flap of skin and fat
tissues getting ripped loose. 8 stitches later it was back on. But the
whole knee was swollen heaps. And although it recovered pretty well
initially just over one week ago it deteriorated again and I felt severe
pain when moving it. So Ameen and me, we went to see the doctor again.
Seeing the doctor is often not that easy here. To get to the doctor from
Ameen's house you need to hitchhike a pickup car for around 10km and
then walk another 500m. An eternity to stumble along with a stuffed
knee. That's to the doctors's place. Or the 'hospital' as everyone
calls it. But it's not a hospital really. Only a small building with one
or two consultation rooms. We went there three times before. Three
times no one was there. But today, when I needed it most, there was.
Beautiful Dr Jasmine had a look at my knee. The wound was quite
infected. She asked me if I took any antibiotics. I didn't. In
retrospect I should have taken some preventatively. But too late now.
The whole upper leg was infected enough that she decided against
removing the stitches at that time too. And she wrote down a whole list
of things I should by. Things to clean my wound. And some hard core
antibiotics to take for what she said 'at least one week'. She also said
I could come back any time, a doctor would be here every day now. And
three days later we could take the stitches out.
The antibiotics had an immediate effect. I could almost watch the
swelling retreat and the infection disappear. Just incredible. And very
quickly I felt much stronger and happier. Who knows what else was in
these pills. But who cares. Happy is good.
Three days later we went again to the doctors place to see Dr. Jasmine
and get the stitches removed. By then the infected knee had improved
considerably. This time I went there with Ameen's brother. Arriving at
the 'hospital' we found it mostly deserted. No doctor. Sorry. But there
was one lady treating another lady. So I thought if there is a nurse,
she could remove my stitches too. By now two of the eight stitches were
The lady said of course she can remove the stitches but wanted to have a
look first. We, that is me, Ameen's brother and her, agreed that the
time to remove them is right. So she unwrapped her sterile equipment,
cut them and and pulled them out. One by one. All eight of them. While
Ameen's brother had to go to the Pharmacy to buy new bandages, the
'hospital' had run out of them. All good, all happy and back at Ameen's
house we told him the story. And he said he knows the lady treating me.
'She usually cleans the hospital'. But no need to worry, 'she always
watches what the doctor does'. Thank you! So to earn some extra money in
Bakshish the cleaning lady runs the hospital when the doctor is not
However, she did a good job and the wound is healing quickly. The
infection is gone. All other wounds are perfectly fine. Guess she is a
good observer over the doctors shoulder.
Living here at the farm house is a very quite life. But incredibly
social. There are always people coming here. Or we go to people next
door. Always, like the stereotypical Bedouin, sitting on mats on the
ground, having a tiny fire going and drinking tea cooked on that fire.
It is also a very simple lifestyle. There seems to be no worry beyond
today. Female family members spend their days cooking, washing, cleaning
and caring for the children. Male family members take care of the
harvesting, slaughtering animals, repairing stuff around the house.
So day by day went by. Getting up at 6:30am. Having breakfast. Bread and
fried eggplant and cheese and halawa. And tea. Then cleaning my injured
knee and changing the bandages. Then go around the farmlands, saying
hello to many people. People saying 'welcome' to me. Drinking tea with
most of them. Going back to the house for lunch. Usually bread and egg
and salad. And tea. Then staying around the house, doing this and that.
Welcoming people. Drinking tea with them. Having dinner at 7pm. Usually
bread and cheese and eggplant and chips. And tea.Then it's dark. We sit
together in the dark for a little while longer. And go to sleep at
I am very happy and grateful for being allowed to stay with Ameen's
family for so long. In my opinion it really helped my recovery a lot. To
be kept busy, to be helped, to be not alone. I loved being together
with these people, every minute of it. They are the friendliest lot you
can imagine. And although Ameen insists I should stay for many months I
now feel like I need to go. It's like the open road is calling again. I
want to be back with my little Suzuki. Get her back in shape. And get us
going again. Moving again. Closer towards Germany where my mum and dad
are eagerly waiting for our arrival.
Also things are heating up in Egypt again politically. Just yesterday
people died in protests in Cairo on Tahrir Sq, just outside the hotel I
was staying in back then. In less then three weeks Egypt will have their
first presidential election since the 'revolution'. I would rather not
be here anytime close to that date. It's time to get going.
I know, once I am back with my bike, that of all things I will enjoy my
freedom the most. Freedom of movement now that my knee lets me move
freely again. And the freedom of riding my bike. After almost three
weeks of not doing much. It will be awesome.
Mr. Said, the keeper of my little Suzuki near the accident scene is
currently on a business trip. He will be back home on Tuesday. And
Tuesday I will be there too, in MitGhamr. 120km from here. To see him.
To repair my bike. To pack up my stuff. And to continue the journey.
11/05/2012 Going further
After three weeks of not moving the journey has finally made some progress. Not too much but at least some.
As planned I left Ameen and Ismailia last Tuesday. It's been a 120km
trip to MitGhamr where my little Suzuki and most of my luggage was
eagerly waiting for me. Public transport in this part of Egypt is very
limited. But there is a good system of 'organised hitchhiking'. Ameen
took me to one spot in Ismailia where, similar to a bus station, lots of
small cars were waiting. These guys in their private cars had nothing
better to do than earning some extra cash by providing 'public
transport'. It felt a bit like a market place. Car drivers shouting
their destination into the crowd of people. Cars going everywhere you
could think of. And one even going to MitGhamr. It was a truly ancient
Peugeot 504. Extra seats were put into the boot to be able to take more
passengers. Soon enough we were on our way with 8 people in that car.
My knee was pretty much okay again. I could walk, run, jump, whatever.
The only thing I could not do without pain was to bend my knee more than
90 degree. And you can imagine what I had to do being cramped into a
little Peugeot with seven more people. It was a really painful two hour
trip. But who cares. I should meet Said, my rescuer, again. And my
little Suzuki. Even better, I should soon be riding my beautiful bike
again, something I was craving for during the last three weeks. So there
was indeed a reward waiting at the end of the two hours of pain. The
outlook was rosy. A bright light at the end of the tunnel. No worries.
Ameen instructed the Peugeot driver as to where exactly he should let me
off in order for me to find Said. However, if it wasn't for my GPS
telling me to get out of the car he would have taken me miles further.
Man, was it a good feeling to be out of that Peugeot. Said welcomed me
to his office with open arms. Him and his family. There was a lot of
hugging, shaking hands and communication attempts in Arabic and English.
It was so good to see him again, I owe Said so much.
Food was brought in, the obligatory sweet tea was shared round, everyone
was smiling and happy. Like one big family whose lost son just
returned. Hard to describe that feeling.
In the far corner of the property was her resting place. Finally we were
reunited again. My little Suzuki, covered under a big tarp of rice
sacks. Her tank nicely repaired with fibreglass. Her handlebars bent as
straight as Said could bend them. Same for the gear shift lever. All
good to go. And her little engine started at the first push of the
starter button. It really made my heart jump. This bike was ready to go.
And keen to.
The accident took it's toll on my soft panniers though. They held up
quite heroicly considering the whole weight of the bike was resting on
them while sliding along the bitumen. However, one essential strap was
ripped off and one essential plastic clip shattered. Essential for
fixing the panniers onto the bike. Said and me, both being engineers,
constructed a temporary fixture using cotton straps and ropes. Good
enough to keep me going for today. She'll be right, no worries.
Hopefully. So finally the bike was packed up again. As in the good old
times of travelling. The whole family stood around me to say their
farewell. When I offered Said money for his efforts to repair the bike
and to keep my stuff in storage for three weeks he refused to take
anything. He would accept nothing. At least his little son was happy
when I gave him my basecap.
And then came the shock. Guess what is required to ride my little
Suzuki. Yep, you have to bend your knee further than 90 degrees. Just a
little bit further. But enough to be very very painful. Seeing the
expression on my face Said wanted to keep me there, not riding anywhere
like this. But I was keen to. I needed to go. For no other reason than
finally being able to go. And so I went. Towards Alexandria. 160km
looming ahead of me.
Man, it felt good to be riding again. Feeling the wind. Accelerating
past the big container trucks on the highway. Listening to the sound of
the little 650ccm single underneath me. Just awesome. Just the stuff my
dreams were about during the past three weeks. I was free again, in full
control of my own affairs. However, the pain in my knee became
unbearable after 15min. I had to stop, stretch my leg, walk around the
bike a few times and all was good again. Happily I mounted the bike
again, the pain got going again and 15min later I had to stop again. So
it went on for 160km. 15min intervalls of happiness decreasing to
despair. Again and again and again. But I wanted to go, to keep going.
There was this strong urge to make it to Alexandria. A huge
determination. 160km - a small goal. But big for me in my state. I
wanted to make it. With my bike. Me riding it. Just go go go. At all
It took a long time but just before sunset we were cruising along the
skyline of Alexandria. Big shiny high rise buildings turned orange by
the sun setting over the ocean. Smelling the salty air, brought across
by a light breeze from the Mediterranean. How awesome! Happy but
completely buggered I fell in my bed in my old hotel, same as three
weeks ago. My little Suzuki parked inside the foyer. Next to reception.
All safe. All good! No need to worry - with a big smile I fell asleep at
I made it!
And did it feel good! For the first time in three weeks my life was back
in a controlled state. My bike, my stuff and myself were at the same
location. My bike and me, both limping badly but okay. And from here
things could be organised. An exit strategy.
And more work was required too. First of all my knee needed some
training to be bent to a more comfortable angle. Second the temporary
solution for my luggage needed to be resolved. And third, riding to
Alexandria, I noticed some issues on my poor bike. The speedo was
showing completely random speeds. However, the odometer was working
perfectly fine. My right shock absorber was covered in oil. Which is
strange because all the damage on the bike occured on the left hand
side. Having a closer look the speedo cable was covered in oil too, lots
of oil where it connects to the front wheel. What I hope is now that
Said tried to repair the speedo and spilled the oil on the shock. I
don't want the shock to be loosing oil.
The handlebar, as much as Said tried to bend it straight, is not
perfectly straight. That gives you a weird sensation whenever you look
down onto it, it looks like you go around the corner. But there is none.
That handlebar needs to be replaced. As to the speedo - I can't explain
what's wrong. Why are the km shown correctly but the speed completely
randomly? For the time being I just use the speed shown on my GPS.
Thanks god for the GPS here in Egypt, really! And finally my left mirror
got completely ripped off in the accident. There needs to be a new one.
So how do we go from here?
Option one to go via Jordan, Syria to Turkey is a valid option. Martin
just crossed through Syria with no issues and is now in Turkey.
Option two to cross through Libya into Tunesia is a valid one too. One
Czech traveller I'm in contact with got his Libya visa within one hour
in Cairo. So the embassy's system must be working again.
However, both these options require a lot of riding, many hours, days,
weeks sitting on the bike. Both, Syria and Libya only issue transit
visas. So you have to cross within a few days which means lots and lots
of riding. In my current state this means many many painful hours. Or an
undetermined period of time waiting for my knee to slowly progress into
a more bendable state. The doctor said it will eventually happen. But
the impact trauma of the accident was big enough so that it could be a
matter of another one or two weeks. Having in mind that the purpose of
this journey is to have a good time I want to go for option three
taking a ship from Alexandria. On my first day back in the city I
employed the help of an English speaking fixer to get exactly that
organised for me. People here don't speak English. So without a
'Translator' = 'Fixer' nothing will happen. Going from shipping company
to shippimg company we always asked for the same thing: a ship going
from Alexandria to anywhere in Europe or Turkey AND taking me and my
bike on board.
Results so far: one ship leaving next week Thursday to Barcelona. And
one possible other surprise option a guy in a shipping company wants to
tell me about on Sunday. I'm sure I will be surprised... However, it is
good to know there are options from here. And the journey will continue
into it's last phase - the home run to Germany.
15/05/2012 Last days in Africa
Drinking tea with Ameen's family and neighbours - a great social ritual repeated many times during the day.
The future generation of bike travellers - Ameen's nephew and a Chinese 'Haojiang' 150ccm.
The final Good Bye - Said (in the centre, wearing a blue shirt) and his
family in MitGhamr. The help of this family to me has simply been beyond
description. Yet I don't know if we ever meet again.
The reward after a long and painful ride - Alexandria.
'Bibliotheca Alexandrina' - the hyper-modern sister of the antique Alexandria library.
Almost one week in Alexandria did not bring any reliable option for
me and my little Suzuki to travel on from Egypt. Just writing down the
stories I got told from people would fill a book. Many offers appeared
on the horizon. Many disappeared just as quickly. Others turned out to
be three times as expensive as on the day before. Others again were just
ridiculus. Like the option to take a ship from Alexandria to Milano
(Milano is a few hundred km inland).
The RoRo ferry from Port Said to Mersin though seemed to exist. No funny
story. People on the phone were friendly. They spoke English.
Everything sounded good enough for me. So today I left Alexandria and
went to Port Said. It would be the last time to ride any significant
distance in Africa. 300 km which again proved the friendliness of the
Egyptian people to me whenever I stopped. Stop number one at a junk yard
for trucks to ask for directions. It took almost an hour to get away
from there. First came the invite for tea. Then the invite for Falafel
sandwiches. Then the invite for more tea. While the crowd of people
around us grew bigger and bigger. Starting with the yard manager more
and more people brought along chairs to share tea with us. Really good
tea I can tell you! And best of all the majority of people confirmed the
direction of my travel would indeed take me to Port Said.
Stop number two at the small road side stall to buy water and some fresh
yoghourt. People in the little coffee shop next door started waiving
for me to come. 'Whats your name?', 'Where are you from?'... I though a
coffee would be a good thing to have right now, so why not. And it was
indeed a good coffee. I grew to like the turkish style of coffee as you
get it everywhere in Egypt. Served very hot in a small glass it needs
some minutes for the coffee powder to settle. You only drink your glass
to 3/4 empty, the rest is the coffee powder sticking to the ground. And
while you drink you will joyfully chew the coffee flakes which are still
floating in the top layers. It's sweet and really delicious.
This particular coffee I did not need to pay. Just like that. 'Welcome to Egypt'. Awesome.
As nice as people are whenever I stop, when moving on the road they can
drive you mad. It's hard to understand how this system works without
lots of major accidents.
There are the cars turning right straight from the left lane. Without
indicating they suddenly shoot across two lanes of moving traffic.
There are the minibuses who stop in the middle lane to offload
passengers. You drive past and all of a sudden a crowd of people and
shopping bags occupy most of your lane.
There are the TukTuks, I don't know what they are doing. It's like they
are controlled by a computer which randomly chooses between the options
turn sharp left, turn sharp right, stop, reverse.
There is the donkey carts on the highway who go wherever the donkey
wants them to go, often you see the frigtened impression in the face of
the guy on the cart pointlessly attempting to excert some control over
And my all time favourites are the cars going against traffic on the
highway. Split carriageway, concrete barrier dividing the two
directions. And somehow they manage to get it wrong. Or intentionally
get it wrong. Flashing their high beams they drive normal speed on a
head on collision course with you. Not just one or two cars. But one or
two every ten minutes!
So yeah, riding here keeps you busy. Dodging whatever Egypt throws at
you on it's roads. But somehow it's also fun, keeping you focussed on an
otherwise boring highway.
The best fun of it all though is that my knee is now perfectly alright
again. I can ride my little Suzuki without pain, without limits. And
that is so much fun. I just noticed it again. Now, after such a long
time not being able to enjoy that feeling. And so the 300km to Port Said
today just flew past much too quickly.
First priority on arrival is to find a place to sleep. My GPS has no
maps whatsoever on it. So it's quite a task to even find the city centre
of Port Said. Finding a hotel is even more a random thing to do. First
hotel I found was closed for 'renovation'. Second Hotel was quite
expensive. After sitting down to a tea discussing the matter they gave
me an acceptable price though. Got my own room. My own bathroom. My own
TV. Three channels: channel one for Egyptian drama in Arabic language.
Channel two shows Egyptian drama in Arabic language. And channel three
features 24hr Quran recitation. In Arabic language. However, my little
Suzuki happily lives in the staff dining room right next to the dining
table. Safe parking for sure!
Priority number two in Port Said: organise the ship to Turkey. No one I
asked on the street knew the address I had of the shipping company's
office. People sent me in all sorts of directions but very obviously had
no clue. It took me to call the agency to explain to a taxi driver in
Arabic where they are and for the taxi to take me there. As it turned
out it is only a 10min walk from my hotel straight down the road.
The office of the shipping company reminds me of a CEO office of a manor
company as you know from TV. Dark carpet on the ground. Classic
paintings with big frames on the walls. All furniture carved of heavy
timber. A heavy wooden desk with artfully carved elements in the middle.
A middleaged man with white hair and spotless office suit sitting
behind it. His poker face looking down on you sitting on the leather
sofa a few metres away. Any minute you expect to hear 'You're fired!!!'.
But no, just talking straight facts about the ship. Half an hour and
you're time slot is over.
But amazingly: yes, there is a ship. And yes, me and my bike can go on
it. And yes, it goes straight to Turkey. And yes, we can book my spot
today! After all the b...s...t stories I heard lately these words
sounded like music to me. So Thursday it will happen. On Thursday I
shall leave Africa. Only two more days left on this fascinating
continent. The continent which changed so much in me. Made me grow up so
much. It will be a sad farewell, I know.
Setting another record during the course of this trip it will also be
the longest sea journey I've ever done in my life. Spending two nights
on sea. Not sure if my stomach is really up for that.
And one last bit of positive news: in the office of the shipping agency I
met another motorbike traveller. And HUBB regular. 'Doubledown' booked a
spot on the same ship to Turkey. Small world, hey?
Walking through the streets of Port Said with Mike (alas 'Doubledown' in
the HUBB) yesterday we just talked and talked about Africa and our
respective opinions and experiences with it. About Tanzania, Ethiopia,
Sudan. Once more it brought it back to my mind how awesome a time I had
I remember, one or two months back I was seriously considering extending
the tour. Go and finish the Sydney to Germany trip. And then keep going
from Germany to Westafrica to South Africa and back to Australia. I
just loved travelling so much! And why not, my equipment was still in a
good state, my bike would be in an awesome state after some maintenance
work in Germany. And I was certainly keen and curious to see Westafrica.
Everything ready to go without any major money spending.
I also remember one or two weeks back, sitting in Ismailia with Ameen
and his family. Me being unable to move my knee. Being uncertain if and
when the journey can continue. If there and then someone had offered me a
teleport option right back to Australia - I would have taken it without
much hesitation. For many days I felt pretty down and asked myself 'Why
am I doing this stuff?'. I was looking forward to get home. No way I
would extend this trip. Just go home.
I guess this is the nature of a journey of this kind. There are ups and
downs. Good emotions and bad emotions. And once more I remembered,
regardless which sort of emotions, emotions will be the things turning
into memories. And memories will fill your life when, one day, you're
looking back. Going to work in a daily 9-5 routine - there are no
emotions involved. Looking back, your life might be empty. And it might
feel short. That frightens me.
Yesterday I payed for my ferry ticket to Turkey. One more day and Africa
is history. It makes me quite sad to realise that. I will have spent
almost 9 months on this continent. Developing a daily routine of
uncertainty, of trying myself, of succeeding and failing. But always
enjoying. Every day had some excitement in it, some adrenaline. And even
routine things we did a thousand times, if I think back, these things
are actually cool. Like wandering through the market in Port Said today.
Man, PORT SAID, would you have ever though to get here? On a MOTORCYCLE
from Australia? Smelling the chicken here, the fish there from the
small market stalls. People saying 'WELCOME!!!' to me. I say 'SHUKRAN'
(Thank you) to them. All smile and I keep going. Like so many times.
Thousands of times before. Or being able to see every sunset. See it
every day. Seeing it setting over the desert. Over the ocean. Across the
river. Or behind a city's grey skyline. I will miss all that.
Africa is chaotic. Even minor things like crossing the road in the messy
traffic are a challenge. Major things like getting on a ship out of
Egypt are even more of a challenge.
My day today: we were asked to be at the port today 8:30am to 'finalise
matters'. When I say 'we' I mean our little group of Mike and his bike
from the US, two Polish travellers in a Land Rover, one Turkish guy in a
huge Mercedes and myself. So I packed everything on my little Suzuki in
the early morning ready to go and went off to the port. There our
Carnets were collected and then we waited. And waited. And waited.
Waited till around 10:30. When our shipping agent said we are free to
leave but have to be back at 12:30 to 'finalise matters'. At 12:30 we
were back. But not the shipping agent. Not till after 1pm. He just told
us to wait for a moment and disappeared. Not to be seen again till 3pm.
Just to say 'we're almost finished, just five more minutes'. And off he
went again. Next time we saw him was just after 4pm. And then things
started moving. We were asked to park our vehicles outside the gate.
Then, 20min later, to park them inside the gate again. Papers were
filled in while we watched things develope. Our passports were
collected. We were asked to drive our vehicles to a storage area where
they would stay over night because Customs had cleared them already. So
wow, that was our action for today. Waiting for hours, pretty much all
day to drive our vehicles 300m through the port area into the storage
place. Once done our agent gestured us to jump in his car and off we
went. All finished for today? No more waiting around? Nope.
At a seemingly random place in town the car stopped and we got off to
wait for someone. 'Just wait here for 5 minutes'. By now I no longer
liked that statement. Our agent walked off to talk to people we met
earlier in the port. Just some 100m away from where we were waiting.
Waiting for what again? No one knew. Things got more bizarre when our
agent came back, jumped in the car and drove off. We seemed to hear the
word 'wait' out of his driver window. And there we stood, the five of
us. Somewhere. Waiting. But for what? And for how long?
After a while another guy from the shipping agency came walking towards
us. It was now around 5:30pm. He asked us to be in his office at 10pm
tonight to clear immigration. At 10pm? Shouldn't we have better things
to do at that time? Why not clearing immigration now? Well, our shipping
agency helper needed to 'rest' now. Awesome. So we will be back tonight
at 10pm. For more waiting? Who knows.
Things can easily frustrate you in Africa. Efficiency is next to non
existant. And so is certainty. We still don't know when our ship leaves
Port Said. Which day. Maybe tomorrow. You get used to these things. And
trust that things work out. And more often then not they do.
But really, most things here in Africa are good. By far most things.
Taking my little Suzuki along dirt roads, sand roads, through mega
cities and National Parks produced a lot of sweat. Organising the
paperwork for all these countries required a lot of patience. Doing it
in languages you don't understand often raised my eyebrows. Putting a
smile on people's face after learning bits and pieces of their languages
and just saying one or two words to them made me happy. And most of all
saying 'yes' to things destiny has on offer, making time to dive into
random opportunities and go with the flow. Awesome adventures begin just
like that. I loved every little bit of it, really loved it.
Thinking back I also remember the people we met along the way. How great
it was to have time to get involved with them. My experiences with
people will surely form the longest lasting memories of this trip. And
it will most likely be these people who will make me come back to East
Africa one day. If I do come back one day, the most likely countries to
return to are Ethiopia and Tanzania.
One more day and Africa will be over. Suddenly I don't feel ready to leave just yet...
On the way to Port Said. Asking for directions along the way made me
meet these friendly people working for a truck junk yard. We had
breakfast together. And lots of tea.
Port Said beach
Port Said city
Mike's bike and my little Suzuki together at my hotel.