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africa trip:
 

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Mozambique
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Sudan
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Turkey
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Romania
Hungary to Germany


Africa Tour August 2011 - August 2012
Egypt

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 interviewing us.
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 Egypt.


18/03/2012 Sudan to Egypt border crossing

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Arriving in Wadi Halfa, our last town in Sudan

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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 emergency?

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After we hit the rock - people scrambling on the open top deck where we were sleeping that night

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Looking down the side of the ship. The rock clearly visible under water.

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The part of the rock sticking out of the water had now a big ship sitting on it.

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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.

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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.


19/03/2012

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.


19/03/2012

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.

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.


19/03/2012 Aswan pics

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While stuck on board this leaning ship...

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...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)

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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.

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Greetings from home. An Aussie flag on a Felucca as an attempt to attract more costumers.

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The first Big Mac since South Africa. Believe me, it was a really good one!

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Little Suzuki and big Mosque in Aswan


23/03/2012 Luxor

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. Awesome.
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.


23/03/2012

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The entrance pylon to Edfu temple

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Our safe bike parking in the Oasis Hotel in Luxor. The hotel's staff living room.

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Sphinx at the Luxor temple

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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.

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Our bikes posing in front of the 'Memnon Colossi'. These two statues are all that remains of a once big temple.

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The funerary temple of Pharao Hatschepsut near the Valley of the Kings


30/03/2012 Egypt

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.
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 over 1300km.
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 same effect.
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 year.
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. Awesome feeling.

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 day.
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.


30/03/2012 Egypt pics

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Camping in the windy Eastern Desert. Martin's pitched his tent inside the deep trench on the right hand side. A perfect wind shelter.

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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.

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425km to Cairo.

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Going a few km off road straight through no man's land once got us to this spot right at the Red Sea.

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Sheltering from the wind in the Eastern Desert. We set up our tents inside these abandoned buildings.

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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.

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Cargo ships in the desert. From this angle you can't see it. But it's there. Underneath the ship. The Suez Canal.


31/03/2012 Cairo

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.

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 there.
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.


31/03/2012 Cairo pics

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Tahrir square - it still shows evidence of recent protests

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Cairo's traffic can be described as chaotic

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Most of Cairo features brown dusty apparment buildings

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High rise buildings along the Nile River


31/03/2012 more Cairo pics
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This is what 25 million people looks like

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After supporting Egypt's people during the revolution the army made many friends amongst the population.

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mosque within the citadel


31/03/2012 Pyramid pics
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Martin and me and the pyramid of Cheops

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Touching history - these stones were laid 3500 years ago for the Chefren pyramid

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Sphinx and the pyramids of Mikerynos and Chefren

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At the step pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara

05/04/2012

I'm not sure if we are still in Africa. The last few days we spent in Sinai. Which is somewhat in between Africa and Asia.
Coming here from Cairo was quite an adventure. First we needed to cross the Suez Canal. It was not so easy. There is a huge bridge, built by the Japanese near Ismailia. It sure is huge enough to leave plenty of headroom for all the big ships sailing on the canal. It also means that the bridge ramps have to start far inland. We instead rode up on the coastal highway along the Gulf of Suez. The bridge was soon towering high above us. But there was no way from the highway to the bridge ramp,simply no connection. What a weird design. We had to perform a U-turn and go down some little streets, asking TukTuk drivers until we found the entrance to the bridge. And there it felt like a border crossing. Passport and vehicle papers got checked. And finally we were allowed up. Road signs specified the ramp going up with a 33% incline. It didn't feel that steep though.
Once East of the Canal another world opened up for us. We could see the lights of all the towns on the West side. But here everything was just empty desert. No towns, no traffic. But a beautiful tarmac road going South along the canal. We had fantastic chicken for dinner in a small village and bush-camped a few km down the road.
The next day was really hard work for us. We kept going South, destination St Catherine monastery and Mt Sinai. There was an incredibly strong wind blowing in our face. By late morning the wind had picked up so much dust that visibility shrunk to a few hundred metres. And we constantly got sand blasted. We stopped at a road side stall and had lots of tea and coffee, hoping the wind would soon stop. But it didn't. The map showed that we would soon turn inland where the mountains promised some shelter from the dust. So full of hope and full of tea we kept going. I've never experienced anything like it. The amount of sand and dust in the air was incredible, the strong headwind blowing it straight onto you. Every tiny bit of exposed skin hurt from being sandblasted. All zippers closed, gloves on, visor shut we fought our way down against the wind. Until the end of the Suez Canal, the place where it enters the Gulf of Suez. Having the open sea there brought quite a relief. The wind no longer picked up sand to throw it in our face. But now the smell of salty sea water came across instead. The air was clean again, visibility back to almost normal.
When we finally reached the turnoff to St Catherine another surprise waited for us. The guys on the Police checkpoint would not let us go to St Catherine. In a friendly but not negotiable manner they insisted we go around the whole southern Sinai peninsula to turn inland from the East side and so get to St Catherine. A windy detour of many hundred km. Apparently tourists got kidnapped along our chosen road so it's now been closed for tourists. We heard about the kidnapping stories before. They were pretty harmless, people never were kidnapped over night. Literally just for tea and a conversation. We wanted to get away from the windy coast too, not keen to follow it all around the peninsula. So we went down the road as directed by Police. Once out of sight we headed off-road. Through the desert and around the sand hills and sand dunes to cut in on the road we originally planned to travel. Just awesome to be able to do that on our bikes! With full success, 10min later we were travelling towards St Catherine, out of sight of Police. And what an awesome road it was. Heading along a deep valley in the mountains. Towering walls of granite closing in on either side. Some of the best 100km we have travelled so far.
There were also three checkpoints along the way. But all army, not Police. Just asking to see our passports and welcoming us to Egypt. While the machine gun on the nearby tank spun around to follow us.
By the time we reached St Catherine it was dark. We found a very friendly camping ground and felt home. Somehow people there had an esoteric touch. It was pretty cool. It's Bedouin territory. So we sat together in a Bedouin tent, around the camp fire, wrapped in blankets. And in there we got our palms read in shocking accuracy. Accuracy as far as the past was concerned. The guy reading my palm really told me my past as if we were best friends. If his predictions for the future proves as accurate it shouldn't be too bad for me.
The next day was reserved for trekking. For all of you who know the story of Moses and the exodus from Egypt, you will remember how God talked to Moses through a burning bush. The St Catherine monastery was founded later on the site of this event. Although today the landscape is very dry, there is no more bush to be burning. But the monastery was really cool. It was old, built 600BC. From the outside it had the appearance of a castle with high windowless walls surrounding the compound. Inside the monastery we only visited the old church. It's Greek Orthodox and it's stacked with gold and silver. Every bit of wall was covered in either gold or with paintings. There were so many silver chandeliers that they almost formed a second ceiling. A rare sight in an Islamic country like Egypt.
Following Moses footsteps we also climbed Mt Sinai. It's the second highest mountain on the Sinai peninsula. And by legend the place where Moses received the 10 commandments from God himself.
Today it is a relatively easy 2 hour climb from the monastery to the top. Up there, on the spot where the 10 commandments were received now stands a church and a mosque. We were up on the top largely alone, another testimony of how the Egyptian revolution scared tourists away. Lonely Planet still states that you should be prepared to meet 500 people up there. But not for us. Even most of the souvenir stands were closed. And the coffee stalls gave us a good price to earn at least some money. So all in all Mt Sinai developed into a very good experience, much better than expected after the tales of others and the story in Lonely Planet. The view from the top is just breath taking. You look around towards all the other brown granite mountains. There is no settlements, only a few huts and churches on other mountain tops, often far below. There is also no vegetation, just brown granite and grey shadows which give everything a very 3D look. Apart from a few birds there was no sound at all. No wind. No people. Nothing. We spent a few hours at the top. Just relaxing and enjoying the serenity.
Mt Sinai is very much the centre of the peninsula. From here we planned to go to Dahab, a famous backpackers and diving spot on the East coast. Our map showed us a small 100km long dirt road connecting us straight with Dahab. Also showing the 'Blue Mountains' as sightseeing spot along the way. Sounded much better to us than the long tarmac road which we would only be allowed to travel with a convoy.
This little dirt road was not much more than two car tyre tracks in the sand. It started as an awesome hard surface, heaps fun to ride on. Soon we saw the 'Blue Mountains'. Very different from the Blue Mountains near Sydney these ones were big rocks completely painted in blue by an artist long time ago. He really did it, spending lord knows how many weeks and thousands of litres of sky blue paint to paint some rocks in the desert far from anything. But it looked cool of course. Just strange.
After the Blue Mountains the path deteriorated quickly into deep sandy tracks. For 20 to 30 km we really struggled, fish tailing through deep sand in an awesome desert valley surrounded by redish brown granite mountains. Rather disturbingly we also went past some green patches of Marihuana and Opium plantations. The loneliness of the desert has obviously some advantages for some business. Every now and then when we stopped we also noticed a car following us in the distance and people watching us from outside that car. It did not really feel like the safest place in the world. Discovering drug plantations and being followed by strangers?
When we once stopped to discuss which of the deep sandy tracks to choose suddenly we noticed a car heading straight for us from one of these green patches. No point in attempting to outrun a four wheel drive with our heavy bikes in deep sand. So we just waited for the car to arrive. There were two people in the car. An old man, really old, with a beaming smile. And his son. The old man even speaking some English. They were incredibly friendly and invited us to follow them for a tea. It was also obvious they wanted to check us out. So we followed them straight to their Opium plantation. There was a weird uncertainty on all sides because no one was sure what the other one was up to. But having a tea together within the friendly atmosphere of a Bedouin tent soon cleared all worries. We probably had four teas each, sitting only a few metres next to Opium plants ready to be harvested. The old man happily smoking a few Marihuana joints and offering them around. Also some brownish Opium paste for us to try. Apparently it makes you strong. We did not feel so strong then after battling the sand for an hour or so. However, his offer we kindly declined. Which was no problem at all. We'd rather be strong without drugs. After probably an hour sitting in the shade drinking tea we were off again. On our way to cross the desert and get to Dahab.
But maybe 10min later we passed another car with 5 or 6 people standing around it waiving us towards them. We thought we better let them know who we are to avoid misunderstandings. And the same story happened again. We were kindly invited to follow them for a tea. We followed them right to their hidden Opium field and had tea together and checked each other out. Kind of nice feeling, to know that some people get kidnapped and others just invited for tea. Bedouins are sure friendly people.
The amount of tea we had and the friendly conversations really did wonder to our morale. The road turned much better, no more deep sand but now beautifully hardened tyre tracks. The landscape got better too with the mountains narrowing our valley into a steep gorge. Everything was perfect. The terrain just ideal for our bikes. The track meandering along the centre of the valley in the shade of the huge rock walls on either side. Every bent produced another breathtaking picture. We did not meet any other person that day. We had all this awesomeness to ourselves.
Delayed by the events of the day in our quest to reach Dahab and keen to enjoy this landscape a bit longer we decided to camp in the gorge for one night. And so I am now sitting here, typing this report in the light of the three quarters full moon shining it's pale light onto the mountain sides around me and onto my little Suzuki right in front of me. Cool day really.


05/04/2012 Sinai pics

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Sunset view of the tall bridge across the Suez Canal near Ismailia.

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Lots of sand and dust in the atmosphere on our way down Sinai's West coast

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St Catherine monastery on the site of the biblical burning bush.

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Coffee stop on the way up Mt Sinai

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The view from the top of Mt Sinai.

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The 100km dirt road between St Catherine and Dahab

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It's a stunning trip through the mountains, kind of trapped inside a deep gorge.

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Long exposure photo by moonlight - our bush camp in the Sinai mountains.


08/04/2012

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 camels.
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

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The Blue Hole area near Dahab when we arrived. It's a crazy place for tourists

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The beach front at the Blue Hole later - all cars, all tourists disappeared by 3pm

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View from our roof top sleeping place - only our bikes and Sofia's and Jordi's car remain at the beach.

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My little Suzuki in the wadi near Dahab where I am typing this very report.

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Many weeks of dust and sand and dirt leave their mark


12/04/2012 Last days in Egypt

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.
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 possible.

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 awesome.

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!


12/04/2012 Last Egypt pics

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Riding motorbikes in Sinai is awesome. Good roads, great mountains, no traffic.

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The Gulf of Sinai

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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.

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Our campground in Nuweiba by moonlight. The lights on the far side of the water are already from Saudi Arabia.

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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?


13/04/2012 Complications

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.
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 Sunday.

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 visa procedures.
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 between us.

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 away. Easy.

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.


15/04/2012 Still in Cairo

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 in.
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 rising.
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.

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These kids just leaving the mosque after their Friday prayer.

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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.

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Making new friends in the hotel lobby

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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.

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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.


15/04/2012 Friday on Tahrir Square

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Friday protests on Tahrir Sq, just outside my cheap hotel.

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Looking down onto the gathered crowd

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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.


26/04/2012 S...t happens

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 extremely attractive.
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 the phone.

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. Egyptian hospitality.
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.


27/04/2012

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In MitGhamr hospital the morning after. Ameen visiting me to pick me up. Hospital security almost sent him back, why would someone visit the 'tourist'?

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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 glass)

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My Asylum provider for the time being. Ameen.

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The family home is in an area where lots of veggies are grown by irrigation. Here a chilli plantation.


01/05/2012

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?


05/05/2012

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 broken anyway.
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 around!

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 around 9pm.

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 cost.

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 around 7pm.

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 instead:
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.


11/05/2012 Pics

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Drinking tea with Ameen's family and neighbours - a great social ritual repeated many times during the day.

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The future generation of bike travellers - Ameen's nephew and a Chinese 'Haojiang' 150ccm.

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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.

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The reward after a long and painful ride - Alexandria.

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'Bibliotheca Alexandrina' - the hyper-modern sister of the antique Alexandria library.


15/05/2012 Last days in Africa

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 his donkey.
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?


18/05/2012

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 in Africa.

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...


18/05/2012

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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.

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Port Said beach

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Port Said city

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Mike's bike and my little Suzuki together at my hotel.



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