Adventures in Egypt

On our first day in Alexandria we were taken to the city’s administrative offices by our freight forwarder to take care of a simple bit of business: getting a temporary resident stamp in my passport. This is required to enable foreigners to retrieve their vehicle from the port. It didn’t go very well and amidst the African queuing I got chatting to another frustrated foreigner. His name was Imad, he had a Dutch passport, lived in London, and was trying in vain to get his Egyptian car re-registered. Despite clearly being a native Arabic speaker, he was having no luck. Over the next few days we met Imad for lunch a couple of times and agreed to stay with him for a night when we got Chuck out from the port.

I spent three days in Alexandria port with our agent, Salah, watching my money being passed over and under counters, slipped into handshakes, between paper forms, left on desks, tucked into breast pockets. It’s nuts but, eventually, we got Chuck out.

After Petrolgate in Alexandria, we drove to Imad’s place, about 30 mins away (once you actually get out of the city, that is). We pulled off the highway, onto an unnamed road, and called Imad who directed us into his yard behind a large, secure gate. We were immediately impressed – a lovely big house with a garden, swimming pool and, most importantly, a shed.

We spent a couple of hours fooling around and getting physical with our recently reacquainted friend – Chuck, not Imad. After hastily packing our gear into the boot in Italy, and my frantic unpacking and repacking in the customs warehouse in Alexandria, things were a mess. Being the host with the most, Imad cooked us a lovely chicken stew for dinner and then drove us into the local town in his Geely – he loves his Chinese cars does Imad. Here we looked for some parts for Chuck, picked up a traditional headscarf for P-Mon and sniffed around for some dates for our host. The fruits, not the Tinder variety, just to be clear. It may have been figs but no joke came to mind. We slept well, though were terrified of sleepwalking as the spiral staircase was of the ‘suicide’ variety, with no railings.

The next morning revealed an Imad intent on helping me attend to three issues with Chuck: the AC (of course…), finding a replacement fuel filler cap (I’d lost this on the way to Wales on day one of our trip) and fitting the battery isolator switch we’d picked up in Cairo (which required some wire and connectors). Back in town we stopped at a garage purporting to be an official Toyota garage. In reality he was a small-time Land Cruiser breaker who seemed to have a penchant for chopping every vehicle in half. We popped the bonnet and Imad explained the ongoing AC issues to Mohammed in Arabic. Imad seemed skeptical and informed me that the guy had immediately stated with great confidence that we needed a new compressor. Which he had, of course. Imad handled his bullshit with much greater calmness than me, simply telling him that the compressor was 3 weeks old and had only been used for 3 days. We moved on to the fuel cap, which saw him try 5 Prados to no avail, so we left empty handed. At a hardware shop, we found some heavy-gauge battery cable and some connectors. Then, at the smallest garage in the Arabic-speaking world, we got them to have a look at the AC. Imad was shocked at the guy charging £20 for re-gassing, but I was happy. The mechanic was pretty sure there was a leak but couldn’t find it, so with the AC working we headed ‘home’.

The Arab world’s smallest garage

Imad was an engineer before he retired, and loves tinkering with cars and all things DIY, so we had the bonnet open again within seconds after arriving back at his place. I explained the scenario and he opened his shed to reveal a load of tools, most importantly a bench vice, which he used to expertly show me how to crimp a connector onto a cable. I took over, cut the cable and crimped the other 3 connectors on. I began to fit the cables, with Imad warning me to be careful not to let the wrench touch the car body as I was working with the positive cables from each battery. He warned me a further two times before I touched the car body, caused a massive spark, and heard the immortal words “Leave it, don’t touch it. I’ll do it. I told you three times.” I couldn’t argue so stood back and watched the master at work. In a jiffy the switch was bolted on and I was now able to manually set whether I wanted the two batteries connected or not, bypassing the failed electronics. I felt like Anthony Hopkins in Legends of the Fall and wanted a small blackboard to write “am happy” on it.

 

Imad the instructor

Newly fitted battery isolator switch

Imad helped me wash Chuck and I filled the water tank with 50L of dubious quality water, assuming our filter would save us. Things then became a little awkward as Imad wanted us to stay for at least another day, while we were extremely eager to get on the road and start our trip. We enjoyed his company greatly and staying would have been very nice, but we had to get our road trip going, and we did. So, after a fond farewell to a lovely man whom we’ve been in contact with since, I’m sure we’ll all meet again in London.

Of course, by this time, it was far too late to make it all the way to Ain Sokhna on the Red Sea before dusk. One of the main rules in Overlanding is to never drive at night so, on our first real day on the roads of Africa, we ignored that golden rule. Let’s just say, the Cairo ring-road at going-home time was an eye-opener. We made it to Ain Sokhna at about 10pm, rocked up to the flashiest resort, asked if we could camp on their grounds and after giving their security guard a lift on one of our sidesteps, we parked Chuck next to a couple of dry-docked boats ten metres from the beach. We paid about $40, which while extortionate was a small fraction of the price of a room, and we had no other options as Egypt treats wild-camping with similar severity to harbouring weapons of mass destruction. We were first up in the morning, right at dawn, and were treated to a wonderful sunrise on the Red Sea.

 

Sunrise at Ain Sokhna

After some cornflakes and coffee, we hugged the beautiful Red Sea coast and sped into Hurghada, one of the main beach destinations in Egypt that’s popular with divers. The only diving we did, however, was into a supermarket and a Spanish bar/restaurant, before the call of the open road lured us back to the perfect asphalt. A few hours later we arrived into Luxor, again in the dark. Camp Rezeiky was our home – a nice, relaxed hotel which encourages overlanders to camp in their car park. A couple of beers washed down a huge amount of tasty local food and we climbed into the tent satisfied that we were totally smashing the Egyptian roads and starting to cancel out our numerous delays.

The next day was Tourism Day for us, as we paid a pittance for Mohammed the guide to show us around both Luxor Temple and Karnak Temple. This guy’s name actually was Mohammed. No, really, it was. These two sights are both well worth a look as they are really spectacular. Apart from that, we didn’t think there was much to Luxor, although the surrounding countryside was breathtakingly beautiful. We also checked out Valley of the Kings at the end of the day and were annoyed to find out that Tutankhamun’s Tomb required an additional (expensive) ticket, which was only available at the entry gateway down the hill before boarding the train. Well done Egyptians, very intelligent! Each tomb has a caretaker assigned and, amazingly, we couldn’t bribe King Tut’s caretaker into letting us in. So we checked out some of the other tombs and refused to pay bribes to their caretakers after they’d ushered us into forbidden areas, unasked, and encouraged us to take pictures where we weren’t allowed.

 

Karnak Temple

As we got back to camp Rezeiky, we had a drink and some food as a local mechanic turned up to fix the AC leak which I had cleverly diagnosed the previous night when I noticed some luminous green liquid bubbling out of the AC compressor. Smart, eh? He replaced a tiny o-ring and regassed for 30 quid, and all was good with the world again.

Chuck having more AC work done, this time in Luxor

The next morning we hightailed it to Aswan, home of the huge dam which many of you will have learned about in school. We met our first ‘fixer’, Kamal, who gave us a form from the police stating we had no outstanding fines, and a 35L plastic container which we planned to fill with diesel before entering fuel-starved Sudan. We also met three Italian bikers who were asking where they could obtain the form we were waiting for. They didn’t wait and would regret that decision…

Onwards from Aswan and we reached Abu Simbel before dark, which was a welcome change. We camped in the huge car park beside the temples and decided not to see the light and sound show, and instead get up early the next morning before leaving for the ferry to Sudan. We filled up all our tanks – 182 litres of diesel for USD 57. That left us with 210 litres total and a range of about 1400 KMs. We met our next fixer, Hamada, who helped us find the fuel, negotiate the price, find food and made sure we knew what was going to happen in the morning with the ferry. He asked us if we’d seen three Italian motorcyclists who needed a police form – they’d have to send one rider back on the seven-hour round trip as they wouldn’t be allowed to cross the border without it. Should have waited the two minutes as I suggested, eh fellas?

We checked out the temples at daybreak, with the amazing orange sun lighting up the fronts. There is no doubt that they’re spectacular, but they’re a long way from anything else worth seeing. If you’re in Aswan it’s worth making a day trip, though it’s a long drive there and back. As the Italian bikers discovered.

One of the temples at Abu Simbel

Hamada was by Chuck as we returned from the temples, and he followed us on foot to the ferry port a few hundred metres away. A small ferry took us and four articulated trucks us over Lake Nasser to Qustul, arriving an hour later. There is nothing at Qustul, not even a concrete ramp. Just a section of rough stones where the ferry lowers its ramp. About 30 minutes along a good, tarred road took us to the border post and we waited a few minutes for Hamada to catch up as he hitched a ride with one of the trucks – we don’t have any spare seats.

For not a lot of money, Hamada takes care of all the paperwork at the myriad of offices. It can be done on your own, but it’s easier with an interpreter who knows the people and the process so we were happy to pay. A couple of hours later and we said goodbye to Hamada and met the final fixer of the trio, Mazar, on the Sudanese side of the border. He’s also a really nice, helpful guy, and took care of everything for us. Again, it’s possible on your own, but the stories we’ve heard are that the officials all ask for Mazar anyway. Combine that with his black market currency exchange and we still think it’s a no-brainer to use him. A couple more hours of waiting and we were done – we exited the border post and were in our second African country, Sudan. It was stinkin’ hot here, too, but we had working AC so when on the road we had respite from the sun.

Egypt, you were interesting. But painful.

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