Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Back into Egypt

I know that we trashed Egypt with our previous stay because of all the problems we had there and one year later I can honestly say not many of us were looking forward to being back. Oh sure, there were a few things we missed like koshary and cheap goods, but on the whole we would've skipped it somehow had we been on our own I think. But time heals all wounds (for most people, Savannah excepted) so we weren't exactly traumatized by the thought of going back and had almost convinced ourselves that it couldn't possibly be as bad as we thought. Maybe we were just in bad moods and a second visit would be a good way to prove that we overreacted the first time.
Here I was trying to be open-minded and give a fresh chance to the country, but, unbelievable to me, I was disgusted with Egyptians almost immediately upon entering the ferry terminal in Wadi Halfa, Sudan. 300 of the 450 passengers were Egyptian and I swear you could feel the intelligence and decency running out of the room like a blast of cold air. Even the Sudanese were complaining about them. There really is something different about them and an uncomfortable seediness to the guys that really didn't exist with Africans or even the Sudanese. We just avoided everyone but I must say that without Magdy helping us out it would've been pretty rough in the terminal. Talk about mass chaos with lots of pushing, shoving and shouting. Recently the Egyptians found a guy with guns getting off the boat heading to Israel so now there are "increased security measures". All that means is more chaos which probably makes it easier to sneak something through. They set up a very crude barrier of chairs so force people through one way and get searched and the next thing you know, people are shoving each other through the line past the guards and hopping over the chairs to get around. We must've gone through at least 6 checks before getting on the boat. It left 3 hours late as a result. The best place to stay on the boat during its 17 hour journey to Aswan is under the lifeboats on deck. You can isolate yourself and be in the fresh air and not cramped inside. The ride itself wasn't bad, most of it was through the night so we didn't see much actually. Not that rocky desert and no life right up to the edge of the water is anything really to see.
We thought 17 hours was the time to Aswan but no, that is just the sailing time and then you have to deal with the Egyptian authorities. That meant sitting outside port for 2 hours while a little boat came over to check us out. Then we pulled up to the dock, parked perpendicular to in and waited another 2 hours while immigration stamped everyone's passport on the boat. After that we pulled up and mass chaos ensued while everyone rushed off the boat and into the customs building. In the customs building they randomly searched most people's bags (not ours) amidst lots of pushing and shoving. Through another check after that and then finally, just when you think you're free, there is another check at the exit gate with a bag scanner and a metal detector that everyone has to pass through. As if people hadn't been waiting long enough and been through enough checks. You can imagine that nobody was interested in lining up or being friendly anymore, including us. We cut to the front of the line and like all the others, did plenty of pushing and shoving. The worst offender was an older guy who was downright vicious and almost got his head bashed in by a black Sudanese guy but whenever he was criticized he would just shout "Allah Akbar" (God is great) and expect the waters to part for him. Didn't I say something about these kind of people in my last blog?
Anyway, dad nearly got in a fight and guards were about as incompetent as they come. We had to resort to literally throwing our bags over people's heads to get them in the machine (as everyone else was loading it that way too). When we finally got out we were pleasantly surprised to find Ben and Kees waiting to pick us up and take us into town. It is always interesting to come back to places you already know and Aswan felt so much more developed than the rest of Africa. If you compare it with another town of similar population you would laugh at how backwards the others are. It's not really something you can explain but lets just say that I will never be tempted to think of Egypt as being part of Africa because it has nothing in common with the rest of it in my mind.
I think I'm just going to try to not comment much about Egypt itself at all and stick to the group as you already know my opinion of the place. I will say one more thing though, after checking into the hotel, it took less than 2 blocks of walking down the street before some young guy intentionally bumped into mom and touched then her butt. There is seriously something wrong with these people. Never in all of black Africa did we even consider such behaviour a possibility (there were other worries but not this).
Ben, Kees and Savannah had already been in Aswan for 4 days so the following morning we took off. The most excellent recent news in Egypt is that only 3 days before the rules regarding foreigners needing convoys to travel anywhere along the Nile are no longer in place so you are free to travel at will during daylight hours. You still can't get to Abu Simbel on your own but for us it made life much easier. I was surprised that the myriad checkpoints actually were aware of the change in rules (because there are maybe more checkpoints in Egypt than anywhere except Cote d'Ivoire and Nigeria over similar distances) They're rules are not all that well thought out though because we still aren't sure what would happen if you tried to keep driving after sunset if you were on a remote stretch. You are definitely not allowed to bush camp in Egypt.
We bypassed Luxor and headed to the Red Sea coast because Ben wanted his last little bit of sun and a chance to go diving. It took us two days to get to Hurghada where we had great difficulty finding a place to park and camp. It's disgustingly package-touristy, over-built and still a construction zone type of town with almost more tourists (picture horrendously ugly and disgusting tourists in bathing suits walking down the middle of the road) than locals. It's no wonder the Egyptians have a problem with us. The lack of respect between cultures is far too obvious there. Anyway, Hurghada looks different from the rest of anywhere else in Egypt we've been and nobody in our group liked it at all. After one night Ben head the group south again to find a more remote strip of coast. Most of the coast is completely barren and rocky, right up to shore with pockets of tourist resorts scattered along the road for hundreds of km. I didn't want to go back there and was more interested in getting to Cairo and working on new plans so at Hurghada I left the group and took a bus to Cairo on my own.
Wow Cairo. It was really strange being back in Cairo, in the same hotel with almost nothing changed. It's like I never left. I'm almost tempted to be more impressed with Cairo now than I was before. It really is one of the great cities of the world. It exists on a massive scale that you will find few other places and certainly not with such a long history. And it definitely has the best minarets.....
Our most recent plan called for a complete separation in Cairo as Ben, Bre and Kees would go through Libya and on to Europe. The rest of the group arrived in Cairo a few days after me and that very afternoon Savannah flew home. That's it, the family trip is officially over. You wondered when it would happen and now it has.
Ben, Bre and Kees left Cairo this morning and still hope to be home for Christmas. It's going to be a close race for them. Bre will then fly home on Jan 12th.
As for mom, dad and me, we are sitting in Cairo doing nothing at the moment, trying to come up with a plan since the parents don't want to come home during winter. Any suggestions?


At 10:44 AM , Blogger The Bear said...

Hey Ammon,
Tell the geriatric parents of yours to suck it up. It's not like Vancouver is going to be that cold ( we're -30 degrees in Calg) so what are they hoping to avoid? Unless they come home during the 6 weeks of summer it will be the same cloudy and raining. LMAO
Tell Mom I will email her soon. You could always retrace your route and end up back in CHina.... the Maldives are warm now....Australian Outback is supposed to be toasty..... become movie stars again? I have no idea, the whole concept of what you have managed is so forgiegn to my mentality.
Anyways, I will continue here , the last man standing as a reader on the blog!!!!!!!!!!!!

Love and Bear Hugs
The Big Bear

and here I arranged to be in VAncouver for New Years thinking you were coming back... pout pout.


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