“Another office?” “Another document? Why?” “You must be joking, right?” “Where do we get it?” “You really can’t help us?”
“Why” and “Where” are the two words we must have used at least 20 times this day. If you are wondering what we are talking about: welcome to the border crossing into Egypt.
It has been a pain staking process of trying to find the right person, in the right office, with the right documents and hopefully with the right stamp charging us the correct amount of money. We have read horror stories about customs wanting big bribes to provide the right papers. But fortunately we manage to complete the process of collecting 15 documents and a set of Egyptian number plates in ‘only’ 6.5 hours, without paying any bribes. We finally enter the country of the mighty Pharaohs!
Land of big egos
The first leg entails crossing one of the largest man-made lakes in the world: lake Nasser. Still shaken up by the energy draining experience of the border, we drive onto the ferry to Abu Simbel, where we can let go of all of our frustrations by overlooking the flooded gorges.
Abu Simbel is a temple of Ramses II, once threatened by the washing waters of Lake Nasser and moved up stone by stone to higher ground by a group of international archaeologists. We wake up early morning to visit the temple with sunrise and to beat the crowds.
It is one of those moments in this trip: we arrive, park our car and leisurely follow the pathway leading towards the temple. Minutes later we walk around the corner and suddenly are face-to-face with 4 ginormous statues of the Pharaoh… It literally makes us stand still for a second, we feel very small.
As we are still one of the only visitors we quickly move inside to enjoy the impressive temple in peace. One step into the temple and we are faced with another 8 massive statues of Ramses. This man must have had a massive ego! As we will find out later, he must have been a huge example for manhood in Egypt: the land of big egos.
But without being negative, the temple is sensational. Beautifully carved hieroglyphs and statues fill the many rooms. What an amount of work has gone in building and moving this temple, quite impressive.
Forget off the beaten track
Basically, the first week in Egypt we are following the historical tourist trail, since we are not allowed to go off the beaten track. Multiple times we are stopped and sent back by the police. There is no official reason, but later we hear that a lot of areas are deemed unsafe for tourists to travel on their own. This due to fear of something happening to us, which might put Egypt in an even further negative daylight. So we decide to stay in Aswan where we enjoy sundowner drinks whilst faluccas sail by. It looks extremely peaceful to be on the water here and we hire one the next day ourselves. We sail around the small islands and return after the sun has set. A relaxing way to end the day!
We follow the Nile through tiny villages and date farms to visit Luxor. Luxor, in ancient times known as Thebes and capital of mighty Egypt, is nowadays described as “the worlds largest open air museum”. This last statement we experience first-hand the moment we drive into the town center. We arrive way past sun set which provides for a spectacular phenomenon with the dark orange full moon rising above the lit-up Luxor temple and avenue of Sphinxes.
Emerged in history
The coming days are fully focussed on absorbing the enormous historical sites: the Luxor Temple, Karnak Temple and the valley of the Kings where we visit the famous tombs (graves) of the mighty pharaohs. Quite an experience to walk through hundreds of meters long tunnels inside a mountain, from room to room, completely covered in paintings describing the life and heroic deeds of the pharaoh.
They started building the tomb the moment a pharaoh took the throne, so the longer the reign of the pharaoh, the larger and more beautiful his tomb would be. Once buried (as a mummy in his sarcophagus of course), the tomb was stuffed with treasures like jewellery, furniture, art and personal belonging from his entire life. Thereafter the stonemasons closed the door and completely hid the tomb for the naked eye.
But… unfortunately most of the tombs have been discovered and completely robbed empty… What archaeologists have found is nowadays displayed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, which we will visit later in our trip.
From Luxor we head for the coast, where we book ourselves a Hilton room again. Linde has to do some assessment tests for a possible future job, so she needs a quiet location. Yes, we are working on the future, since even this trip will come to an end one day. Krijn in the meantime enjoys the beach and pools and works on his photos. We book a day diving in the Red Sea and spot marvellous creatures like a blue octopus and sting rays. It is quite chilly and the organisation of the dive is a typical African chaos, but it is great to be under water again!
Hurghada is a popular Egyptian tourist destination, or actually, it used to be. It nowadays almost looks like a ghost town. Hotels are empty, buildings are poorly maintained and souvenir shops are covered in a layer of dust, all signs of a lack of tourists. The terror treats and the Arabic spring made tourists decide to skip Egypt, leaving the country, that vastly relies on tourism, broken; it is sad to see.
We also start to experience the (verbally) aggressive selling techniques of the Egyptian men. A constant flow of questions like “where’re you from” “visit my shop” “why not” “I will give you best price” “hey, don’t walk away” “hey” etc etc etc. This is a vast contrast to Sudan, where the opposite is true: gentle and warm. It’s the touristic areas where this kind of behaviour is the norm. Not only in Egypt by the way, also in other countries where tourism is the prime economy, but in Aswan, Luxor and here in Hurghada it is pretty bad. However, given the lack of tourists also understandable the tradesmen fight for every penny.
It is also interesting to see how much attention Linde gets from the young girls in Egypt. On every corner of the street she is asked if they can take a photo with her, and to become friends on Facebook. It shows the interest the girls have in the “Western” way of living. In general we are surprised by how modern Egypt is compared to the most other parts of Africa. It really feels like we have left Africa already and are coming closer to Europe.
A proud moment
We have been on the road in Africa for about 7 months now, travelled through 11 African countries during this trip (we have actually visited 17 countries during our entire time in Africa), driven 29,341km and have always known this trip will come to an end one day. And this moment has arrived: our next destination is Damietta, where we have to say good bye to ToeToe for two weeks, to ship her to Turkey. It marks the end of our Africa adventure… this is where the 6,695 km long journey of the river Nile, the river we have followed for 4 months, comes to an end and meets the Mediterranean Sea.
It is early morning when we walk towards the end of the river. The sea is right in front of us and we are only meters away from the most Northern point of our trip. Every step we take is a step closer to the end of our African journey. Even though we are quite sad about this, we actually start running the last steps and jump in the air of joy. We are there, we’ve made it! We drove from the south to the north of Africa! Quite a proud moment…
Now we have emotionally finished the main part of our trip, it is time to get ToeToe on a boat to Europe. We organise a very comfortable apartment with a private balcony overlooking the Nile, which is the perfect location to stay a few days to organise the shipping, which we know is going to be an even worse experience than entering the country.
Throughout our journey through Egypt we have been in contact with an agent who organises the shipment for us. The next 2 days we hang around the gate of the Harbor, waiting for our agent to do his magic, to sign documents when needed and to be physically present to put pressure on the process. This is all we can do as the entire process happens inside the harbor, a place we are not allowed to enter. Imagine how dependent and useless we feel. It is a complete waste of time to wait for all the big ego’s to be somehow involved. But, we did what we needed to do: ToeToe is in a container on her way to Turkey.
The upside of waiting is the fact that we meet many new people, here in Damietta the absolute opposite of the people we met in the touristy places: they are super friendly & helpful. We even make friends with a policeman on duty, who promises to take us to his favourite restaurant: and he lives up to his promise. He calls us after his shift and we meet in a tiny cafe serving local style sweet pizza. Delicious! We talk ages about the differences in culture and political situation in Egypt. It is an interesting night.
Now our car is on its way to Turkey, we have only one more wish before leaving the African continent: a visit to The Giza pyramids of Cairo.
Before we visit the pyramids we first head towards the Egyptian museum where basically all the treasures of ancient Egypt are kept, with absolute highlight the golden sarcophagus and dead mask of Tutankhamun. The museum is literally too small to showcase all the treasures, because newly found artefacts are stored in the middle of the walkways, wrapped in plastic foil waiting for a place to be displayed. Mummies are piled up 6 high, and we lose count when trying to count pieces of pottery, ivory combs and stone amulets: there must be thousands and thousands. Now we understand why there are so many Egyptian museums around the world! We finish with a fresh fruit juice on the Tahir square and try to visualise how it must have been here during the Arabic spring protests 6 years ago.
So now we have seen what used to be inside, it is time to see the pyramids in real life. Well, it is easy to describe them, they are amazing. They are so much taller than we expected (146 meters tall, and much taller than the ones we’ve seen in Sudan). Yes, there are many tourists, but they all stick around the first one. If we walk for 2 minutes into the desert we’ve lost all of them and can explore the sites on our own.
In the heart of ancient times
The pyramids really become spectacular when we enter the largest of them all. Long, narrow hallways and staircases lead to the heart of the pyramid. Once inside it is quite an impressive feeling. They don’t have the colourful and artistic insides like we have seen in Sudan and the Valley of the Kings, but gazing at the precision of the way they are built, and just the idea of being inside the mighty pyramid makes us speechless. To top up the amazing experience we meet a Japanese archaeologist who is busy scanning the pyramid, to discover hidden chambers. “We know there are hidden rooms, now I am trying to find out where they exactly are”. Pretty impressive.
To end the day we drive through the chaotic Cairo traffic towards a bazar to emerge ourselves in the hustle and bustle of trades- and craftsmen. The characteristic old city market with small alleys, archways and colourful art are a joy to walk through. We talk to many craftsmen who are proud to show their shop, handmade art and newspaper articles where their shop gets mentioned.
Finally whilst sipping local coffee and smoking apple flavoured shisha we reflect on 7 amazing months we’ve had travelling this very special continent. It has flown by, but we’ve had so many memorable experiences. We won’t write about them here, but we will try to summarize our trip in an overall Africa blog to follow soon!
So this is it for Africa. It has been amazing, off we go to Istanbul!