After the tranquility of the Tuscany country side we experienced a culture shock once arrived in Egypt. Busy streets with honking cars, everything in Arabic and the countless mosques calling for prayer 5 times a day. (which nearly everybody does) Our car was expected to arrive a week later so after two days adjusting we hopped on a train to Cairo to visit the Egyptian Museum and the famous Pyramids of Gizeh. In Cairo, a city of 20mil people the chaos is complete, but seeing two of the greatest historic artifacts was worth it al. Both the pyramids and the treasures of Toetanchamon are breath taking. Even though we had seen them dozens of times in photos, in reality it is so much better! In Cairo we also met Hazem, a very nice Egyptian who helped us to get the Sudanese visa. We ended up spending the day together and in the end he insisted that we would come to his visit his town inn Menoufea as a guest. So that would be our fist stop after retrieving our car in Alexandria.
Once back in Alexandria we contacted our fixers Ibrahim and Mohammed, who were going to help us importing our car. Soon we would found it would have been absolutely impossible to do this by ourself. The process is obscure, intransparent, bureaucratic, corrupt, completely hardcopy and in Arabic. In total it cost us 3.5 day which we spent in the same rhythm: driving from counter to counter, waiting, signing a dozen forms (all in Arabic) and getting even more stamps. Afterwards the fixers would take us out for dinner, then to a place for coffee to finish the night at different place for tea and to talk business. Because Egyptian discuss business over sweet chai. At one of the diner places they introduced Timo to some Egyptian delicacy without telling him what it was. Apparently this place had the best bull-penis sandwich in town, and it was delicious!
In the end, after a lot of work, the fixers came through and we drove the car from the port on Thursday, just before the weekend starts on Friday. We managed to drive out even without customs check, some baksheesh can do wonders, and they smuggled our bottle of champagne out of the port in a different car. We celebrated with our fixers by having diner at their local fish restaurant where they filled the whole table with delicious plates of calamari, grilled fish, big shrimps and fish kofte, a real treat! To top it up Derek joined us in Alexandria to accompany us on further adventures in Egypt so back in the hotel we popped the bottle of champagne with him.
After a short night and breakfast at Delices bakery (our favorite with delicious croissants) we drove to a big supermarket with a bigger parking space to repack our car. For the shipping we had to remove the box and jerrycans of the roof, which now needed to be reassembled. Also we had to prepare the third, flexible seat, that now came in very handy to provide a place for Derek and his long legs. Once fixed we started our African road trip! Our first stop was to visit Hazem in Menoufea.
In Menoufea we experienced traditional Egyptian hospitality! Hazem and his whole family gave us a warm welcome in a traditional way. Timo en Derek were first only invited to the first part of the house, the rest was the domain of the women and male guests could not just go there. Fleur however was welcomed everywhere and was introduced to his wife: Aya, and his sister. They were already preparing diner for all of us. Shortly they where placing many plates on the floor with fish, salad, rice and maashi and we seated us around it to enjoy it. After dinner we spent the evening playing dominos (or at least all the men and Fleur). It was a real homely evening with the whole family of Hazem joining in. It was great! And very special to be welcomed into to the intimacy of their family live.
The next morning we visited their farm where we spend the day drinking chai, smoking shisha en riding a donkey. During the farm visit the whole village took notice of our visit and all wanted to invite us to their homes. After the farm visit the man went to the city for a haircut and Fleur joined the woman to prepare delish stuffed pigeon for diner.
Early next day we packed the car and were stared at while shopping at the local market for fruits and veggies for our journey to the Bahariya Oasis from where we would explore the Black and White Desert. On the road we could slowly see the landscape change from farming life to desert with sand and nothingness everywhere around us. Once arriving at our destination all our alarm lights turned on. Something was wrong.. though before examining the problem we decided to enjoy some dates and jump in the pool filled with hot spring water. The day after the car was still broken. The middle of the desert is a bad place for a broken car, though we where lucky. The oasis is renown for the amount of land cruiser (everybody has one) and our camp ground manager had 5 Land Cruiser as well. He helped us finding out what the problem was and helped fixing it, together with some other tune ups. Some parts needed to come from Cairo so we nearly missed our desert tour since our plan was to join a group going into the dessert with our own car and pay a small fee for the guide. Now we had 2 options: join a different car as a passenger or use our own car and make sure we would not let the car turn of, cause it would not start again and would need a push start. Of course we choose for adventure with our own car!
The two day trip was unforgettable! Sleeping in the desert under a million stars is the kind of thing we planned this trip for. And also the experience of driving 4X4 in the Sahara was very cool! After a few tries Timo got the hang of it and managed to get us through the desert. Though it remained scary at times especially the part where had to drive up some kind of half pipe ramp which we had to take with so much speed that we came of the ground! All our things bounced through the car when the 3000kg car landed again.
After the dessert trip we headed towards Luxor; 800km across the desert. On the road to Luxor we have been accompanied several times by the police, to make sure we are safe on the road, a thing they only do with foreigners. Luxor is famous for the many monuments such as the Valley of the King with 63 royal tombs hidden in the mountains where ancient Egyptian rulers were buried including Toetanchamon. Only a handful of the tombs are open (on rotation) to pretend further damaging by the many tourist visiting them every single day. The Memorial Temple if Hatshepsut was also one of our stops in Luxor, since she has been described as Queen Bee of her time, taking power of a large empire as one of the first women in the world. Our last stop was Karnak, the old Luxor, a complex of sanctuaries, pylons and obelisks and the most important place of worship in Egypt during the New Kingdom. It has been restructured, added on and redecorated for over 1500 years, due to which you can see several styles combined in this temple. Especially the huge columns, forming the heart of the temple are impressive and a nice place to come at ease from the hot sun burning on us all day.
In Luxor Timo already developed himself as a real mechanic, chancing the oil and oil filter by himself and making sure our car is ready to hit the road to Aswan. We found out that the Festival of the Sun was being held in 2 days, in Abu Simbel, something that happens only twice a year, so we decided to quicken our pace and start preparations for Sudan as well. Which meant getting jerrycans to fill with diesel and do some shopping for our trip down south. Derek showed us his tourism skills and arranged for us to be part of a convoy with over a 100 cars, minibuses and touringcars heading to Abu Simbel at 1 am to arrive there just before sunrise to enjoy the festival. We could not leave Aswan without a trip on the Nile: on a boat, with cold drinks and snacks. Just before sunset we arrived at the Panorama Restaurant, a thank you gift from Derek for having him the last couple of days, to see the wonderful sunset from up high with amazing views over the Nile and its little islands.
The convoy was an experience in itself, cars racing to be the first at the destination. At arrival we knew why. There was a long long line to go into the temple as the time window to see the sun light up the 3 statues except the God of darkness, was only 20 min. Who knows Timo or me a little bit, knows that we do not like big crowds or being in line with hysteric people, so we sat this one out and enjoyed the dancing rituals being held outside and admired the wonderful temples from outside. Being tired from only a few hours of sleep we headed back to the car for breakfast, where Derek found a car to take him back to Aswan in a few minutes where he continued his journey to Dahab, we had to say goodbye really quick. We decided to fill our car and all the jerrycans with fuel (bringing 170 L of diesel with us as there is a shortage in Sudan) and look for the ferry to take us to the border with Sudan. The ferry happened to leave in half an hour, giving us just enough time to get some breakfast (bread with eggs and foul) and get the car on the boat, perfect.
At the border many of people were willing to help us, which turned out to be very much needed since we were supposed to get a paper from the Aswan Traffic Police stating that we did not make any mistakes on the road or having any open tickets. As we were in the convoy we never got that paper and they were willing to send us back (meaning 2 days of travel) or let us pay $200. Luckily the highest chief in charge did not like this type of scam and arranged it for free. After two hours we were allowed to enter the border crossing to have our car checked, have the plates removed and get all the correct papers and stamps to exit Egypt. Which took another 3 hours.
At the moment of writing we are in Sudan and preparing for Ethiopia.
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