Next came the Egyptians
A purpose built border area, all glass and concrete with lanes and booths - a bit like customs/immigration at Dover. But, with no signs, the booths abandoned and effectively used as if it was a barn. Built with western aid, designed by Western Designers run by ...
The processing control had been abandoned and all was done though the use of a small office where one changed money presumably to buy the visa and an adjacent office where a loud typically third world national straight out of a Frederick Forsythe novel was ostentatiously granting his approval to his applicants (supplicants) to enter Egypt. A cursory glance at the passport, a stamp on the immigration card and the passport and we were done.
Quick, but with no queue and the need to push one's way to what resembled the front confirmed that we were entering Egypt and back into the third world! The only thing in the Egyptians favour was that dealing with Israelis, who on this border anyway were the most arrogant ill-mannered people almost without exception, a reaction of efficiency and helpfulness was hardly likely.
On we went to the customs part where the customs person was again at the front of a milling crowd rather than a queue. The formalities were again processed quickly then the bombshell, when, despite a vehicle that was clearly well loaded he nonchalantly requested us to pass everything through the scanner, then he left.
This was the one time that the Diplomatic visa really came into effect and was useful as after a deal of polite remonstrating that as diplomats our baggage must not be searched we finally won the day, had we not had that advantage I expect that the unloading and loading would have taken many hours and for no advantage as the man was barely glancing at the screen of the baggage monitor when it was being used. The visa worked and we were on to the next stage, this was accompanied by a deal of shouting from a new arrival who had 3 pips and seemed to be the boss. The plain clothes man was most put out while the first person we dealt with clearly wasn't that bothered either way, his original request to unload and reload being made so pleasantly and with no interest in the consequences. Along with that was a degree of interest as to why we didn't want them to inspect our baggage - could they not see the volume!
Next step was getting the car into the country which involved a number of stages. First of all, once it had been confirmed we had a carnet was the production of photocopies of the carnet and two of the named owners details page from the passport and one of the visa page.
This involved a walk to the TABA Hilton which was the only place to get photocopies and was a good 200 metres away - the man suggested I drove but as this was across a border I doubt that they would have let both me and the car through. Next was payment of LE 1005 by way of three months road tax for a car of over 2 litres. This involved a trip back to the bank which was across the way from the car registration office and in the passport hall - the bank decided that it was closed and they had no more money and that I should change at the hotel - a worry considering that almost all hotels use money exchange as a way of extorting money from their customers. The exchange rate was significantly better than in Israel.
Another long walk and this time a pleasant surprise as there was a bank which did a legitimate exchange. Back again and on with the processing. The money was taken and the details entered into a big book. Along with this was LE 35 taken for a vehicle registration note and LE 25 for third party insurance for a month. Finally the issue of the plates for more money 'I think it was LE16' and back to the man with the carnet and all was complete. The whole process had taken over two hours. We drove into Egypt shortly after 19:00 after having driven out of Jordan at 14:00.
The last hit of the hammer was as we drove into South Sinai governerate and were stung for LE17 per adult to go past the check post. This was a blatant rip-off aimed most likely at the Israelis and out of proportion when using the Suez Canal tunnel costs LE1.5
We turned on to the road to Cairo and up into the hills where we looked for a wadi to camp in
Camped about 30 Ks from the Taba border down a Wadi. This was a classic wadi where one can see a slight gap through the edge of the hills and an excursion through it will take one on just about as far as one wishes. We drove about a half kilometre until we were out of sight and sound of the the road . We just about had time to make camp before the sun set and settled down for a meal of Spaghetti and Campbell's soup with tuna mixed in to it rather than make up a white sauce.
We woke at about 07:00 exhausted and broke camp slowly.
Trip at 49 Tacho at 8690
Left at 09:10
We set off to drive to Cairo, this is simple, it involves crossing the Sinai and following the sign posts for Cairo. This was the Northern part of the Sinai which is flat and very un-desert like, more a plain with the occasional air base, small town, coke stand etc. We hit the Suez Canal just north of Suez city where we crossed using the tunnel, no change there and then onto the familiar road that leads to Cairo. The one that we had taken many times back when we lived in Egypt.
Cairo, especially the bit that we came to was not familiar, we must have taken a wrong turn because we very soon got very lost. Rather than try to turn round and perhaps get even more lost, we headed on and eventually started to recognise the Eastern edge of the city proper which runs along below the Mokatom hills. This was in the vicinity of the city of the dead, further south from where we turned right into the city proper would have taken us to the Zeballin quarter.
Filled up at a filling station just on the Mokatom hills overlooking Cairo 66.47 at LE 26.55 9095 trip 453 full.
On and down into the city with a slight detour through the city of the dead and what appeared to be part of the Zeballin area. Very run down and poverty stricken. We finally came out - just as I had planned - just below the Al Akhsar mosque and Citadel area and were able to take a direct road into the centre of town and were able to park in the next street from Felfelas about a 50 metre walk away. Lunch was almost as we remembered it but for alterations to suite the tourist palate. In the Shak-Shouka whereas before, the eggs were broken into the mashed beef and tomato sauce and part cooked ready to be mixed into the sauce by the guest, now it was a mince sauce with chopped tomato and a fried egg on top - what we do as tourists! Anyway, Geoff and Dom made a good meal and the beer was LE8 a bottle which was better than the high prices that we had otherwise been paying in all the other supposed low cost of living countries.
Onward to find a travel agent from which we hoped to get discounted rates at the Jolie Ville in Luxor and possibly the Pyramids as well. Their best price was $105 which we said we would think about. We did come out with a booking in a supposed 4 star hotel the Europa for $35.
It was now 17:00 on a Saturday and the Egyptian Museum was closed as was most of Cairo. On we went to our 'Hotel' and checked in, a rather seedy place that had seen better days - I hope, which could have done with a clean or preferably a good burn out. Still it was only $35 which is near enough £20 so can't complain too much.
After a bath - we were all filthy - we headed off towards the local McDonalds to sate the appetites of the two little ones. At least that was the idea, and yet again the curse of the journey, if it can go wrong there is that sneaky specter of failing waiting round the corner. The lift failed and came crashing down with us in it from the 2nd to the ground floor. The lift stopped a good two feet below the ground floor level and the force caused the roof to fall in on us. Fortunately the doors opened and we got out very quickly and I must admit I almost thumped the first stupid Egyptian that came across and said 'Don't worry'. We were of secondary importance as the staff milled around the lift. Fortunately, apart from the shock and a nick on Geoff's arm we were all right, and when they apparently were going to get the lift back into working order without any repairs I up-ended one of the sand filled ash trays into it to block the door. We left.
A McDonalds and then a couple of take away Schwarmas for Simon and Lesley and back to the hotel or four star doss house for want of a better name..
Breakfast in the Europa was a typical low grade Egyptian affair that I remembered from 15 years before. The food was watery scrambled eggs, hash-browns with milk and a dish of beans and various other bits that were supposed to make it look like breakfast. The table coverings were most likely left over from the previous nights supper or possibly breakfast the previous day and the carpet must have seen better times during the empire, filthy hardly describes it.
Of the elevator disaster, the Manager I don't believe had been told. He professed no knowledge of it at all which I am tempted to believe. What purpose the staff had in hiding the fact that a family had come crashing down the elevator shaft defeats me. Anyway, on to the Jolie Ville to see whether we would really get a good rate !
Booked into JolieVille Pyramids. The resident prices ruse failed when they asked first for the residence permit and then for an alternative letter from the Embassy saying that we were about to take up residence. Rather than bother the Embassy I asked what the best discounted rate they could give would be. In terms of the Luxor hotel this came down quickly to $70 which was far better than the $105 that had been quoted as a good deal by the travel agent in the centre 'Half Moon' which in this case showed that it paid to go direct to the hotel.
The rate came down again to $60 when I asked about diplomatic discounts and they pursued this with the Luxor hotel when in fact I was asking about the Pyramids hotel. Anyway, I took the $60 and started the negotiation about the best rate they could give here at the Pyramids. The first discount was 50% off the rack rate which excluded breakfast. I asked about breakfast as well and this came into the equation as 50% off the with breakfast rate or $85 plus 19% taxes. Breakfast was important to be included as having an inclusive rate meant there was a chance that the additional breakfast rate would then be cut by 50% and that there would most definitely not be any quibble over whether it was 2 or three or four what with Geoff and Dom. Success and it was not quite 11:00 and we had accommodation worked out for the next 10 days - fantastic. When staying in Egypt - stay at the Jolie Ville!
During the negotiations the sub manager that I was dealing with admitted that things were not going that well with the tourist trade in Egypt, that there was an estimated 1,000,000 people laid off and that tourist numbers had yet to recover to any extent.
Today we decided to knock the Egyptian museum on the head, more appropriate would have been knocking Dominic on the head who spent the entire time whinging. The Museum was unchanged from 12 years before and though the exhibits were as impressive, and the display was such that all could be viewed close up too the point of touching - it was still poorly signed and basically more akin to store house rather than a museum.
A quick visit to the local McDonalds - this sounds like a Middle Eastern part of the tour of all the McDonalds in the world - we headed back to the car and then back to the hotel. Supper was the buffet and excellent both for the price and at any price.
Saqqara and a morning at the Jolie Ville
Left with tacho at 9306 trip at 664 11:30
filled tank just short of Mallawi tacho at 9497 trip 855 45 litres 15:30
filled tank at Qena tacho at 9902 trip at 261 45 litres 23:55
Today started out as most days start, a breakfast, in fact a relatively early breakfast for us as we woke at 07:00 and started the day planning to leave giving ourselves plenty of time to get to the desert area beyond El Minya. In fact we left at 11:30 having packed the car to fit our recent purchases from MahMood in. Also a quick fix of the wobble from the steering which turned out to be a loose bolt on one of the cross-members.
Off we went towards the Saqqara area, that being in the general direction and then on past Dashur and the bent Pyramid then Maidum and the collapsed Pyramid, all visible from the road and unvisited by us this time. The road shortly joined the main 'road 2' that follows the Nile and we made relatively good speed down as far as Mallawi where we wanted to turn off to go to Tuna El Gebal and then off into the desert to camp before we hit the Asyiut area. That was not to be.
There were no signs to Tuna el Gebel and we stopped just into Mallawi to have a look at the map which realy didn't help very much but as the scale was large that was not suprising. While there we had an armoured Mercedes Gellandewagon pull up next to us. I was to get out and talk to them while they stayed inside their little fortress. The upshot of this was - after a good ten to twenty minutes that we were to be escorted to T el G then on to Aswan or Luxor. We set off, I had told them to forget about T el G and we would go direct to Luxor, we still had to have an escort and there car had problems going faster than 40 Kph and then had to stop for 5 minutes which turned out to be half an hour just beyond Mallawi. Begging them to let us go on got nowhere - rather than bowl along at 90 and 100 Kph we had to sit behind them, they in their mini fortress while we all crawled along at 40Kph, what a target we must have been, the more so as we now had an escort and were obviously of worth. Having picked up this worthless supposed escort at 16:00 we finally reached Abu ... two hours later where we were transferred to the company of an armoured car of the nature of a 4 wheel BMP. This could go at 80 to 90 Kph and the captain - three pips - suggested that we might leave him behind and get on with our journey, the first and only bit of common sense during the whole farce. I had explained that this escorting and delay would mean we would have to do most of our driving in the dark, something we had planned to avoid by leaving early and anyway we had planned to camp. After a succession of large armoured cars, who passed us on from one to the other as we went from their area to the next one's, sometimes with the 5 to ten minute wait other times a very fast hand over. We had been promised that after Asyuit we would be able to get on with our journey and would be safe and left alone - that was not to be.
We reached Asyuit at 20:00, four hours to go 80 kilometres and another check post where we had to hang around for ages, into Asyuit to yet another check post and then another.
At the exit to Asyuit we were told we would have another escort, the person they got to interpret, on being told that we were assured that we would be free after Asyuit and the end of the danger told us that there was no problem with Asyuit but that now we were in danger. But we were free to part from the escort when we liked and carry on with our journey.
Having an escort might not seem like a problem per se, but in this case we were not having our security increased, rather the opposite. Having to follow a succession of pickups filled with 'lads' armed with kalashnikovs idly resting on the tailgate pointed directly at you is an invitation to be shot by mistake on an unexpected bump in the road. equally, the frequent stops would allow advance notice of a convoy of VIPs to be passed along to whosoever we were being protected against and anyway, for a large part of the journey we were the only vehicle without armour and forced to drive at a speed which ws either ludicrously fast, being constantly signalled to overtake trucks in the most dangerous mannner or forced down to speeds where we covered no great deal of distance. The worst part was we were forced - by the earlier delay in to driving at night, someting that anyone who has driven in the third world is to be avoided at all costs - the universal ripost to this statement was 'no problem'.
The joke and the fact that the police come security services had some captive english people wore ever thinner and the delays at the security stops got ever longer. Both our tempers were on edge and at times snapped which was treated with hilarity by the officers and men supposedly protecting us. We even got into a race to get away from one group that were doing there best to keep us behind them and at a seriously slow pace, they couldn't keep up when I went at 90kph which was the legal maximum and at a village overtook us almost causing the deaths of some of the villagers who had to jump out of the way as we, who had slowed down due to the numbers of people on the road were passed at breakneck speed, hemmed in and had a squad of troops effectively arrest us.
The torture went on until after having behaved myself and crawl along behind the last truck full of troops they got seriously bored and pulled in and stopped in the middle of nowhere and let us go on - that was at midnight and we had yet to reach Qena.
We were stopped at the next checkpoint and had to go through the same ludicrous procedure along with a degree of shock by the young man who proclaimed himself a policeman that we were not showing the right degree of respect. It might be that we had finally met another sensible person but he let us go on our way and yet again we soon had an escort, this time at a soemtimes discreet distance, othertimes on our tale with no lights on. But anyway, this was the only time that the escort acted like they were intereted in our security rather than having a damn good time at our expense. Just after Qena they gave up but had speeded us on our journey by beeping their way through two road blocks and talking us through another.
The whole matter which started at 16:00 was easily one of the worst and most frightening experiences I have had. We were effectively prisoners and to an extent mascots and playthings of young men who had little concept of security rather than the idea that you need a gun or lots of guns. At no time did Ifeel safe, in fact I have never felt in greater danger and that fear was not of a potential terrorist attack.
We finally arrived at the JolieVille at 01:30 on the 30th, a day early and were met with the first words being 'You can't stop here, go and park over there' there being a good fifty yards away. The wretched man then started poking and peering into the car. Reception started out disinterested and the first comment was 'Do you know how muh we cost' that was after I told them we were a day early and had a booking'. Having explained in a certain manner that having been harassed for the last 9 hours, having a booking, knowing the price and knowing that the hotel was seriously empty he might change his manner. This was reinforced when the porter arrived and was the first to say welcome and I made a great deal of this simple but pleasent word that had been missing both in word and deed.
We are informed that trips to Hughahdha and Aswan are by convoy only.
It is very difficult to get much out of the locals as to the true state of the danger. The questions are answered in the nature of 'with all this security around it is safe'. There seems to be liitle comprehension or acceptance of the fact that the terrorists of 'Nov 18th' took their guns from the so called seurity forces at the the place where they did the shooting. More guns to my mind mens more carnage and when you have young lads swggering with a Kalashnikov and an extra clip of ammunition taped to the first for a quick change aka shwarzneger and stallone. The question must be, how can that help defend me, the forces are set up to defend against a charge from a horde of bandits. A gun desined to spray a large area with death is only going to add to the carnage offerred by a single terrorist with a pistol. The reaction of the security forces here is seriously misguided and appears to be defined to sate the machismo of the Egyptian male rather than a serious attempt to protect one of their main earners of foreign exchange.
More than this, placing travel through upper Egypt under the control of the police and restricting it by means of convoys means the traveller is vritually banned from all but the main sights such as those in and around Luxor. Tel el Armana and similar is effectively out of bounds. Egypt has ceased to be a viable destination for those truly interested in in what makes Egypt such an attraction. Rather it has become a winter sun destination with the sop to those who wish to consider theselves a cut above the normal sun and pool holidaymakers.
The other issue and question must be, what is the true state of Egypt. If the level of security is in anyway justified then one must assume that the security situation is far worse than admitted. If that is the case, then virtually the entire south of Egypt is under effective martial law with the Luxor area under a cordon of military and blanketed by armed forces. The tourists being effectively banned from leaving the 'holiday camp' and all but the most frequently visited and noted sites being truly open.
Otherwise the day was spent by the pool recovering from the torment of the previous day, Geoffrey and Dominic appreciated this as did they the buffet which was a good far eastern buffet.
May 1st Friday
Pool then a walk round Luxor.
Even driving there are people who rush up and offer the most inappropriate services such as taxi trips - we have a car, or maybe you didn't notice what we were sitting in. Past one of the stands as we approached we had a man insisting that we needed bottles of water. The price started at LE2.5 as we approached and went to LE2 as we went by and LE1.5 as we drove on. Basically what we would have got had we been on foot but very fast to cater for the speed of the car. Stopping in the shade away from the traders we ten had a succession of Caleche drivers come up, each one being told no a number of times before they took the hint and on leaving being replaced almost immediately by another. The pestering only stopping strangely enough when we walked through the main tourist covered bazaar area where we only got pleasent banter rather than real hassle.
We were also looking for a reasonable restuarant and wandered up to the Marhaba which was empty apart from two tourists and a rather surly waiter who was astounded that I was just looking.
We headed off guided by the directions of the bookshop man who we had just visited towards a mythical Felfelas - see below. The directions led to us parking near the station and walking in the direction indicated by yet another person who agreed that Felfelas was in the direction we were heading and just round the corner. Well after a good 10 minute walk and with Lesley on her last legs due to lack of essential minerals we headed back and sat down at the restuarant we had parked next to.
The Salt and Bread restuarant was hardly something to write home about. We ordered soup which was reasonable and mixed grill and half a chicken. The mixed grillwas mixed in the sense that the beef was chopped in different shapes and it had a couple oof bits of chicken. The Chicken was intersting in that it rather indicated the bird had spent a good deal of time runniing from its fate at an early age. It was stringy and particularly small. What had happened to the cuisine that we were used to, this was just plain tourist rip off junk.
May 2nd Sturday
Did the nobles
Today was a day to do something and we chose to do what we knew would be a treat to the eyes though maybe a source of hassle - the nobles was to be it, als9o Nefertari which was unfortunately cloed due to the factt that the requisit 150 tourists had seen it at a high LE 150 (£30), each spening no more than 10 minutes, hardly the bargain of the century. Anyway, Ramose, Sennefur and chums were to be it. Tickets bought at LE12 each we set off for the nobles where we parked and immediately had a self imposed guide who was going to show us where the tombs were despite the fact that there are reasonably placed signposts to them and that I made it plain to him that I knew where the tombs were. Where I pointed he made sure that he told me they were in that direction. after a good bit of bargaining on his part and repeated 'no's' on my part he finally gave upand we were pursued by a lad for the entire round of visits despite repeated and insistent no's on our part and again a one way negotiation on his.
The lad was joined by his chum and for a part by his sister, all telling us that we should or had to pay for this unwanted and unneeded non service. The male extra was given his cumuppance when on telling Lesley she was a donkey in Egyptian 'Enta Hamar' was given a suitable though significantly escalate riposte also in Egyptian which sent him away muttering and red faced.
We set off again with the aim of eating at what turned out to be the non-existent FelFelas branch in Luxor. A trip up Shariah Television as far as the restuarants lasted failed to turn it up so we settled to eat at :-
Ate at the Al Houda which had a mention is some guide book or other as doing good fare. This extract was displayed next to the menu in the main street though I guess the article might have been the kiss of death to quality as the food was very poor. After all, if you have an international publication telling people to eat in your restuarant, whats the point of doing anything else to attract clients like prepairing good food.
All the courses came together, in fact the starter came after the main courses had been cooked and delivered. The Chicken tawook had three tiny bits of Chicken, the shish kebab was clearly not grilled nor had whatever it was done to done on a skewer, it was also tough as old boots which was only a minor complaint as fortunately their was only a bit more than a mouthful. I noticed that a couple on a table next to us had left most of their pizza. This coupled with the poor showing from the Salt and Bread restuarant rather indicates that the local setups are trying to maximise profits as much as possible during this crisis by eriously cutting back on content and quality. My memories of Luxor from 7 and 11 years ago was of a place with good food and realistic helpings. Of the two restuarants we went to the food was actually not nice. Equally, there were no felafal nor schwarma stands of which Egypt should otherwise be justly proud.
May 3rd Sunday
- Unseasonably hot apparently
Briefly a lazy day with the plan to make a visit mid day to the temple of Luxor and the museum of Luxor. But the best laid pans of mice and men however simple..
Anyway, we started the day with the pool and a huge party of Italians, the girls being generally very attractive down as far as the waist where the quantities of pasta that they must eat had obviously had an effect. Having a relaxing time and with enough for the voyeuristic streak in me to be sated we persisted until about 14:00 when the cultural aspect of our trip beckoned and we decided to throw caution to the wind and try a visit to Luxor.
We drove in to the museum and found that this, being the only indoor attraction and airconditioned was closed during the hottest part of the day while the outside attractioons were open. Anyway, at LE30 entry to one of the smaller museums in Egypt it was hellishly overpriced. We went on to the temple of Luxor and were told not to park near what appeared to be the entrance - there was another entrance round the back. We drove round to it and parked in the street being descended upon by caleche drivers from the point we switched off the engine and opened the doors. We spurned their advances - the first with the simple word 'No' which was ignored and the hassling continued. The ripost was simple - ' do you understand English' 'yes' 'then what did I just say' 'No' he replied. A simple and perhaps childish rebuke but it worked and we were eft alone for all of 10 seconds until the next one started. We walked to the rear entrance that is a short walk across from the front entrance, the rear entrance being the exit and the guards having the obvious pleasure of telling us to walk a good half kilometre all the way round the block to the entrance. The simple expedient of escorting us the few steps across to the entrance was not an option as it would require a real positive and helpful attitude to a tourist. Back at the car I realised that the keys were locked inside and that all the doors were locked.
Having parked next to the only McDonalds in upper Egypt, the problem for Lesley and the kids was minimised as they tok refuge while I took a taxi to the hotel for the second set of keys. The taxi tried the standard and painfully boring response to 'how much' with the statement 'no problem as you like' which is roughly translated as 'if you accept this then you are obviously a pretty dim tourist and open to the bigget charge I can get away with'. The response is to walk on to find another taxi who will quote a fare. This taxi then came straight out with a high price of LE20 which came down to a realistic LE15 when I told him to talk sense.
On reaching the room and turning the bags inside out I discovered that the second set of keys were in the car. What to do but consider breaking in and for that my best bet was a wire coat hanger. Recep0tion were called on to help and ask room service for said coat hanger. No sir, they do not have a wire coat hanger but they do have an anti mosquito mat. I told them that they had obviosly misunderstood my request and asked them to try again, they were equally adamant that they fully understood what I wanted and that an anti mosquito mat should serve the purpose - this was after I mimed hanging my shirt on an imaginery coat hanger. The problem was solved when I drew a picture of a wire coathanger. A small boy was sent to get one from the laundry and I set off back into town.
I am not nor have ever been a car thief, I do have a good understanding of vehicle mechanics and bodywork though the LandRover is relatively new to me. It took me slightly over 5 seconds to break into the LandRover causing no damage and using a bent coathanger. Basically, supplying locks for the doors is a bit of a pointless excercise on Land Rovers part. Just to make the event cmplete, fro the point I started opening the door of the taxi I had a lad hassling me for 'Baksheesh' and rubbing a sand impregnated rag onto the car which he was told in no uncertain terms to desist 'Desist young urchin and begone' but compresed oto a shorter, more modern and more easily understood form.
Meanwhile Lesley and the kids had settled into an oasis of unhassal by consuming a big Mac, fries and soft drinks and Geoff and Dom making firm friends with the otherwise un-customered staff of the Luxor McDonalds.
With hardly enough time left to fit in a site and get back in time for the pool we settled on a visit to a bookshop to see if we could find a better range than what was so far evident than the two shops we had so far seen. This was a mistake. All the books were overpriced being a good 50% above the UK cover price, while based on what we knew of the market they should have been a similar or lower price, especially those printed in Egypt. One book looked to be of the right price and though afairly blatant touristic view of Egypt - 'The art of Ancient Egypt' or somesuch, I had to have it. I paid the money, was given the book and waited for the change. As nothing appeared I asked for the change and was given a blank look. When I showed the price tag of LE25 Iwas told that no, the book was LE30. There was no aplogy nor admission that there was a mistake, just that the book was LE30 and that was that and I should know that. This went on and we threatend to call thetourst police as this was too blatant a rip off. The assistant wouldn't even have it that the price tag said LE25 and the matter developed into a stand up row. No ploice were to be found and we threatend to take the shop assistant to the police. Eventually we left in disgust and a great deal of anger as yet again we had another rip off tried on us. This particular rip off I think I have seen before about 12 years before in fact when I went to buy a copy of the Blue Guide to Egypt. It was marked at a good though not stupid price. When I came to pay for it the marked price was ignored and the price shot up. When I refused to pay for the new price the book went straight back on the shelves with the price unchanged from the incorrect marked price. Obviously a con that is common and most likley successful.
We went back to the hotel feeling disgusted with the Egyptians.
The pool and supper of 'Marché'which included a diabolical french onion soup which was basically onions in cooking oil and little more. The rest was great though the short order cook doing the instant stir fried dishes was rather heavy on the soya sauce. Geoff and Dom had been given their flying action man toys accompanied by the detonation of some party poppers which attracted the attention of one of the hotels security people, I presume interested to see if guests were being popped off by river born terrorists. If it sounds like guns, a more discrete investigation would have been more approriate.
NB. Kids. Geoff and Dom had an improving day today, the lessons being learnt are basically based on reducing tiredness and hungry and making sure they have something to look forward to while avoiding sudden changes. Mornings, rather than waking up and going for breakfast are actually better with an earlier rise and some kind of event lasting maybe an hour that the kids actively enjoy, then moving on to breakfast. This can set the tone of the whole day and in terms of mooching through ruins which kids only enjoy to the extent that they have a place to clamber over is a real boon. Another trick which can work to a limited extent though equally can be a real trial depending on the time and place is to have a series of new small toys that can be given during the journey. Wth two boys, one wanting whatever its older brother has as if it were a religious requirement, that trick can backfire and sometimes the giving of a gift each resulted in an hour or more of fighting and tears, at the extreme the gift being taken away.
NB. The Jolie Ville Luxor. This is truly an oasis in a sea of hassle and harrasment. We stumbled on this resort when based in Cairo back in 1985-7 and would often spend weekends here paying a discounted residents in Egypt rate, something that still exists. The rack rate seems to start at about $120 and climbs to about $300, an amount that Idoubt is often payed as the mojority of guests that come will be from travel agencies or resident. The quality of the hotel / resort has been maintained over the years, no doubt due to a strong European input in the staff. The degradation that occurs in the purely Egyptian run hotels is not evident nor has a decline in service in order to offset low numbers of guests been evident. Certainly it is a hotel that I would strongly recommend with the proviso that the full rate wasn't paid. Why be the only person paying $150 when everybody else is getting it for half that.
May 4th Monday
Lesley thinks she is pregnant, morning sickness at Breakfast
Pool all day
Cajun / Creole
May 5th Tuesday
Morning sickness in room before breakfast
Pool all day
Karnak at 16:00 then old McD's then Caleche then bazaar - carpet salesman.
We ventured to try a Caleche, something that cannot go wrong after all you agree a price and what you want prior to getting on. For us it was LE7 for half an hour. A break even price admittedly but he would then make money on the Baksheesh, the horse was in good shape and we insisted on a slow meander. All went well until we took a right turn off the Corniche and rather than heading into town as we expected, it was into a smelly and noisy traffic jam and the way to his chums papyrus 'museum' had we been to the museum? maybe we would like to see the museum etc. very good prices to which we gave a firm refusal, which led to the man going straight on to extolling the virtues of his friends alabaster factory and would we like to see how they made alabaster things. Again a no and as we were apparently next to another friend's brass factory. We were rather irritated by this time and told him to turn round and go back to the corniche and out of the traffic. I told him that we could go to any number of Papyrus shops or alabaster shops and we could equally sit in traffic jams whenever we wanted to, we didn't have to pay to be taken by horsedrawn carriage. Basically we were taken for a ride as I suppose are all the other tourists. Get in a carriage for a pleaent ride down the corniche and get taken directly to a smelly old shop - maybe most tourists want that?
In taking a caleche ride the instructions must include a very firm statement that it is not to include a visit to shop and virtually lay down a definition of the route. Sad isn't it.
After the carriage rid we tried the covered bazaar. One of the carpets on display was peculiar enough to be interesting, a rug of about 8 by 3 foot with mix of various parts of Iran in the design but made in Egypt. The sad thing was that the vendor either didn't know the first thing about it or was a consumate lier. The colours were clearly synthetic though I had the speil which always started 'please listen to me' that they were natural dies. The material changed from wool to camel wool and back to wool. The numbe of knots looked about 50 or so to the cm2 , even under the magnifying glass which the man insisted I used despite the fct that it was clearly irrelevant with such a rough weave - he was insistent that it was 800 knots per cm2. Don't take account of what you know, thats irrelevnt and doesn't help the sale, believe me even though I am lying through my teeth, ayway its nicer all round if you believe me - maybe he should sell pensions.
The exchange was interesting in that the 'sales'man for want of a better word clearly had the idea that he could badger me into ignoring what I knew and take his word discounting the statements I had made that disagreed with him. With regard to the price he started at LE1,200 which equated to £240. I offerred him £100 which I guess is about what he would have paid for it. He came down to £200 then £165. Anyway, it wouldn't have fitted so we couldn't have taken it at any price.
May 6th Wednesday
Today was to be a doing things day which required an early start which unfortunately failed. But nevertheless we headed across the river to the ticket office with the intention of purchasing tickets for the Seti I temple. On asking it turned out that the Nefertari tomb had yet to close and still had not used up its quota of 150 people - it was 20 minutes to 12:00 and we had to rush. LE100 parted company from me along with LE12 for each of us to go into the valley of the queens. Lesley was going to get the visit!
Off we went in the burning heat and hit the Valleyat a brisk walk, mainly to get past the purveyors of grotty souveirs and postcards as fast as possible. Th worst were those that actually stood full square in front of where one is about to walk and in this case were walked over. I am sure giving us the distinction of being classed amongst the rudest of tourists for barely noticing the sincere efforts of these guys to part us wth our money. Straight on to Nefertari and Lesley's treat which she said was well worth it. The tomb had been magnificently restored by the Getty people and in itself was a thing of beauty. The down side was the hassle at the entrance from one guardian who harrased Lesley over the ticket 'Ticket Cut' or something like that. The second guardian then following her round the tomb, standing behind her and hissing. Something that wouldn't have happened had she been in company so the implication is obvious.
On from there to Titi who was a Queen with a rather lovely tomb and in a good state of preservation which looked likely to last due to the glass frontages that had been put in to protect the painting. The guard was soon silenced, relatively politely and told not to attack us with his fan - a sheet of barracka mineral water bottle case - nor announce in knowing ways that the painting which clearly showed a fish was a fish or somesuch. The really interesteing pictures nor what they mean seem a to have remained a complete mystery to all the guardians and most of the guides. Most being ontent to recognise the difference between one or two Gods and who was King along with the name of the person who's tomb or temple one is in - usually clearly marked on the entrance.
From Titi, through to ... then finishing at Kiam Waset, the last two sons of Ramases III who died in infancy. I can only guss that for the chance at a decent tomb, being a Pharohs child you either make sure that you die young and have daddy build a memorial to reflect his grief or become the oldest son and therefore have your own bespoke memorial. Being Pharohs brother is hardly likley to be a good starting point for a tomb of note - if they were anything like the Romans, I expect most junior brothers to the new Pharoh ended up in the stomach of some crocodile or other, the sisters most likely ended up in bed with big brother, such was the way of Ancient Egypt. Certainly I have not heard of any tombs commemorating Pharohs siblings!
Back via Felafal stand - food poisoning for Lesley
Touch of the sun for 'Alicia' wife / girlfriend of Christoph this was apparently solved by the application of the Whittle patent ORS, a liter of which was drunk apparently with every sembalnce of delight.
May 7th Thursday
We set off from the JolieVille Luxor at about 11:30 with some trepidation. First stop was McDs to make sure that Geoff and Dom were well provisioned, next was to find the route out of Luxor. A falsse start following the Nile though it might well have taken us to the main road north. Back into town and past the bus stand and finally via some back streets to the main Nile 'highway'. This was with one cloe shave when the policeman we asked for directions clearly directed us in totally the wrong way. A passerby confirmed we were heading the right way and literally round the corner we hit the main road. A short distance on we got to the checkpoint which stopped us. 'Please go back into Luxor and wait for an escort'. Its only a 5 kilometre drive, go to the flyover and ask for directions, everybody in Luxor speaks English' No problem for him and after 10 minutes of arguing, and the point that we had just come from Luxor and didn't want to go all the way back in, let alone back in only to come back exactly the same way and we were allowed to wait at the checkpoint for our 'escort'. The guard we dealt with Michael William, told us it was now the law that Foreigners had to be escorted along the Nile roads, but assured us that at Qift we would be free to go to Quesir, and that the Desert road was considered safe.
45 minutes later this arrived and turned out to be a red pickup with 6 unmarked men - not a policeman nor gun in sight. The usual meander along the road, they overtook us at 90, then slowed down to 70 then up to 90 and overtook trucks on blind corners and indicated me to follow, which I ignored which I am sure was a source of extreme irritation. As per our earlier conversation we turned off at Qift while the others carried on and at first seem to have ignored us. They caught up while we were filling the tank with Deisel and proceeded to explain and insist that the road to Quesir was ver dangerous, the Quesir was ver dangerous and that there was nothing there, that we should go to Hughadha and that anyway we were to follow them to Qena where we would then be sent to Safaga and hence on to whereever we wanted. The fact that the Quesir road would take us less than two hours and that going via Qena and Safaga would take us 5 hours not counting the messing around at police checkpoints and other delays and end up with us doing a considerable part of the drive at night and in considerable danger was apparently totally irrelevant. The rational behind the danger of the desert road that we proposed to travel was solely that of it being without police checkpoints. The danger was a statement to cow us into doing what they wanted rather than a description of any risk that we might be under.
We left our gallant guards and headed off into the desert which is absolutely deserted - hence the name and equally beautiful. Our guards were very put out and I think nonplussed that we didn't cower in fear of all the dangers that they were going to protect us from. Personally I put it down to a control thing on their part along with a mix of inability to take a practical view of their orders and inability to rationalise what danger is.
During the drive we were able to see the Quasr el Bant which is about 70 kilomters short of Quesir and appears to be an old Roman fort. Most likely a way station rather than a frontier castle as there were a series of small turrets that followed the course of the Wadi / road which must have been signal posts linking the fort to whatever existed at Quesir (Ceaser).
The natural formations varied from a pink sand and stone outcropping through the normal sand coloured scenery to a dark and forbidding lumpy but small mountaineous sort of scenery. After the fort there was a rather lovely escarpment where the layers of sedimentation were clearly displayed, one of the cliffs seemed to sink at an angle back into the sand under the road, risig steadily into the distance with flakes larger than an elephant shearing off having been seperated from the bulk of the cliff face by the wind or perhaps the occaisioanl rain storm, others were standing proud ready to follow.
When we arrived at Quesir the guard post didn't find it at all unusual that we should arrive out of the desert without an escort. They were able to direct us towards the hotel which we found after having driven through the town which has the apect of an old Mediteranean sea side town - disregarding the mud hut slums to the north of it. The atmosphere was far more relaxed than Luxor and hardly a gun in sight.
The Buffet supper was fantastic, especially the Seafood casserole. The prices were on the one hand high which might indicate the remotness and therefore the dificulty/cost of bringing supplies in, though I would guess it more indicated the remoteness in that once here there were no alternatives!
May 8th Friday
At the Movenpicke Quesir - everything seems to be priced at a rate that discourages the majority of people from using anything. Rather leave the things unused than miss out on one not being paid for at full rate. Stupid if you ask me.
I remember the Bentota beach hotel had a similar policy but modified by a free token on arrival which we used on an Archery class. Stay one day and get a free token, stay two weeks and be rewarded with one free token!
Anyway, the Hotel here is to the normal MovenPicke standard though needs a great deal of bedding in. The staff vary from surly to ... . I pickd up a photo album and started glancing at it, before reaching the second page I had one of the staff rip it off me, saying it was photos of the 1001 nights buffet and was I going I would have to book and of course it was very good etc etc. While leaning in and talking very much at my face. Very much the 'we'll ignore you when it comes to a freshen up of the coffee, but dare get it yourself and we'll rip the jug from your hand rather than let you serve yourself'.
May 8th Friday
May 9th Saturday
Checked out of MP Quseir at 12;00, the staff were very concerned that I should put down any comments. We drove on towards Safaga and stopped for a short visit to the beach on the way. A far superior beach, teaming with life than the MP had to offer, in thier favour though they were aiming at the deeper aspects such as fish rather than the intertidal and surrounding zone. We saw loads of crabs, in fact what appeared to be a crab war just at the edge of the beach, later there was a migration of hundreds of crabs up the beach from water to the high tide detritus zone. We left the place as we found it and headed on towards safaga.
Safaga is a mining port I assume an export point for phosphates or somesuch. There were many jettys that went out to sea for the transhipment of granular stuff. The whole plce had a dusty sheen to it. On the next road up from the coast road was the local shopping precinct, a rather small group o shops which fortunately had all our needs - tomatos, melon, bread - of which I didn't get enough and rather delicious goats cheese. Here one bargains in just the same way as buying souvenirs. Not that it is the norm, rather as a 'tourist' you are ripe for being charged whatever the locals think they can get away with charging.
Provisioned and off we went to find the Qena road and our way to the desert, would we find ourselves forced into convoy all the way to Qena. Brilliant, the guy in charge not only understood a map but acce0pted that we were going no where near the Nile and thus didn't merit a guard. He wanted me to confirm that the Nile didn't come into our plans, a fact that I was more than willing to emphasise. I doubt he had the slightest appreciation 9of the good humour I felt towards him for the simple expedient of letti8ng us through.
We drove on towards Qena with the trip metre set to 0, watching for the 44 kilometre mark where the turn off was supposed to be. No turn off but a coke stall that had no coke, but did have directions to Mons. It was exactly where we should have looked, being a tarmac road off the old road - memories from 12 years previous had been jogged and we headed towards our goal. A short stop while we picked up one of the locals who wanted a lift. Having been caught so many times by an apparent simple request that in fact is a sales gambit - I was expecting this to result in us having a guide - especially as he had just got off a lorry apparently to collar us. We initially refused a lift. However, with lorry going off 8in the distance and this guy left miles from anywhere we threw caution to the wind and gave him a lift which was solely what it was.
Camped just before getting to mons
be sea poinbelow the
May 10th Sunday
Woke up to a gloomy sky that rapidly turned into a spectacular thunder storm all around us. we remained low and tried to avid being a lightning conductor. the kids stayed in the car through most of it. Then it rained - the previous day I had made he comment that the only thing left we hadn't sufferred with regard to our trip (apart from real disaster) was a really good soaking! The thunderstorm was definitely approaching us, the time between the lightning and the thunder was shortening and beiing the only metal thing in the area - hough I suppose the rubber tyres rather negated that - and one of the only sticky up things, we really must have looked quite attractive to any venturing bit of lightening. The storm seemed to split, one half goig to the left of us, one to the right. This was fine until the rain came down in torrents which fortunately didn't last long as camping in a wadi one must realise that one is in a dried up river bed!
We broke camp and headed on to Mons Claudianus which is a right turn just after the village, basically follow the rightmost tyre tracks rather than the left hand ones.
Mons is about two or so kilometres onwards and until you are onto it is not very impressive. Once you get in amongst it it is clearly worth the effort and must have been a dreadful place for the slaves that were shipped out here to finish their days. The thought of what the punishments must have been to make the slaves work when the slaves were amid a pretty horrific punishment already!
A couple of things that ofset the pleasure is that certainly one of the 'capitals' that was left in what must have been the bosses house had been taken - which must have been quite an effort. Also there was a pile of broken glass which was clearly from a visiting group of expats, most likley German, possibly from the Embassy as they were clearly marked 'Moet Chandon' and the back information sticker was in German. Sad.
The storm came back along with the rain and Geoff and I made a run for the car from the far end of the walkway to the mines proper. We just made it as the rain came.
We headed on from Mons and took the back road to Hurghada which is a desert track through the most spectacular scenery.
Spectacular though the scenery was, it wasn't until we came over a rise where we camped just off one of the most stupendous Wadis I can imagine - I felt it beat Wdi Rum, lesley preferred to disagree. We did agree though that this offerred far more than any hotel can. I think we are unsuited to that environment.
May 11th Monday
Camped on beach.
May 12th Tuesday
Camped at Wadi on way to Serabit
We had a good chat about what we wanted to do with the rest of the 'holiday'. The constant pressure to keep up with the locals desire to milk us of as much money as can be taken from us at ll levels. Having to fend them off all the time and the false bonhomie which is always a self started intro so tht they can get chatting and work out how to make us give them money. The whole thing is so wearing.
Togo into norml grocers and to have to bargain for staples such as eggs is horrible.
The thought of this for the next two weeks or more back through Jordan and Syria, let alone the worry of having to argue our way into Syria, that we haven't been to Isreal etc. We decided to have a look at the ferry timetable which we had in reserve. There was a ferry that left Haifa on the 22nd and got to Pireaus on the 25th when our europen insurance and green card started. It really didn't take much discussion, but the thought of spending from the 15th trough to the 22nd in Israel rather than Jordan and Syria rather settled it.
May 13th Wednesday
Oil Change at 11296 Kilometres, also new oil filter. I dug a large hole in the desert aand disposed of the lot that way. The ecologically minded might have fits over this but were I to have used an Egyptian garage, the old oil would just be disposed of in the drains, or just tipped onto the surface. There are vitually no exceptions. Asking where the litter bin was at the garage we topped at produced a casual direction to throw it on the ground at the edge of the garage.
Anyway, we left our campsite as we found it, apart from tyre tracks and footprints. Most of the greenery where it was managing to cling on had their drink from the waste water. and on to Serabit al Khadim.
drive to serabit
'guide' who pulled my door open
massive population explosion. The valleys that we were used to riving through whee there was the occaisional house if that now had villages. The initial village that was still there and where one takes a left fork through a mall ravine didn't appear to have changed. Nor had the hoard of young men who made a bee line for us - all potential guides I am sure - who I am sure were most disapointed taht we went the right way.
every village with a 'guide' ready to take us - all very forceful. We stopped to assk directions a couple of times, one time we had the older chap very politely point us in the right direction, a seond younger man came up (16 ish) and spent agreat deal of effort trying to get into the car. His English was as bad as my arabic so he would be a very poor guide.
stopped at old barbed wire which marked off an enclosure. Th wadi looked familiar though with too many trees. While we got out to have a look we had a lad and his chum rush round and we got the speil -
Serabit was off limits from that diretion. We couldn't go to it without a guide
His father the Sheik had put up the barbed wire to stop foreigers take their 4 wheel drives through his land.
The path was too bad and tourists had fallen off.
The route to Serabit was around the corner, two kilometres back the way we had come and we would be well entertained and we could stop and have some tea etc then we would go up to Serabit and spend 20 minutes at the top etc etc. Of course there was no compunction to spend money.. The whole thing stank.
You stop look as you wish, no need to spend money. Three oclock we go Serabit, you look round for 20 minutes then we ome back down again. You have plenty good time, we make it nice or you.
I asked him again who had put up the barbed wire, at the back of my mind I could almost place it there many years ago, and anyway, in the blazer we went over the dune - presumably due to the wire being there. The second time he was asked, all oof a suddden his english wasn't up to it. He didn't know who put the fence there, and anyway wasn't sure what I was saying. Basically it was very much a power play. He started with the advantage in that what he was saying might well have been the truth rather than the pack of lies that it was. My task was to catch himout and find ut whether he was lying or not - he might have been the sheik's son - doubtful. The Egyptian Govt might have restricted tourism at Serabit - possible. He lost it when he started to talk about nice cups of tea, no compunction to spend money which in Egypt means we will do our damndest to skin you.
This gave me the confidence to drive on through the fence,
on to a campsite in a slight valley just off what appeared to be wadi sih, not sure though.
May 14 Thursday
Long drive through fantastic terrain alomst 70 kilometres of rough riving ith little more than a vague compass bearing - sort of southish.
May 15th Friday
Up early but a late departure which put us at the border just after 12:00 ready for a customs official who evidently had either got out of bed the wrong side or had a severe sociological problem.
On exiting one gets LE 16.5 back from the police for the return of the number plates and the driving licence while paying LE10 to the border people as an exit tax for the car.
So, one first deals with the customs who in this case said 'give me 10 pounds' so I say, 'no problem, when I have my 16.5 back from the return of the plates I will be able to give you your 10 pounds'. 'Give me 10 pounds' so I repeated what I said and he said 'give me 10 pounds' he was shouting by now and totally unwilling to consider anything like a common sense solution. Finally he had to give in to the impasse when I said that until I got the 10 pounds from the licence plates there was no money in my pockets. uring this there was also a search for a corresponding stamp in apassport to the stamp on the entry form for the vehicle. Even though I told him that there was nno stamp as his colleague had just written in the passport we had to look at all the passports to theever angrier commnt of where is the stamp, which passport! Repeated against all logic.
The whole thing was developing into an ever worse farce, this was exacerpated when I finally got permission to to get the refund from the traffic police. They asked for the driving licence which the other person had kept and which had noow gone through to the boss with the carnet.
He wouldn't give it to me so we started all over again with the wretched man - to my simple statement that the man down the corridor couldn't process anything until I had the driving licence and was able to pass it on to him started shouting at me. The licence was clearly there and I indicated it and pulled it from the carnet to show him. He snatched it off me and shouted at me to be quite - do not say anything - which was pointless, I told him again that I wanted tho his colleague so that I could process the licences and get the money to give to his other colleague.
Personally I have never met such a display of ill manners and incmopetence.
I finally got the licence and after a brief wait while the officer in charge of that part completed the processing of another person, my licence was processed. There was one stupidity when I was asked for LE 3.5 so that I might be given a LE 20 note to cover the LE 16.5 that they gave me. I was told I must write that I had received LE 20 from them. I wrote initially that I hadd got LE 16.5, this would not do and I was made to write 'I have received 20 Egyptian pounds' A clear lie and I presume a rip off that allows them to steal LE3.5 from the govt on a regular basis.
So back to the start of all the problems and a clear reluctance to deal with me and finalise the processing. The clerk I stated with was in the act of putting my documents into his drawer, I presume to leave me in the border zone. Having reached the limit of my patience I am glad that his supervisor, the one who shouted at me for asking for the driving licence to give to the people who processed the licences stood over him and made him complete the full procesing despite repeated objections.
Basically the process that should have taken no more than ten or twenty minutes - there was no queue - was extended into an unbelievable and insulting trial by these wretched and stupid men. As an adieu from Egypt, I has certainly put me in the mind of never coming back and advising as many friends as possible to steer clear of that country. The people who process cars at Taba have effectively cost Egypt many tens of thousands of pounds of revenue, even more if this is published.