Egypt Revisited -Trip Report 2018
Egypt – from Cairo to Abu Simbel.
“Your taxi driver rang an hour ago and cancelled your booking” the hotel manager informs us.
Egypt is not an easy country for independent travel. And while most of the locals are kind and hospitable people like elsewhere in the Arab world not all the Egyptians who approach foreign tourists are trying to help you.
Arriving in Cairo after 15 hours of travel and having set out at 2.30 am we are pretty tired when we finally get to our prebooked Oriental Hostel in the late afternoon. Only to find out that there is no room for us.
I can see absolutely no reason why our (very nice) taxi driver who took us straight to our desired location (after having called for directions) should have cancelled our booking. I am almost sure that Oriental Hostel has just overbooked. To confirm this minutes later another family arrives – also only to find their booked room already sold to someone else. Terrific. Instead we are taken to another hotel ‘of at least similar standards’. ‘At least similar standards’ in this case means two beds in stead of three, sagging beds, no aircon, no breakfast, dirty room and an elevator that looks like you will die in it soon. Welcome to Egypt.
In the end we jump into a tuk-tuk. Maybe a mistake since the pyramids are located quite far – around 15km – away. As soon as we have agreed to a price our driver – who speaks Arabic only – takes us on to a potholed gravel road with garbage floating everywhere around the back of the station.
I am not quite sure what he is saying except that the price has now apparently gone up by a factor ten. “Haram!” he then says and forms a pyramid with his hands. I am no expert in Arabic – but I am pretty sure ‘haram’ means ‘forbidden’. The guy is angry. The price is not right. And something is forbidden.
In the end we simply get out of the tuk-tuk and walk. When the driver realizes that we do not intend to pay for being taken around to the back of the station and having the price increased drastically he naturally finds it appropriate to try and run us over with his mean little three-wheeler. “I am scared dad” my son Jonas says while we are trying to escape the madman. “So am I my boy” I just say holding his hand tight as we flee.
Last time I visited the pyramids was 23 years ago. Young and unexperienced as I was I agreed to a price with the first, the best camel driver we met. Ten seconds later my girlfriend at the time discovered another camel that she thought looked cuter. The price was the same – so – halas – we changed camel and driver.
As the stones were flying the whistling from the tourist police grew louder and at the last minute he was saved.
The lesson learned – never negotiate with more than one camel driver at the time – is in the back of my head as we now – children in hand – approach the pyramids.
Apart from the fact that the sales person at the official ticket booth of course simply miscalculated when he returned 4 x 5 Pounds instead of 40 Pounds the visit was relatively peaceful. Apart of course from having to turn down around 246 offers of horse riding, around 74 requests for a personal guide and around 1789 offers of riding a camel.
After being followed by many a pushy camel driver we ended up approaching Khalid ourselves. A nice man who took my kids and Charlotte for a ride on his two friendly camels: Mickey Mouse and Michael Douglas.
After the pyramids we went to the enormous Ramses railway station. Buying tickets for the local trains in Egypt when you are a foreigner is far from easy: Long queues. A lot of locals queue jumping. Arriving at a ‘hole in the wall’ being informed (in Arabic) that the system is presently down. Or that foreigners are not allowed to buy.
Fortunately, I had bought tickets online in advance for the 10 hours day train Cairo Luxor (7USD pr person instead of the 100Euro a person/foreigners only night train). The only issue here being that you must have a middle name to buy an Egyptian train ticket online (and if you don’t have one you will need to make one up.. ). Having already secured this ticket instead we tried to buy our next tickets from Luxor on to Aswan – but to no avail – foreigners were also not allowed to buy these (buying them later on in Luxor fortunately was no problem).
Of course, while in Cairo we also had to see the Egyptian Museum. Foreigners pay around 20 times as much as locals to get in. Inside the temperature was 30+ degrees even though they had aircon (probably because it was 45 degrees outside). In addition to the entrance ticket one has to pay for a photo permission. And to pay extra entrance to the mummy exhibition. The room storing the 14kg gold mask discovered in the Tut Ank Amon grave fortunately didn’t require yet another entrance ticket. Inside a television crew was filming. Having just paid 20-double entrance price, photo permission and considering the fact that a TV crew was filming I thought it would be ok to take a photo of the gold mask. Mistake. A little angry man in plainclothes soon after started screaming ‘delete’ into my head informing me that taking photos here was very illegal. The fact that my memory card showed only blond children on camels near the pyramids when he soon after checked didn’t seem to milden his temper much. (to be fair: on the way out I did see a little sign saying no photos inside this room only).
With a nice 2nd class train we went on to Luxor. Our group of 4 passengers included Jakob Oester Oester and Charlotte Felk Felk. Due to the extreme heat in the month of July we were close to being the only tourists which unfortunately meant that every single horse cart and every single Felluca sailing boat seemed to have our name on it. Every street seemed to ecco with a ‘Horse Horse’, ‘Felucca’ or ‘Where are you from’.
But the temples and the graves were smashing attractions. So was our room at Rezeiky Camp. A low season special deal gave us a two bedroom apartment with kitchen, two toilets, hall, communal swimming pool and nice breakfast for 4 at a bargain price of only 22 USD pr night.
On the first morning at our camp local women dressed in black where suddenly everywhere. It turned out that they were widows from a local village who the super kind management had invited to the premises for a social media workshop. Nice touch.
After having watched France beat Croatia 4-2 running between six different ‘Shisha’ (Waterpipe) cafes a luxurious first class train took us on to Aswan. The temperature in Aswan was almost 50 degrees in the shade. Not a wind moved. On these years possibly least windy day we thought it would be a phenomenal idea to go with a Felucca sailing boat on the Nile. We were supposed to go all around Elefantine island. Downstream things went smooth. Upstream we hardly moved and in the end our boat man had to pull out his gigantic ores and take us ashore by his own labor.
The main purpose of coming to Aswan was to get our Sudan visas. It took four visits and cost only 50 USD pr person. From home I had tried securing the visas. But since the embassy in Oslo never answered their phone or their mail I opted for the Sudan embassy in Aswan. (Phones were only open Tuesday 10-12, and when calling in this short window a voicemail informed me that the number was not in operation).
Our flights back home were out of Khartoum so we pretty much needed our visas. Monday, I arrived, waited two hours and were told to pick up our visas the following Monday. Tuesday I came back and was told that the following Monday was Revolution Day – a national holiday – so I had to come back next Tuesday instead. Wednesday, I brought the family. Maybe the blond children helped because after about an hour of waiting we were suddenly told that the visas were ready. They may have been but apparently the ambassador was in a meeting, so we couldn’t get our passport back until Thursday.
After an hour of waiting Thursday morning I got our passports with the visas. Oh joy. There was a ferry leaving for Wadi Halfa the same day. And as opposed to the Sunday ferry first class tickets were available for this days’ departure. The ticket office was closed on the day of departure so we had to go straight to the dock – 30 km from Aswan at the Aswan High Dam. We bought our tickets there, went through thorough border inspections (with a thorough check of the medicine we had brought), filled out too many forms to count (in 4 copies) and embarked on the old – but relatively modern – ferry to Sudan!
(official ferry ticket office in Aswan is at 24°05’55.9″N 32°54’00.7″E as of 20JUL2018 not too far from the railway station in Aswan – I have seen a few other coordinates listed that are not correct. Also there is a daily bus except Friday leaving from near the train station to Wadi Halfa – leaving at 3am – not sure if they still go with a convoy / armed escort)
The cabin was dirty but fortunately the bedding was not. The beds in each of our two-bunk cabins were too short and constructed from wood provided by a company with the brilliant name: ‘Arser-plex’. But apart from that the cabin was nice – and food (ful, eggs, bread etc) was even included in the ticket price.
With the Aswan High Dam behind us we peacefully followed lake Nasser and the Nile. Our fellow passengers – mostly Sudanese – were truly kind and welcoming. At night they spread out their praying mats on the top deck. With the setting sun behind them they sent one of their five daily prayers towards Mecca. We were allowed to photograph as much as we pleased.
“Are you smoking in room?” someone was asking from the corridor. It was 03.40 am and a loud knocking had just occurred on the door to our cabin. “No we are sleeping in room” I truthfully said after having opened the door. But the smoke alarm had been activated and a loud signal could now be heard from the bridge. Twenty minutes later the same thing happened once again. ‘that’s very reassuring’ – I thought but did not say out loud. In the end we opened our window and turned off the aircon and with the fresh air coming in the smoke alarm allowed us to sleep for a few more hours.
At 05.30 both Charlotte and I were however back on the top deck. From a distance we watched one of Egypts biggest tourist attraction. The temples of Abu Simbel – giant statues cut out of rock and facing the Nile (Temple was built by Ramses II and Queen Nefertari in 13th century bc to celebrate the victory in the battle of Kardesh).
After almost 24 hors on board – 18 of which we were sailing – the next morning we arrived in Wadi Halfa in northern Sudan – stay tuned for the next trip report from amazing Sudan.