This is Egypt

Map and Information on Egypt, Click Here

Entered Egypt 7th June 2001.

Exchange Rate: 1USD = 3.9 Egyptian Pounds (EP)
Fuel: 1 Litre = EP1 (unknown octane, but probably the worst in the world)
Camping: EP$5
Backpackers: – From EP5 for a dormitory.
Hotels: From EP12 up with bathroom/toilet.
Road conditions: – Generally very good. Almost all sealed roads.
Speed limits: – Mostly 120kph on the highways.
Border crossings: To Libya, Sudan, Jordan and Israel.
Food & Drink: – 1.5L Water EP2, 330ml Beer EP4.50, 250ml Pepsi EP1, Main Meal (chicken, rice, soup, pita, vegetables) EP4.

Before I even got off the ferry from Sudan, the Egyptians managed to rip me off. A customs officer came on board and wanted 272 Egyptian Pounds to process the Carnet. No other country I have been to charges for this, in fact that is supposed to be the purpose of the carnet, to get around normal customs requirements. I had heard that it was expensive to enter Egypt, so I expected it. I didn’t have Pounds, so I gave him dollars, for which for gave me a lousy rate (which no doubt he will make a little extra profit on the side), but it was better than me going into town and back so I didn’t argue. Then he tells me that they can’t process it until Saturday, and today is Thursday. I wasn’t too impressed as there is nothing much of interest in Aswan.

I rock up Saturday and I’m told it is another EP100 for the traffic police, the EP272 was for customs. I am sure the extra 100 is B.S., but I have no way of knowing for sure. I even had to pay him EP20 baksheesh for all the ‘work’ he did for me. By then, I had been waiting over 4 hours, and I was desperate to get going. I was just so angry at all the B.S. bureaucracy and how corrupt the Egyptians are, I just wanted to go.

Note: I later met an Austrian girl in Cairo who had entered from Jordan, and she paid less than EP200 to get her Enfield 500 into Egypt, and I am guessing that she paid close to the real figure. I was told that to take a 4 wheel drive into Egypt can cost as much as EP3000, so most people travelling through Africa choose to take the cheaper route through Saudi Arabia, then ferry across to Port Sudan. Back to the girl on the Enfield. She must be brave. A girl travelling alone in Muslim countries and on an Enfield! Reliability is not one of their strong points, and less enlightened Muslim men consider all western girls whores, especially those travelling on their own. The Muslim women however have a completely different attitude. They mostly look upon female motorcycle riders with absolute awe. They find it amazing that a woman could just jump on a motorcycle and ride off to unknown lands, without a man to protect her. Women are not even allowed to drive in much of the Muslim world. I’m sure there is a lot of envy for the freedom western women enjoy.

Corruption really annoys me, and this experience really left me seething. Sure, this wasn’t a big deal, just a small time government official lining his pockets, but the problem is that corruption becomes a way of life, and it prevents the country from ever becoming great. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Corruption and greed are behind most of Africa’s problems, and it is the poor who pay the biggest price, often with their life.

This guy also insisted that I meet a friend of his at work, so that we could go to a duty free and buy him a few bottles of Scotch whisky using my passport. Foreigners can buy alcohol up to 3 days after arriving by just showing their passport. This good Muslim must like a bit of the western vice, and his referring mate obviously gets his kick-back for his efforts. I told him to get lost, and maybe that is why it cost me so much.

A bit more of a rave on corruption since this is my last African nation. If you have bought a diamond in the last 20 years, there is a good chance that it is what they call a blood diamond. Millions have died over the wealth that diamonds provide to Governments and war-lords in Africa to fund their armies into battles for even more riches. Most of Western and Central Africa fall into this category. If it isn’t diamonds, it is oil. If it isn’t oil, it is simply people in power, bleeding their entire nation dry like what Robert Mugabe and his henchmen are doing to Zimbabwe. Mugabe is one on the richest men in the world, while his people starve, and he kicks the very people capable of feeding the nation out of the country, a country they were born and raised in. Malawi is suffering a bad drought at the moment, and people are starving. There is still plenty of arable land, but the Government owns it, and is growing tobacco for the world’s tobacco giants. The Malawi government is corrupt, so first world nations are loathe to invest or support them. I guess it’s people will simply starve to death while the government still rakes in money from the tobacco giants. I don’t doubt that Malawi must have foreign currency, but clearly something is out of balance. Almost every country in Africa has been a victim of gross greed and corruption, leading to God knows how many millions of deaths.

Africa is possibly the most beautiful and resource rich continent on earth. It has natural resources like oil, diamonds, and minerals. It has huge expanses of farming land, more than enough to feed themselves and export to the rest of the world. It has a huge supply of strong and versatile labour. The continent should be thriving, but greed and corruption have relegated the continent to one of the poorest and most battle scarred in the world.

So what is my point? Simply this: If Egypt doesn’t rein in corruption, I believe it is going to follow in the footsteps of every other African nation. As it is, it is obvious to me that Egypt has major problems. There are militant Islamic fundamentalists willing to kill to get their way (remember the 57 tourists in Luxor and 9 in Cairo machine gunned to death in 1997). The level bureaucracy is crazy and open to corruption. King Faroud bled the country dry, but he was kicked out in the 60’s, yet Egypt doesn’t seem to have made much progress, and their ability to manage anything is questionable. The farce of the 1967 war with Israel is an example. The Egyptians thought they could beat them, but the Israeli’s had defeated them in 6 days with virtually no losses themselves. Egypt lost the entire Sinai Peninsula to the Israeli’s, but now have it back through diplomatic work.

You might argue that it is hard to stamp out corruption, but the customs official I dealt with was so open about it, there is no doubt in mind that everyone else knew what was going on. As long as corruption is tolerated, it will flourish. Zero tolerance is the only way to control it.

I got out of Aswan as soon as I could. It isn’t that bad a place really, but doesn’t have many significant historic sights, and I was really keen to get to Luxor. If you had to chose one place in Egypt to visit, it just has to be Luxor. It doesn’t have the pyramids of Cairo, but it does have just about everything else. The place is amazing, and so are the touts who drive you mad selling buggy rides, taxi’s, boat rides etc.

I ran into the French-Canadian guy I met in Wadi-Halfa, Sudan. We had parted ways in Aswan because I had to wait to get my bike through customs. Luxor isn’t a big place, and I met him as I rode into town, which was convenient. He took me to where he was staying, and had negotiated a cheap deal. He speaks Arabic, which was useful. So how does a 22 year old French-Canadian come to speak Arabic? Well, he has a band back in Quebec that sings rap in French. I’m no RAP fan, but he assures me that rap in French is like poetry compared to US rap. Some time ago he got interested in Arabic music, and took it further by looking into the culture. It seemed so pure to him, and not like the gross distortions of reality we get in the West. He decided to look deeper into the religion and culture, and lived in Cairo for several months. He taught himself Arabic in that time, and seemed quite fluent to me. He soon realised that the Arab Muslims have a whole lot of dishonesty of their own variety, different from the West. In his words, “Here they steal from you, but they don’t try to hide the fact like in the West”. In other words, corruption, and blatant ripping off. Here you have to find out the real price, then fight for it every time you buy the same thing. For example, for a Pepsi, you can pay anywhere from 60 rial (100 rial = 1 pound) to 12 in a market, that is a 500% variation. You would expect to pay a lot in a hotel, but not in a market. Also in Cairo, a meal of chicken, rice, bread, vegetables could cost anywhere from EP4 to EP20 from the same standard roadside cafe. ‘Tourist price’ raises it’s ugly head again. I don’t mind paying a little extra, but not 5 times extra.

It is important to remember that all of the ancient Egyptian history relates to a completely different people than the current people. The current Arabs probably made their way across from Arabia and Asia Minor. It is believed that changed weather conditions brought about droughts and decimated the then Egyptians. They disappeared off the face of the earth in an instant, in much the same way as the Inca’s and Aztec’s in South America, both of which we now know suffered from droughts.

Luxor, and the ‘Colossi of Memnon’ on the road to the area holding the Valley of the Kings, and the Valley of the Queens in the hills you can see in the background. This was my first sample of the magnificence and scale of ancient Egyptian monuments inside Egypt. I have seen Egyptian Obelisks (granite spires) in London, Paris, and Istanbul, as well as many smaller works in museums, but nothing of this scale before.

In a tomb of a Pharaoh in the valley of the kings. The shaft leading to the crypts were all decorated with scenes, stories and hieroglyphics such as these. The same Gods appear in every tomb it seems.

A feature of their Gods is that they have human or animal form, but with different heads, such as this one with a bird’s head, or above with a dog’s head. Also prominent are Lions with goats heads and similar.

The artwork is still in remarkably good condition. The walls are plastered with absorbent alabaster, and painted like frescoes, so that the paintings have depth, and not just a skin like an oil painting.

This is the “Valley of the Kings”. Into the sides of the hills here are dozens of entrances leading down to the tombs. It costs to enter each tomb, so it can be quite expensive, especially to see Tutankhamun’s or King Tut for short. Most of the tombs were robbed of their fabulous treasures thousands of years ago, with the exception of King Tut. His tomb gave a idea of the fabulous wealth the Pharaohs were buried with, and just how productive and fertile this land must have been back in their time. Now, it is incredibly dry with zero rainfall and they rely totally on the Nile to irrigate the crops.

You could be forgiven for thinking that this building is a modern construction, and I was amazed at the condition of this 3500 year old The Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut. There has been restoration work done, but the fact is that is was of such good design and construction that it a real tribute to sophistication of their culture. After the introduction of Christianity, Hatshepsut’s temple was used as a monastery, hence its modern name, Deir el-Bahri, Arabic for “Northern Monastery.”

Same building again, but showing the perfect flight of stairs, and the carved pillars.

Luxor Temple. These ruins haven’t survived as well as some others, but they are still remarkable considering that at 3500 years old, they predate most Greek and all Roman ruins.

Luxor Temple ruins in the foreground, and the ever present Minaret of a Muslim mosque peering over the wall.

The following series of photo’s are from Karnak just to the North of Luxor.

Ramses III, one of the most famous of all Pharaohs.

This massive courtyard of the Great Temple of Karnak could not possibly have had a roof that spans this space could it??? If so, what were the pillars for?

Life size relief carvings.

Lions with human heads.

A typical obelisk like the ones in Istanbul, London and Paris. This one is not in such good condition however. Whilst the obelisks in Istanbul, London and Paris were donated by the Egyptians, many of Egypt’s most valuable historical treasures were stolen by the West in the 19th and 20th century, and fill museums all over the world. The Egyptian government is fighting to get much of it returned.

To put a scale to this, each column would be about 4m (13′) in diameter.

From Luxor, it was a straight run all the way to Cairo. There is nothing much worth stopping for along the way, so I intended to do it in a day. That turned out to be more of a problem than I expected. Because of the local militant Islamic fundamentalists that killed 66 tourists recently, all vehicles carrying tourists are given an armed guard escort for most of the length of Egypt. That would be fine if they kept up a reasonable speed, but it became an exercise in frustration. It started out OK. I skipped past the first convoy block and made good time until I reached the next one. There was no way to avoid it. They were annoyed that I had arrived without a convoy, and I had to sit and wait for a convoy to form. An hour later I was on my way, and they kept up a reasonable pace, but then they stopped again, and a new team took us. We slowed to about 40kph, which is excruciatingly slow. We changed security teams every 10km in places. My convoy branched off one by one until I was the only one left . This time, I had to follow a Toyota utility (pickup), and I am not exaggerating when I say that I was in first gear following him. My bike will overheat going so slow in hot conditions, so I came up beside the drivers window and tried to urge him to go faster, but he waved me back. So I stopped. I figured they could go ahead, and I’ll just catch them up every 5 minutes or so. But they didn’t like that, and they stopped too. They of course could not speak English. I tried to indicate to them that they must go faster, but they didn’t understand. Then I just took off, and let them catch me. I made it almost to the next change of security before I let them pass me, all with angry and bewildered looks on their faces.

The next security team had a huge armoured personnel carrier (APC). I followed them for about half an hour at 40kph, then it turned off to a side road. I had no intention of leaving the main road, so I kept going, to a lot of yelling and waving from the army personnel in the APC. Obviously they wanted me to follow, but at this rate, I wasn’t going to make Cairo by nightfall. By then, I was really losing my patience. As far as I’m concerned, if someone wants to shoot me, I’ve got a getter chance at 100kph than 40kph or less.

Then there was security stop after security stop. All wanted to see my passport, and would get on the radio before letting me continue. Finally, I blew my top. I’d arrived at yet another security stop, not more than 5 minutes from the last one. I started yelling out f…ing a…holes, f…ing this and that I could think of. This guy must have freaked out to see a tourist yelling at him like a lunatic, and he waved me on. It worked once in the Sudan, and it worked here, but this time, I was a lunatic.

I did finally make it to Cairo that day, but it was dark. Let me tell you, trying to find you way in Cairo after dark is a daunting task. Even in broad daylight, it is a daunting task. Just getting to the centre of town is a feat. I had a map of inner Cairo, but the one way streets completely foiled every attempt I made to get to my hostel. Finally, I parked the bike in the most secure place I could find, under a street lamp, and walked to the hostel, which was just off a market. Then I worked out how to ride the bike there, which still involved going the wrong way up a street, then I had to ride through the market, dodging food stalls, then over a big gutter to get the bike inside the hostel building. I could relax at last I thought. Then the hostel was on the 5th floor, and of course, there is no lift. I don’t mind steps, but when I have ridden all day, hot and frustrated, and then have to negotiate the 5 flights of stairs several times, once to confirm there is a room, then twice again to carry all my luggage up. Rest at last! Hang on, I’m hungry and thirsty. So down again I go, and at 10pm, the market is still in full swing. A bottle of coke and a bag of fruit and I’m set. Rest at last! Time to reflect. It has taken me less than 8 weeks to go from Cape Town to Cairo, passing through 11 countries and over 20,000km. That is averaging almost 400km a day, yet still seeing an enormous amount. I was really pushing hard, and when I did ride, they were big days. Mind you, I was starting to lose to patience with everyone and everything by then. I was tired.

Cairo was also one of the first Christian communities in the world, and still has a sizeable Coptic Christian community. It is refreshing to see that Muslims and Christians can live side by side as they have done for over 1000 years in Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan, Iran and Turkey amongst other places.

One of the incredible Giza pyramids on the West bank of the Nile.. I parked the bike for a photo, and these guys came along to try to sell me a camel ride. Been there, done that, so I told them thanks, but no-thanks. One insisted that I get on his camel, no charge! So I did. He offered to take a photo, so I let him. Then he wanted money before he would get the camel to sit down again. I asked for my camera back, then jumped off the camel. He insisted the money was for the camel, not himself. I wouldn’t pay. He was being dishonest. That is a typical way in which touts get you all over the world. They do something to make you feel indebted, like what he did with the camel or giving you a cup of tea etc, then they push for money. Most people won’t argue, so the tactic does work.

This is inside the tomb of one of the pyramids. The room in which the body was laid to rest would measure about 5m long, 3m wide, and 2.5m high (16’x10’x8′). All the blocks are of granite, one of the hardest of rocks, yet with primitive tools, they were able to cut them so perfectly that you couldn’t slip a cigarette paper between them, as you can see from the photo. Each block would weigh several tons. How they did it is still a mystery. The granite is not local, and its’ source is the subject of some debate. What there is no doubt about is that it had to be brought here in a boat, then transported here. A remarkable feat in itself.

The Sphinx with one of the Pyramids of Giza in the background. This is just on the outskirts of Cairo.

The Golden Mask of Tutankhamun in the Cairo Museum. Weighing over 11Kg of solid gold, inlaid lapis lazuli, carnelian, quartz, turquoise, obsidian, and coloured glass. When the boy king’s tomb was found in 1922 by Howard Carter, the king rested inside three golden coffins. Two were made of wood with gold overlay, the third was 135Kg of solid gold, worth close to US$1.5 million at the current world gold price. He was wearing this mask. It is estimated that Tutankhamun died at about the age of 18. He assumed the throne at around the age of 7.
I have heard a lot of negative things about Cairo, but I actually really enjoyed the chaos and the energy. I found it busy, safe, relatively modern, affordable, interesting, lots of great little restaurants, great food, interesting markets. I am sure I will come back one day, because I saw only the major sights, and there is so much more to this city. My next destination is Israel. I had planned to go through Jordan and Syria, but other travellers told me they charge more than Egypt to take a vehicle through, and they both have an excellent public transport network. My money is getting dangerously low, so for now I have to save every cent I can. I’ll just come back as a back-packer one day.

The Suez canal. This is what started the 1967 war with Israel that saw the Egyptians embarrassingly defeated in just 6 days, and their entire air-force in flames still on the runways. The Egyptians wanted to deny ships passing through the Suez canal to or from Israeli ports.

I made the Israeli border well before nightfall, but the border was closed. and stayed in a small horrible border town called Rafah. There were no hotels, but I had all the locals fighting to put me up for the night. I ended up staying on a farm, in a small house that was quite basic, but fine. There were no beds, and from what I can tell, they don’t sleep on beds here, just on the matting on the floor. I forget what we ate now, but it was basic. Just flavoured rice I think. My host went away for a while, and his brother came over. It is late at night by now, and he was ‘entertaining’ me with some Egyptian music on the radio. He speaks less English than my host, which is not very much at all, but I was sure he was trying to proposition me. I kept on playing ignorant, and finally he went away. next day, it took from 7am until about 1pm to get through Egyptian customs, and it cost a lot of money. They seem to be able to find all these little taxes and fees that add up to being more than I expected.

As I write this, Egypt’s tourist trade is on the verge of collapse because no western tourists want to come to a Muslim country after September 11. The world really is made up of a bunch of sheep aren’t they. Sure, I wouldn’t go to Pakistan or Afghanistan at the moment, but Egypt has got to be one of the safer tourist destinations in the world. It is a pity. Apart from the usual over-enthusiastic touts, and the bureaucracy, I reckon this place is great.