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Final Statistics: Alex & Maz Total distance: 93,550km
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Customs and Monopoly

Written by Martin Pitwood. Uploaded 26 December 2005.

Egypt, Country 12, Diary entry 13th-21st Oct 2005, Total distance in Egypt: 5043km

Elena and I left Alex and Maz slaving away in the internet café in Beni Suef and not wanting a police escort out of town and back along the Nile after hearing Alex and Maz's experiences with them on the way down, we were not disappointed when we caught them unawares and got away before they noticed! I took the back streets out of the town just in case they were out looking for us, and joined the main road north towards Cairo. Having the choice of heading back to the coast and then up to Suez or up the Nile and then east, I took the latter as it looked about 150km shorter on the map. Big mistake - all the way along the Nile is heavily populated and with many police check points and speed ramps, not to mention the other cars driving without their lights. It was thoroughly exhausting and with nowhere looking nearly remote enough to camp, I had to keep driving much longer than I wanted to. I eventually got to the outskirts of Cairo, got lost, got annoyed, and finally got onto the road east only to find the deserts to the east of Cairo are all bad camping territory as well because most of the land is used for military purposes. I ended up driving until about 2am and camping 50km after crossing under the Suez Canal back onto the Sinai Peninsula, behind a bank of earth on the side of the road.

The next day we drove the remaining few hours to Sharm El Sheikh and after a long lunch at the sandwich shop Wolfgang from Seamax had introduced us to (for which I had sensibly saved the location in my GPS), we headed to the airport to try to sort out Elena's flight home. We'd tried to sort it out in Hurghada but it was not possible to buy a flight from Sharm there. Well it seemed that it's not easy to buy a flight from Sharm in Sharm either! We couldn't find anyone from Siberia Airlines in the airport but finally managed to track down the agent using one of the security guards' mobile phone. He said no problem to get a ticket but we would have to meet him at the airport in three days' time (two days before the flight) which wasn't great because we weren't planning on staying in Sharm but OK if there's no choice... we were planning on heading up to Dahab for a few days and it's only about an hour from Sharm so not too difficult. So with an appointment arranged we drove to Dahab and found a little Bedouin style camp just off the main strip along the seafront. We couldn't use our tent but the huts were OK and the staff were friendly.

Elena windsurfingThe next two days we spent doing what one does in Dahab when one isn't diving - the town is famous for its reliable steady winds and probably more people come here for the windsurfing than do for the diving. Elena had done some before a while ago and was keen to try again, and I had tried it once before, in Guernsey in the summer of 1988!! So I thought it best to claim to be an absolute beginner. I booked a taster session of one and a half hours tuition plus the same again of being allowed to use the equipment on my own and of course I proved myself to be exceptionally talented, deciding to quit at that because I didn't want to show everyone else up :)

The truth is that I did quite enjoy it but really I'd wanted to do kite surfing and found there to be only one school in town and that they were rude and unhelpful. I decided that windsurfing wasn't something that I was likely to get hooked on, so I sat on the beach with my book while Elena zipped backwards and forwards with the occasional yelp and a splash. It was nice to have a break from the driving for a couple of days and of course we took full advantage of the culinary offerings in Dahab (though the English breakfasts were disappointingly unlike any other English breakfast I've ever had - more like a chilli!) and did a bit of snorkelling over at the Blue Hole when the wind dropped one afternoon, but then the third day we had to make our way back to Sharm to meet the Siberia Airlines guy.

Of course, this being Egypt, nothing quite went to plan and the Siberia bloke was nowhere to be seen when we got to the airport for the appointment and wouldn't answer his phone. Not impressed, we decided that the only viable course of action was to have lunch, and on the way from the airport into the city Elena saw a building with the name of a Russian travel agency on it, so we stopped and asked if they had any charter flights. The answer was no but they directed us to another company called Pegas, who sorted us out with a ticket within half an hour - we should have gone there first maybe! But at least we now had everything sorted out, and nuts to Siberia Airlines.

We celebrated with another well-earned toasted sandwich and headed back to Dahab. Back at the camp we decided that our little remaining time together would be spent doing a night dive that evening followed by one last day's activity or inactivity on the beach.

The night dive was organised through our camp and the entry point was just a few minutes' walk along the seafront. Our guide gave us the briefing and explained to us the dos and don'ts in quite a patronising way which made both of us want to give him a slap but we somehow resisted, and then we entered the water and started along the reef. We'd been told to expect lots of fish, Spanish Dancers etc. but we saw pretty much nothing down there except other divers. Even the reef itself was not very good, because too many other people have dived there and damaged the coral, and my final gripe is that the guide was rubbish and finished his air before us... I'm not too bad on air but someone who spends an hour or two underwater every single day ought to be more economical with their air than me. On the plus side, the water was warm and the exit point was very close to the bar so we had a few beers / glasses of wine afterwards and all was right with the world again.

After a final day of windsurfing where Elena was very proud to be nearly mastering the new skills she'd learned using some strange harness system I didn't understand, and I was proud to have finished another book, we had to get up deathly early to get to Sharm airport for Elena's flight back to Moscow. Unfortunately Sharm airport is not well designed for non-passengers. One has to pass through ticket checks before getting to the check-in desk, so we had to say goodbye at the door of the airport even though she still had a couple of hours to kill before her flight left.

After leaving the airport the car suddenly felt very empty and not really knowing what to do with myself I headed for the Old Market for a coffee, where once again the car was searched (this was the site of one of the recent bombs) but when they were about to open the sterile packaging of my emergency dental kit I finally lost my temper with them and snatched it back. They weren't amused saying they're the police, they can search what they want, but in the end they did reluctantly accept that if I were wanting to bomb the place I'd probably use something a little bigger and they waved me on.

After killing the day I found somewhere to sleep on a small patch of desert, not very well hidden but I didn't care too much, with cordons formed by the elite of Egypt's police force ringing the city I decided I'd probably be safe... and the next morning I got up for another day diving with Seamax.

Once again I was on the same boat as last time - First One - and Julian again was the dive guide. The majority of the other divers on the boat were experienced, several of them Americans based at the nearby Multinational Force of Observers base so diving most weekends, but there were a couple of less experienced people on board so our dive sites were selected to be suitable for them. The sea was a bit choppy so we stayed in the bay just outside the harbour and did a couple of nice scenic reef dives and though there wasn't anything quite as exciting as big sharks, Julian was once again very good at finding the smaller creatures. I particularly liked some little pipe fish which are related to the seahorse but are straight rather than curved. They looked very cute clinging onto the coral by their tails and swaying in the current.

The third dive was for the experienced lot only, was nicknamed the Junkyard, and was selected specially for me, knowing what keen wreck divers us Brits are... During the 6 Day War - the Arab-Israeli conflict in 1967 - Egyptian forces were pushed back from Sharm El Sheikh and out of the Sinai Peninsula very suddenly, and not wanting to leave useful things behind for the Israelis they decided to destroy what they couldn't take, so they took a load of Bren Carriers to the edge of the cliff and tipped them off into the sea!

It was quite an unusual dive and I thoroughly enjoyed it because it was the first wreck dive I'd done for ages - since Turkey if you don't count the pile of toilets on our dive on our first pass through Sharm! The Bren Carriers were not very large, in fact they were very small indeed considering that each would be manned by driver, gunner, loader etc. The space between the steering wheel and the wall was only about 12 inches so only thin people need apply for the driver's job. More incredible was the fact that there weren't just a handful of these things, there were maybe 40 or 50 of them! In some places they were piled three or four high, so I could do my proper wreck diver bit and get my nose right in there so only my legs were sticking out.

Another hour spent underwater and back on the boat for the short ride back to the harbour, then to the Seamax office where Alex and Maz were waiting for me - the team is back together again! As this was to be our last night in Egypt we decided we would eat the best food Egypt had to offer, following our 4 weeks in the country and sampling many different foods, so Pizza Hut it was, after which we drove an hour up the coast and camped in the desert just outside Dahab.

Nuweiba portWe'd been advised by the ever-helpful Rawan at Arab Bridge Maritime, the company that operates the ferry between Jordan and Egypt, that we should arrive at Nuweiba port at midday to complete all the necessary formalities prior to catching the 2pm fast ferry to Aqaba. We thought that 2 hours to leave a country was rather excessive but having endured the 4 hour experience to enter, we thought anything was possible and made a special effort to arrive on time. We even made it, too!

If you read our experiences of entering the country then you won't be too surprised to hear that nothing was as simple as it should be... for a start it wasn't simple to find the Arab Bridge Maritime office to get our tickets and then we had to rush around many of the same windows we'd had to experience on the way into the country in an attempt to return our Egyptian licence plates, and most importantly get the necessary stamps on our carnets de passage to prove export of the vehicles. A most infuriating experience, with carbonated triplicate documents needing to be photocopied for unknown fourth parties, and a race across the port back to the entry gate for a missing slip of paper the size of a credit card which we were supposed to have been given as we drove into the port. Due to all these stupid delays, we finally learned that the fast ferry had gone without us.

Playing cardsWe were faced with the choice of taking the next normal ferry, due to depart in a couple of hours, or wait for the next fast one due to depart at 6pm. We couldn't believe that the fast boat could possibly get to Aqaba (65km away), unload and return in 4 hours so we were pretty annoyed, but we couldn't face the idea of the 14 hour trip of the slow boat we'd endured on the way over. One thing was clear though, we were stuck in Nuweiba port for a few hours at least and we were pretty annoyed, so with the paperwork finally finished (a matter of 15 minutes too late) we just set up our table next to our cars which were blissfully shaded from the hot sun, got out a card game and spent a nice relaxing few hours playing cards (though frustratingly Alex had a bad habit of winning every game) and Travel Monopoly. A couple of times people tried to come up to us with more paperwork but our glares made them scuttle away not to bother us again - it ended up being quite a pleasant afternoon!

Arab Bridge Maritime's fast ferryAt about 5:30pm we thought we should check on the progress of the fast ferry and were stunned to see it had arrived back in Nuweiba! When they say fast, they mean fast! We quickly packed up our game of Monopoly meaning the result was a draw (much to Alex's disgust) and moved our cars over towards the loading ramp where we had to wait while the security guards fought off the hundreds of pilgrims trying to board, and eventually when the crowds were dispersed (the guards sent them off to the slow boat, which had not yet started boarding let alone departed on time - so we made the right choice!) we carefully boarded the boat. The crowds had just finished their post-sunset breakfast (it was still Ramadan) and just abandoned all their rubbish all over the quay, including glass bottles and food cans. Filthy animals! Alex had to get out of the car to clear a path for us to safely board and we were precisely parked close to the edges of the vehicle deck to make way for the other vehicles to board. This was a bit unnecessary because the only other things that made it onto the vehicle deck were two trucks with all the foot passengers' luggage and, bizarrely, a poor dog which was left leashed to a pillar.

Things looked up at this point - the boat was extremely clean and comfortable, had waiter service bringing us a coffee to use up our last Egyptian pounds, and we completed the journey in less than an hour. Hats off to Arab Bridge Maritime! We had a very smooth journey and we soon forgot the hassles of the Egyptian customs as we approached Jordan.

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Comment from Scooter
Great Diary Martin, just pinch yourself when your having a hot day in India cos' its 2 degrees here and snowing ;0) Cheers for the blog ! Scooter
27 Dec 2005 @ 21:49:50