overland-underwater.com - A charity drive from the UK to New Zealand
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Final Statistics: Alex & Maz Total distance: 93,550km
Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ Now settled in Sydney, Australia
Final Statistics: Martin Total distance: 79,698km
Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia Now settled in Bristol, UK

No Photo... No Park

Written by Alex Towns. Uploaded 8 November 2005.

Egypt, Country 12, Diary entry 29th Sep - 3rd Oct 2005, Total distance in Egypt: 5428 KM

Following on from the requests of the readers, a quick synopsis of what’s good and what’s not on the cars….

Thumbs up: Rooftop tent - even though ours has been leaking at the first sign of rain, the convenience and comfort is hard to be ignored and I have no idea how a trip like this could be done without one. A simpler mod which has been excellent is the bit of stainless steel sheet that we put on the tail gate instead of the factory standard carpet. When folded down it makes a superb table, which is convenient and easy to clean. Rarely have we had the need to use the camp tables that we bought for the job.

Thumbs down: Electrics on Tinfish. After spending a kings ransom on 3 specialist batteries and some fancy charging system, it can’t keep the fridge running for one night, whereas Martin’s on the standard battery setup, happily powers the fridge for days. Not used yet (but look pretty cool) is the winch and snorkel… but with more off-roading planned I’m sure they’ll get used yet :o)

After 2 months sharing a tent with someone, it comes as quite a difference to wake up on your own… with all the duvet. Poking my head out of the tent flap in our 5* hotel car park there were a few tourists boarding their coach, surprised to see us emerging. As our impromptu campsite was a bit limited in facilities we headed for reception and found the lobby WC’s and washed whilst being overlooked by a bemused bathroom attendant!

What had been a hard find during the night, now towered above us – ah they’ll be the Pyramids then! Being low on spons, fud and needing to find internet we decided to head down the road first before doing the sightseeing.

The impressive Pyramid of Khafre

Now traffic and driving in Egypt is by far the worse we’ve seen so far and Cairo is simply the cherry on the cake… it’s a complete nightmare. Words can’t really explain it… it has to be driven to really appreciate the complete lack of any rules of the road other than getting from A to B as quickly as possible. What just increases the chaos in town is that now you also have pedestrians everywhere and the pavement just seems to be the holding point before they launch themselves onto the road. Unfortunately on the way back to the Pyramids we saw what happens when this delicate choreography goes slightly out of time. The chap that got run over was helped immediately by passing motorists and although in pain was still able to discuss the finer points with the driver that hit him…! Best off out of that.

The Pyramids are BIG, but having visions of seeing these amazing structures in the midst of the desert it is weird to see how close modern day Cairo comes right up to the doorstep. The star attraction is the great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) which is the oldest at Giza and the largest in Egypt at 146.5m high when it was completed way back in 2600 BC. Next is the Pyramid of Khafre (Chephren) the son of Khufu, with almost the same dimensions, but the peak still has some of the original limestone casing which once covered the entire structure. Finally the smallest at a mere 62m is the Pyramid of Menkaure (Mycerinus).

If the Pyramids weren’t impressive enough there is also the Sphinx. Known in Arabic as Abu al-Hol (Farther of Terror) the Sphinx is carved almost entirely from one huge piece of limestone left over from the stones of Khufu’s Pyramid.

The Sphinx with Khufu’s Pyramid in the background

What I really found mind blowing after already seeing many impressive Roman ruins since leaving UK, all of which at the time seemed ancient enough in their own right, was that these Pyramids were already thousands of years old when the Romans were in their building prime! To this day the Pyramids remain the oldest, largest and most accurate stone structures ever made in some 5000 years…!!

Having done a considerable amount of walking, staring upwards and enough photo’s from all angles we were getting a bit peckish. Over near the Sphinx was a convenient Pizza Hut. Having sampled western food back in Aqaba it had aroused our taste buds so we were attracted like moths… and not a bad pizza it was too with a perfect backdrop!

Pizza with a view..!

With bellies full we decided to take a look see inside but were introduced to another Egyptian concept… ‘No Photos’. For some reason you weren’t allow to take photos inside the Pyramids… I guess in case you steal the design? So even with cameras packed away we were still refused entry… we had to leave the camera bags at the door, literally on the steps of the Pyramid with a zillion tourists streaming past – I don’t think so…. So the inside remains a mystery to us.

Our next task was to get some good pictures of the cars by the Pyramids so we drove out of the car park and along some track to pull up and frame the shot, to be introduced to yet another Egyptian concept… ‘No Park’. Trying to stall the police, frame the shot and shrug off countless touts all trying to sell you souvenir tat was quite a challenge but once we had a few in the bag and suitable bucksish paid, we tried our luck at the Sphinx. Here the police were more insistent and unfortunately the sun was shining straight at us so we waved smiled and headed off into deepest Cairo to find a bed for the night.

I'm sure I could get over it if I used the winch!!!

Martin did a sterling job of navigating into deepest Cairo and as we neared the centre the traffic chaos intensified. Once parked we were immediately accosted by the parking attendants, who between them only had a few words of English. We thought we’d grasped the basic concept of the system with some chipped card that had a value attached to it that you stuck into the meter on your return and the cost of parking was debited. What we couldn’t quite work out is how it knew to start counting our arrival, but it only appeared to be a few quid and with the attendants happy we set of with the old faithful Lonely P in hand to find accommodation.

The first try was the guest house as featured in Michael Palin’s Around the World in 80 Days, which used to be the British Officer’s club. Although nice it was a bit out of our price range so we tried the next along the street, Pension Roma which was clean and tidy and comfortably within our budget… home for the next 3 nights.

With arms full of bags we emptied the cars into our room then set off in search of shawarma. Oddly except for one gigantic shawarma mountain at what appeared to be ‘Shawarma King’ with a swarm of people around it, we couldn’t find shawarma :o( After a few laps we decided on kebabs instead.. the shawarma worm must wait!

Being in Cairo we knew there was a Toyota main dealer nearby so with a few lingering gremlins bothering Tinfish, decided to pay them a call the next morning. After a discussion with the parking attendants on the finer points, we thought we were now there with the system and drove off to find Toyota. Having met the service manager who greeted us warmly, I tried to explain the problems I was having… overheating on the uphill, centre diff lock had stopped locking and occasionally Tinfish wouldn’t pull away in D.

The Nile running through Cairo

A mechanic was introduced to me and I showed him the car, to watch him scratch his head as he had very little English and explanations via sign language was kinda challenging! We all went back inside and another gentleman started to take my details then asked me to sit and wait. Within the waiting area there were already a few customers sat with their heads nodding onto their chests… chances were this wasn’t to be quick!

After a few attempts to find out what was happening the gentleman finally called me up again. He then tried to explain that they had to open up the engine and take the head off to find the problem and if I wasn’t happy with the estimate it was then up to me to tow the car away and reassemble…! Thankful that I’d intervened, I assured him that wouldn’t be necessary and also enquired about the other problems. I was told the chief mechanic would now have a look.

After the obligatory wait I tried to find out how much longer… he was now at lunch, so we decided to take the opportunity to pop out in Martin’s car to find our own lunch. Just off a roundabout we spied a potential so parked up, only to be met with the ‘No Park’ from the police and were ushered to the correct spot, actually on the busy roundabout rather than the quite road we were moved from..!?!? Although no go we were directed to a ‘burger van’ and ordered up two meat roll things to then find out they were liver on first bite… not my favourite lunch.

Back to Toyota and back to waiting and waiting. Martin caught up on his sleep as I tried to find the service manager again… but he’d left! Finally I was called up and the same mechanic from 4 hours ago was to have a test drive..!! I continued the game, but once back at Toyota tracked down the 2nd in command and stressed my point. Suddenly there was a fever of activity the net result being I was to go to another Toyota garage out of town… a definite snake I thought :o(

I was assured they knew exactly what the problem was and I should go first thing in the morning. Not wishing to waste another day I insisted we go tonight, so after waking Martin & with our Lonely P map of Cairo in hand (the garage was actually off the map – so we decided on chancing our luck) off we ‘sped’ into the Cairo traffic.

We arrived just as they were closing, but the manager Mohamed Sanad had kindly agreed to wait for us. After a quick test drive I suddenly had confidence that Mohamed knew exactly what the problems were and he said they’d be onto it first thing. Perhaps a ladder after all.

With the sun slowly setting we now had rush hour to face. It’s quite amazing how they manage to squeeze so many lanes of cars onto a 3 lane motorway. When it all came to a stop they had at least 5 lanes of cars all vying for position and I remarked how surprised I was that they confined themselves to the tarmac… just as a stream of traffic sailed past on the dessert! If you can’t beat them join them, so we navigated the jam offroad :o) Parked back up on our street, we were again accosted by the parking attendants. Apparently we hadn’t quite understood the rules, so after much debating we had to get another card thingy. Ok sorted.

Traffic chaos....

After an exhausting day we took the decision to treat ourselves to some good nosh and both had a scrummy traditional Egyptian style lamb shank at Alfy Bey which prides itself on being in business since 1938. After a long conversation with the waiters about English football, which neither Martin nor I has the foggiest about – but simply saying random team names along with the occasional player, seemed to suffice – we located our next treat, Egyptian Baklava :o) Different again, with a tendency to have a kinda custard middle, but of course smeared with the obligatory honey.

On the way back to the guesthouse we stopped off at the internet café we’d been shown. This has to be the most obscure one we’ve found so far. Down a back alley off a market alley past a narrow entrance with chickens n all sorts, watching where you place your feet suddenly you slide open a door to reveal a room full of computers! On the way though, Martin added to the road accident statistics. Paying complete attention to the direction of the traffic, picking our spot carefully and timing when to leave the safety of the pavement, as we stepped out onto the one way street, Martin got run over by a bicycle coming from the wrong direction… d’oh forgot about our blind side..!!

The other main highlight of Cairo has got to be the Egyptian museum. So with Tinfish being pampered we decided to spend the next day exploring the museum. First the parking attendants to contend with. Apparently we still hadn’t quite understood the rules.. so with yet another card to our collection we navigated to the museum.

The Egyptian Museum

With tickets bought from the ticket office, all the guides offering their services avoided and through the ticket barrier, we hit our first snake… metal detectors and x-ray machines… ‘No Photo’ and these lot meant business. Back to the ticket office to leave the cameras (securely this time) re-run the gauntlet of guides, thru the ticket barrier and passing the detectors we were into the museum…. But where to start – the place is huge with very few signs up! Back outside to find a guide, return to the museum and finally ready to look around.

We spent the next two and a half hours being told all the stories of bygone pharaohs and some of the exhibits are fascinating. The mummy room is odd… you wonder if these grand pharaohs ever in their wildest dreams imagined that their after life was to be spent in a glass cabinet being gawped at by tourists. I unsuccessfully attempted to sneak a few pics on the phone – sneaky – but unfortunately I don’t think Nokia is quite up to the same standard as my Canon.

A sneaky mummy shot

Next came Tutankhamun’s treasures and simply magnificent they were too. To think that this was an otherwise little know pharaoh who died extremely young, made famous by being the only tomb discovered intact, makes you wonder what riches the great pharaohs were buried with! The 4 gilded shires and 3 sarcophagus that fit one inside another (with a 4th sarcophagus still remaining in the tomb) and the astonishing solid gold death mask, is almost too much to comprehend. They really went to great extents to ensure they were buried in splendour.

One of Tutankhamun’s gold sarcophagus

Suitably impressed by all exhibits, time was pressing and it was time to return to Toyota and see how Tinfish was getting on. They’d fixed the diff lock – loose wire; steam cleaned the radiator as it was filthy and explained the car was very heavy and up hills in 40C was likely to be hard work for the poor thing, especially with the AC on keeping us nicely cool inside; changed the transmission fluid to help the drive problem – although I’d done that just before leaving and they’d even given her a wash! All for a mere 28ukp – bargain, the transmission fluid alone would have cost that in the UK.

Back to downtown Cairo and another assault by the parking attendants – we STILL hadn’t got it right yet – the game was wearing thin…! Time for an early sups as Maz was flying in at ~2am after spending the weekend back in the UK for a good friends wedding and I had to pick her up from the airport. A yummy Chinese met the bill and then I tried to get a bit of sleep before meeting Maz.

Maz enjoys her friends wedding

Bleary eyed and with a plane to meet, I’d lost my sense of humour with the parking attendants that were still lying in wait – don’t they every sleep. With yet another card for the collection it was amazing to see Cairo almost absent from traffic although the odd lune would zoom by sometimes on the right side of the road, sometimes not. Maz’s flight was an hour late, but it was good to see her back safely again. We decided to return to the hotel to catch a bit more kip and I introduced Maz to the parking attendants..!

The plan was for an early up to head down the Nile to Luxor. One last farewell to the parking attendants (we never did figure that one out) and as it was almost en-route I thought we should at least swing by the Pyramids and Sphinx so that Maz could see them from outside Pizza Hut. For us we were doing well to time, but before leaving the Pyramids I decided to get the iPod out that Maz had brought back from being repaired in England. Only the cable from the glove compartment was missing… come to think of it so was the phone charger… and the multimeter… they must have been taken at Toyota.. F@#$..!?!?

At 146.5m high the great Pyramid of Khufu is the largest

A quick irate call to Mr Sanad and after trying to explain the issue unsuccessfully he suddenly announced that they were there with security? Confused I decided we should go back to Toyota… but unfortunately this meant going directly through Cairo in the opposite direction and out the other side. More by chance I managed to find a kind of ring road so avoided the worse of the centre traffic.

On arrival we were presented with a carrier bag chocked full of bits n piece taken out of the car. They had thoughtfully put these aside for safe keeping, but forgot to give them back when I picked the car up and as I’d not left a phone number they couldn’t get in contact with me. I’m glad we went back as there was loads of stuff…. I wondered why the car had been looking so bare!

It was now pushing midday – so much for an early away and worse still we were now the wrong side of Cairo. Unfortunately I couldn’t relocate the ring road and seemed to get sucked into the heart of Cairo. Every road I turned onto swung round and sent me back to the centre with no means of escape. Now this was truly Cairo traffic at it’s worse. Not only were there hundreds of cars everywhere with absolutely no regard for which way they should be going, there were also masses of pedestrians, mainly taking up the first lane of the road. It was a bit like driving through heavy snow with the lights on full beam, extremely tiresome.

Bang – someone couldn’t quite stop in time & went into my rear – fortunately we have a steel rear bumper so hardly even a scratch. It did however try my patients to the limit and being stuck in a jam with no way out and not knowing where to go anyway I was finding it harder and harder to see the funny side. Eventually at about 4pm we emerged the other side of Cairo. Finally the Nile and onwards to Luxor, with music playing and the open road ahead – although we thought……

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Comment from Tall Eric again
NICE mpg - it speaks volumes (the pictres speak I mean, not the drivel that I can hear in the background). Who is the sad-anorak who is counting the number of white lines? some hitch-hiker you picked up?

Re equipment. in summary, you're telling us that it's the bolt on wipe clean worksurface that is the best feature of your car, and its the high tech (extra batteries, phone and iPod chargers) that are giving you the most hassle in life. Let that be a lesson to us all. If I were to extrapolate from that; you would have been better going on your trip in my 1981 Vauxhall Chevette (with special edition seats) as you would have had less "high tech" trouble.

Why not junk all that electroinc stuff and install a nice simple 6v battery?
09 Nov 2005 @ 08:40:42

Comment from Maxine
Aaah - forgot to mention the daily chaotic commute in/out of Cairo - apparently it's in the millions (literally). Great collection of 20yr+ ancient peugeots galore though eh? The inside of the pyramid is a let down - long very low & stinking hot corridor which you descend bent double leading to a big room - with nothing in it (wow!) - not even wall paintings. Save yourselves for some hiking in the Valley of the Kings which is vvv impressive!
10 Nov 2005 @ 10:34:39

Comment from Richard (Martin's brother)
Hi chaps

That photo from inside the Pizza Hut is a classic. It will have pride of place as my desktop background until I get bored of it.

I'm off to the Indian High Commission to get my visa on Wednesday, and I have had half of my jabs, so time is ticking on. You need to let me know what you want me to bring out with me. I have many many individually wrapped teabags saved for you.

All the best

12 Nov 2005 @ 14:30:50