overland-underwater.com - A charity drive from the UK to New Zealand
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Pic of the week
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

We've got ourselves a convoy...!

Written by Alex Towns. Uploaded 19 November 2005.

Egypt, Country 12, Diary entry 6th - 8th Oct 2005, Total distance in Egypt: 5428 KM

Thumbs up:Long Range Fuel Tanks: These have given us an additional 160L of fuel over the standard 80L tank. Whilst petrol stations have been reasonably frequent, in a number of countries now we have found diesel to be scare with long queues at the single pump! The long range tank has enabled us more freedom to fill up when we want rather than go out of our way to hunt down diesel. A far cleaner and significantly easier method than messing around with lots of Jerry Cans. It is also useful in the countries where diesel is very cheap, so we can fill to the brim before crossing into a more expensive country!

Thumbs Down:Fuel Pump (actually the positioning of): Used to pump the fuel from the auxiliary tank to the main tank which supplies the engine. Read on...

With a full day of sightseeing planned we dragged our weary heads out of bed to find that Hassan had already arrived and was waiting for us. First things first we had to clear a space in the car for a third person… no small task. Even with the entire Land Cruiser dedicated to just ourselves, every spare inch of space has been utilised. How we are going to fit Damien (Maz’s brother) in when he visits us in India I’ve no idea… I just hope he doesn’t mind a ride with a view when I strap a seat to the roof..!

With some careful pushing and packing we managed to unearth the spare seat and just enough space around to fold Maz up, squeeze her in and shut the door. Our plan for the day was the west bank of the Nile so we drove south of Luxor to cross the bridge. On the way we hit the obligatory speed bumps and our guide enquired what they were called in England. He almost cracked a rib when I said they were known as ‘Sleeping Policemen’ especially as we drew up along side yet another check point. “Now those are REAL sleeping Policemen” he exclaimed still in fits of laughter…. He had a point.

The Colossi of Memnon

We let Maz out at the first site as fortunately the precarious stack of kit around her hadn’t collapsed and buried her. We stood in the shadow of two enormous statues. These were the Colossi of Memnon and at 18m high they are all that remain of a temple built by Amenhotep III. The Greeks believed that they were statues of Memnon, slain by Achilles in the Trojan War.

Onwards.. before getting to the Valley of the Kings we took a detour to Deir Al-Medina. This area was home to the workers who constructed the many tombs and temples on the West Bank. After locking up the car, we entered into another discussion with the Tourist Police who wanted to see all our paperwork and asked if they could also search the car. We explained we were tourists so there was no need to search the car and gave them the ever important Egyptian car license, which now lived bungied to the sun visor to keep them happy, as basically we couldn’t be bothered to unlock the safe to extract the passports. Our patience was starting to tire with the Police and their usefulness, rather than simply being a hindrance.

The small Pyramid over the tomb

Back in the day entire families were moved to Deir Al-Medina in an effort to keep the location of tombs secret to avoid grave robbers looting the treasures buried with the Kings for the after life. Here they also built small tombs for themselves and some of the best preserved paintings are found inside. It is amazing once you clamber down the shafts underground, just how vivid the colours are after thousands of years, depicting many symbolic scenes of the deceased and his wife. Unfortunately the ‘No Photo’ rule was in operation so we couldn’t capture these impressive paintings.

Next stop the Valley of the Kings. There are a multitude of tombs to explore here and entrance gives you access to three of your choice. You catch a little train thing up from the car park as they’ve stopped car access close to the site to prevent vibration from road noise damaging the tombs. Our guide explained each tomb in turn from outside as ever since there was a bust up inside between an Italian group (obviously talking a little louder than the rest) and a French group who were straining to hear their guide, the authorities have banned all explanations below ground!

Walking down into the tomb of Merenptah

The valley is dominated by a barren mountain called Al-Qurn (The Horn). The tombs were designed to resemble the underworld, with a long, inclined rock-hewn corridor descending into either an antechamber or a series of sometimes pillared halls and ending in the burial chamber. The tombs are vividly decorated with symbolic paintings and carvings and the sheer effort and attention to detail that these ancient Pharaohs went to in order to prepare for the after life is amazing. We also paid the extra to visit Tutankhamun’s tomb and whilst not as spectacular in design as some of the others, we managed to get in alone and could snap off a few sneaky pics with the point n shoot, as of course the ‘No Photo’ rule was in place.

The painings instide Tutankhamun’s tomb

On the way back to the East Bank we stopped off at ‘Hot Chicken Soups’ temple, which stands out from the others due to it’s 3 tiered design. Our poor guide had estimated we’d need something like 3-4 hours to explore the West Bank, but it must have been more like 5+ when we dropped him back off in Luxor. It was a thoroughly enjoyable day and the stories from Hassan bought the image of ancient Egypt alive.

With the sun showing signs of setting, we thought it’d be nice to have a sail on the Nile. After prolonged negotiations and locating a permitted parking space, we set sail in a Felucca just as the sun dropped below the horizon and the wind pretty much died altogether! After 45mins bobbing about in the dark, we decided we had now experienced a float on the Nile and called it quits. Walking back to the car, Luxor temple was now lit up and in it’s prime. A little templed out we decided to just stroll around the outside wall and take in the views and soak up the ambience.

A nice night for a float in a Felucca..!

With not much doing on the bush camp front, we decided another night in Camp Rezeiky would fit the bill so took the opportunity to try their excellent fud again. Martin was currently in convoy from Hurghada and wanting to know where to camp, so we direct him in. It’s quite a busy spot for overlander’s, as there were also two chaps on motorbikes and another group of 7 squeezed into two cars heading south.

The magnificant Luxor Temple

Planning what to do next we found out that the convoys to Aswan left at either an early 7am, or much later in the afternoon. With every day important so as not to fall behind in our schedule, Maz and I opted to get up early and join the 7am convoy, leaving Martin again to explore Luxor with Elena. The convoy certainly looked official enough and dot on 7am we left for Aswan. The going was reasonably straight forward as we all followed a solitary police pickup and when we were about halfway there we all stopped for a comfort break.

Then things became a little unorganised and confused. I’m not quite sure how it came about, but again with Maz driving we appeared to loose the police escort and seemed to find ourselves leading the convoy of coaches! Not wishing to hang about we pushed on and arrived in Aswan at about 10:45 in a convoy of one. We’d already contemplated pushing on to Abu Simbel and after stopping off in a tourist office, found out that there was a convoy leaving at 11:30 from the Museum. Not a moment to loose… we hot footed it across to the museum arriving at about 11:31, but the car park was empty.

Thinking that they could only just have left we decided to try and catch them up and headed south out of town. At the obligatory check point we just said ‘convoy’ and motioned onwards and surprisingly they let us through! There was now some 300km of open road in front of us, but cruising at 100 kph we could see no sign of any convoy, so merrily continued on our own with desert to either side, in front and behind as far as you could see.

Sand, sand and more sand

Miles away from anywhere the fuel light came on. Ahh but we have thoughtfully modified these cars for extreme overlanding, so I just hit the button to pump diesel from the extra 160L auxiliary tank into the main tank. The light didn’t go out… hmmm! Finding somewhere to pull over I turned off the engine and tried again to see if I could hear the pump… nothing…!?!? Yikes – or at least a few similar expletives. My first guess was the problematic electrics, but after ripping that all out I couldn’t find anything wrong, so next it could only be one thing, the pump – bugger.

Crawling under the car it didn’t take long to find the problem. After the ditch incident when the car had needed to use all of it’s suspension articulation, I hadn’t realised that the monkey’s that fitted the fuel tank had the not so bright idea to fit the pump directly under the axle and further more sticking proud of the suspension stops. The resulting mess being what I was now looking at, one extremely squashed pump…!!! The language was quite foul and it was lucky we were miles away from anyone. You can believe me Frogs Island were not high on my favourites list.

Playing with it and wiggling wires I thankfully managed to get a burst of life from the pump. The next half hour was spent lying under the car nursing the pump to give us enough diesel in our main tank to reach Abu Simbel. With the language still blue, we continued on our way.

A desert sunset

Surprisingly there were no checkpoints until we were nearly at Abu Simbel. On arrival we were stopped by a very surprised policeman…”how did you get here?” and “where you stay”. We told him we’d not decided yet – there probably is only one hotel there as most tourists are bussed to n fro from Aswan. As with most of the Nile temples, they are on the west bank and being late in the afternoon, the sun was not in a good place for photos, so we decided to come back early in the morning and left the remaining few tourists to go and find camp.

After much driving around to avoid the police, we finally managed to head back into the desert and found an ideal spot away from everything. After nice hot showers al fresco and a pasta left overs feast we settled down to writing diaries and updating photos. With just the stars above and in otherwise total darkness it was nice to be away from the masses. By chance Maz had an itchy ankle and as she scratched and looked down she saw a 3” scorpion next to her plakkie…! I’ve never seen her move so fast :o)

Watch your step..

We were up at the crack of dawn to drive around the corner and get to Abu Simbel nice and early. Arriving at just gone 7am we were amazed to see about 30 tourist buses already crowding the car park – d’oh. The 4am convoy from Aswan had beaten us to it :o( A little perturbed we entered the site, but what a magnificent sight met us as we turned the corner. This place is truly unbelievable and well worth the extra effort to come all the way south, almost to Sudan! If the actual temples themselves weren’t wonderful enough, the engineering feat that saved them from the rising water of Lake Nasser in the 1960s after the High Dam was constructed, was a marvel in itself.

The fantastic Abu Simbel

Carved out of a mountain side the temple was dedicated to the gods Ra-Harakhty, Amun, Ptah and Ramesses II himself. Guarding the entrance the four colossal statues of Ramesses II sit majestically, each more than 20m tall, with further smaller statues of the pharaoh’s mother, Queen Tuya, his wife Nefertari and some of their children. Inside the temple the walls are lavishly decorated with fantastic paintings and even though the ‘No Photo’ rule was in place, they didn’t seem to mind me having the camera over my shoulder and with Maz experiencing a rather bad cough, managed to get a few good shots from the hip..!

Elaborate decorations inside Ramesses II Temple

The smaller Temple of Hathor and Nefertari was built about 100m northeast of the Temple of Ramesses II and was dedicated to the goddess Hathor and Ramesses’s chief consort, Nefertari. This was in fact the first time in ancient Egypt that a temple or cult edifice was dedicated to a queen. The rock cut façade is decorated with six colossi, slightly more than 10m high and are of Ramesses II and Nefertari. Again the inside is lavishly decorated with symbolic paintings of the Pharaoh, his wife and gods.

Playing statues

After a few hours of sight seeing we were back in the car and ready for the 9am convoy back to Aswan…. And they’re off. It was more of a race than a convoy, with one bus overtaking another. We tried desperately to keep up at 120 kph, but our little Tinfish is far more happy cruising at a leisurely 100 kph, so we just let them pass on by and by and by, coach after coach after coach. Oddly there wasn’t a single police car in sight and the convoy must have stretched over some 10 km. How effective it was, or what purpose it actually served I’ve no idea, but I bet the bookies had odd’s on the race.

Ornate decorations inside the Temple of Hathor and Nefertari

We decided to stay with the convoy until the last of the check points north of Abu Simbel, then planned to dive off east back towards Lake Nasser to see some of the other temples only normally reached by cruise boats. It was no problem to leave the convoy as we approached our turning right… with one coach miles in front and none left behind, no one even saw us turn off.

Ready, steady, go...

The road towards Lake Nasser was quite interesting with sand drifts covering much of the tarmac… obviously not too frequently travelled. Of the temples along the shore line, all of which had also been relocated at the same time as Abu Simbel, we decided to visit the collection at New Sebua. On arrival we found that the first Temple of Wadi al-Sebua was locked and no one was about. Still there was enough to look at from the outside with a line of human and falcon headed sphinx’s to explore.

Human headed SphinxFalcon headed Sphinx

We then moved over to the Temple of Dakka perched up on a hill, but again that was all locked up. We walked around it and peered in through the gates just as we noticed someone making a bee line for us from a small shack about halfway between the two temples. Assuming that they would be after money of some sort we decided that we’d seen enough and got back into the car ready to drive off. Unfortunately with a burst of speed the chap had reached us before we could get going and was quite insistent that we should pay buckshish of some description, probably for disturbing his afternoon snooze. He actually became quite aggressive. With doors locked and windows up we decided to just drive slowly away and eventually he got the idea and let go of the wing mirror..!

We then followed the desert road back to Aswan and decided to look in on the High Dam. Although impressive in it’s statistics, 3.6km across, 980m wide at it’s base and 111m high at it’s highest point, employing 35,000 people (451 of who died) to build, the actual sight itself isn’t so great. We drove across and continued to The Island of Philae between the High and Low Dam.

The Aswan High Dam

After the construction of the Low Dam, the fate of Philae was sealed and it was almost completely covered by the Nile. It was only during the summer months, corresponding to the flooding of the river, when the sluice gates were opened, Philae would temporarily return to sight. Fortunately when UNESCO launched the ‘Nubia campaign’ to save the monuments, Philae was included in the rescue plan.

Philae ‘the island of time (of Ra)’ has been described as ‘the pearl of Egypt’. After getting a boat from the shore you can loose yourself wandering around the Temple which is proceeded by a majestic processional way comprised of two colonnades of which only the west ‘great colonnade’ of thirty two columns has survived complete. The imposing first pylon is decorated with scenes of ritual massacre by the king in the presence of Isis, Horus and Hathor. Again it is exquisitely decorated throughout with carvings in relief.

The Island of Philae

Having kept our water taxi waiting and with the sun slowly setting over the Nile we headed back to Aswan, contemplating what to do next. First to hunt out some diesel (again although cheap it is hard to come by, which is where long range fuel tanks – if you can get it out again – really help) Halfway through filling the sun finally sank, which during Ramadam is the time for BreakFast and nothing was going to stop our pump attendant, he just walked away leaving the nozzle dangling from the filler!

On the look out for some grub, we passed a familiar Land Cruiser heading the other way. Martin and Elena had just arrived, so we joined them for dinner and recommended they made a dash for Abu Simbel, to which they decided on the 4am package deal by bus for ease. But for us, our next stop was Marsa Alam on the coast to dive the deep south Red Sea. The problem though was how to get there as we didn’t have time to wait for a suitable convoy, if indeed they did head east towards the sea at all.

Lake Nasser

Chancing our luck we decided to leave Aswan that evening and try at least to get as far as Edfu, where you turn off the Luxor road for Marsa Alam. Since our long drawn out drive down from Cairo, we had learnt the way of the check point and switching to stealth mode by turning all our lights off to ‘go local’ we slowly cruised up to the first check point out of Aswan. Over the bumps as too late the police realised we were TOURISTS, waved back at them trying to stop us and sped off… result! The formula worked a treat and before long we were just south of Edfu where we found camp hidden in hills just off the side of the road.

We awoke to voices outside – no big surprise. These two though were simply content to squat and just gawp at us getting ready to leave. Once we started the engine they just got up and left, their mornings entertainment complete! Just down the road we arrived at the checkpoint on the cross roads where we needed to turn right towards Marsa Alam. In day light it was hard to pretend we weren’t local so were pulled over.

Maz tries outstaring the bird at Hatshepsut's Temple

Still cheeky from the night before when asked for our passports (which were locked away in the safe) we simply said “No, they’re back there safe”. Not sure what to do, the confused policeman tried again, so we gave him the now tatty bit of paper that was the Egyptian license for the car. Satisfied he at least got something off us, we said we were going left to Edfu to see the temple there and he let us through.

Once again turning up on our own to a tourist site really surprises the local tourist police as they are only used to the daily arrival of the tourist convoys. Once in and parked (first time without being moved) we set about seeing our last Ancient Egyptian Temple, the Temple of Horus, the falcon god. This is the best preserved of all Egyptian temples, its walls are completely covered with hieroglyphic texts thus forming an extraordinary library.

The

You would have thought we’d have been thoroughly templed out by now with ancient Egypt coming out of our ears, but we were actually quite pleased we made the stop off as it was a truly impressive sight. The exceptional state of preservation gives you the impression that the priests have only just abandoned the site. In fact the temple remained almost completely buried by sand until 1860 when excavation began. Forty years were needed to publish fourteen volumes that contained an epigraphic survey of all the hieroglyphic texts in the temple!

Enriched we returned to the car to find ourselves completely blocked either side by coaches.... the one time they hadn’t moved us…! Negotiating the tight spot, we bade farewell to Ancient Egypt and set about making tracks to Marsa Alam and DIVING :o) With just the same check point to negotiate we waved at the police and said Luxor, then at the very last moment turned onto the Marsa Alam road before they could react… we were away and really looking forward to getting wet again….

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Comment from Ant
have just come back from a week in touristy Sharm El Sheikh - "enjoyed" a few taxi rides so now understand your comments about Egyptian drivers (and all we saw was a few dozen cars around Naama Bay, so can only imagine how much worse Cairo rush-hour was!) I think the ploy is 'lights are optional but sound horn whenever possible, oh and ignore any potential rules'

the Tourist Police just seem to be officious for the sake of appearing to do something

we did a day's snorkel trip on one of the boats out of Sharm port and the English guy Ben who lead us remembered seeing Tinfish and Unnamed Ruskie Passion Wagon in a supermarket car park a couple of weeks before - so you're being noticed guys!

the snorkelling was fantastic, i particularly liked floating around amongst shoals of cornet fish, very cute - i even found a solitary much bigger one which didn't look friendly but came and checked me out... at which point he bared his teeth and i realised it was more Barracuda-like! that will teach me to disturb his cleaning session with the wrasse...

Egyptian people are generally friendly and helpful but we discovered a few quirks - they don't do roundabouts or lane control very well - they only drive with side lights or full beam, to be varied whilst ignoring the fact that someone may be coming in the opposite direction - they can't pour lager into a glass without giving it extensive head - they guess your nationality and really insult you when they ask if you are American (do i look stupid, cos I'm certainly not fat?!) - they laugh at your pasty white skin (you're first day in Egypt sir? No i've been here a week now) - hotel uniforms generally have the baggiest trousers you ever saw, most amusing...

so last Thursday we went from 30 degC air temp and 25 degC water temp in the sea in the morning, to arriving at Gatwick that evening to -1 deg : quite a shock to the system but at least at 11pm the M25 was the epitome of sensible and safe driving (with lights on!)

so having had the faintest whiff of your excellent adventures (and knowing I couldn't cope with the complete lack of any logic when it comes to the authorities you meet every day) I wish you fun and happy travels

one good thing about being back in Blighty - red wine and beer works in a cold climate much better than a hot one!!!

sorry for rambling but i'm making up for the lack of comments left on the last 3 diary entries - i find them as interesting as the diary updates themselves so come on people, let's keep them aware that they are cheering up and annoying us in equal measures, as we sit in our uncomfortable offices expecting snow by the end of the week ;-)
21 Nov 2005 @ 17:43:07