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'98 Trip Around the Mediterranean Sea
Fourth Leg: North Africa. 

Part 2: Egypt

 

Cairo
Luxor
Sinai

'98 Egypt map


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Egypt

 

Sat, July 4, 98. LIBYA/EGYPT: border crossing.

 

J.: In the morning we set off for the Egyptian border. It was a mistake not to have a big meal before dealing with Egyptian bureaucracy. The Libyan crossing was quick and easy. We even received some money back for returning the plates.

The Egyptian border crossing took 7 hours. All together we paid 925 Egyptian pounds EACH (around US$ 300) to enter Egypt with our bikes. First the officials couldn’t understand that we had NO Carnet de Passage (kind of a passport for a vehicle). They kept sending us from one window to another, from one room to another. Finally after two hours, someone decided that we’d have to purchase the Carnet in town. So he waved a taxi and told the driver to take us to the right person. The right person appeared to be a man around 30 years old in shorts and an undershirt. His “office” fit in a small briefcase. The price for the Carnet was outrageous: over US$ 200 each! We were trying to bribe him, etc. Nothing worked. We paid. That was only the beginning. The taxi driver along with the undershirt guy (now in a clean shirt) took us back to the border. We paid for the cab. Then a never-ending series of various fees, charges, etc. followed. Altogether we paid in five or six windows/rooms. Overall US$ 300 each.

Egypt—a country not for bikers.

 

Salum.

We left the border at midnight, tired and frustrated. First stop was Salum where we had a late night dinner in a family run restaurant. A bottle of water that we ordered had a broken seal. The owner was trying to sell us tap water! The food was very delicious though. He directed us to the Salum Hotel (very filthy). The wind kept smashing doors and windows all night. It was dirty, smelly, but we slept well despite these inconveniences. Night Sat/Sun 4/5 here.

 

Sun, July 5, 98. EGYPT: Road to Cairo (desert highway).

 

J.: In the morning it appeared that the hotel was situated right on the seashore. 

Hotel Salum in Salum and its friendly stuff

We bought some bagels for breakfast right in the middle of the street. Right away we noticed the difference between Libya and Egypt: there was a lot more people in Egypt, especially kids.

Set off to Cairo. 700 km ahead of us. The Egyptian road signs are in Arabic and English. I took advantage of the opportunity and learnt Arabic numbers. 

Desert highway

The closer to Alexandria we were, the more construction there was: mostly hotels and resorts.

 

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Cairo

Cairo is a densely populated city. As soon as we crossed the city limits, the air quality changed. Now it was hot and humid—the influence of the Nile River as well as civilization. Traffic was crazy. No motorbikes, few mopeds, but a lot of taxis and private cars. We noticed a general disregard for the traffic lights. Turning right from the farthest left lane (3 lanes) was normal. The most important gadget of a vehicle was a horn (a loud one!). Late at night (past midnight) we found accommodation in the Gresham Hotel, just off Sharia Talaat Harb. Four nights Sun/Mon/Tue/Wed 5/6/7/8t here.

 

Mon, July 6, 98. EGYPT: Cairo.

 

J.: We slept in, withdrew Egyptian pounds and US dollars from a banking machine and then went to see the Egyptian Museum. It was astonishing. You may not take any pictures inside.

At night we drove to see the pyramids. We decided to eat some European food that night and went to Pizza Hut (across form the pyramids!). Instantly several Egyptian “friends” showed up to volunteer guarding our bikes (in return for baksheesh). In Pizza Hut, we met two sisters from The Netherlands: Miriam and Petra. Miriam had been staying in Cairo for four months and studying Arabic. Petra was visiting her sister. The wards noticed our new company and got very excited. An enjoyable evening followed (no Egyptian participated).

 

Tue, July 7, 98. EGYPT: Giza.

 

J.: In the morning we took Miriam and Petra to the pyramids. I must say that a blonde looks very good on a motorcycle especially in the chaotic traffic of Cairo. We walked around the pyramids. 

We achieved our goal: we arrived at the Pyramids!

Greg and Miriam went horseback riding around the area. 

Horse riding by the pyramids  Greg and his beautiful horse riding partner, Miriam

The horse caretakers were very annoying, but Miriam managed them quite well surprising all of them with her fluent Arabic. 

With Miriam and Petra at the pyramids: great company leaves the greatest memories

You haven’t heard about Pyramids? Well, here is some info:

·        Pyramid of Cheops: 2600 BC. 137.2 m (originally 146.5 m). 2½ million limestone blocks. 6 million tonnes.

·        Pyramid of Chephren (Cheops’ son). 136.5 m (originally 143.5 m).

·        Pyramid of Mycerinus. 62 m (originally 66.5 m).

 

We all got back to our hotel in order to eat a watermelon we purchased in the market. Within an hour of our stay in the room, the clerk, the cleaning guy and the repair guy visited us at least 7 times. These were their reasons to bother us: 1) to repair a tap (it wasn’t broken), 2) to tell us that we could see our guests in the lobby, 3) to remind us to pay for the room, 4) to change a light bulb, 5) to get us a tray for the watermelon, 6) to get us a knife for the watermelon, 7) to clean the room after we finished the watermelon. They really wanted to see us in an ambiguous situation. They must have been very disappointed. They didn't see anything. Yeah!

In the evening, Miriam, who knew all the interesting places in Cairo, took us to Khan al-Khalili (market in the old part of the city) for a dinner and shopping. We also stopped at an Egyptian teahouse to have a shisha (waterpipe), a traditional Egyptian pastime. For men only, of course.  Definitely, I was doing much a better job smoking shisha than Greg. 

Smoking shisha like a native Egyptian

All the time when we were with Miriam and Petra, Egyptian men were uttering amorous comments towards our friends. It was fun to see them confused when on many occasions Miriam told them off in fluent Arabic.

At night we all took a romantic Felucca ride (Egyptian boat) on the Nile River. Very relaxing.

 

Wed, July 8, 98. EGYPT: Cairo.

 

J.: In the morning we visited Coptic (Christian) Cairo. [Christian Convent of St. George. Church of St. George. Fortress of Babylon (98 AD) just beside church of St George.] We took a cab. From Miriam we learnt that if you want to take a cab in Cairo, ask the driver how much it is going to cost to go to a specific place then bargain. If he says 20, suggest 4. He goes down to 15, you say 5. He proposes 10, you—6. You will end up paying 6 or 7. Always have the right amount. Cab drivers never give out change.

 

Then we went to see the most famous Cairo mosques: Mosque of Sultan Hassan (1356-1363 AD) and Ar-Rifa’i Mosque (1869: 19th century imitation of a Mamluk-style mosque).

There we met a French-Canadian tourist—Vivian. The inside of the Ar-Rifa’I Mosque was astonishing. 

Ar rifa'l Mosque, Cairo, Egypt

With help of small baksheesh (5 pounds), a guard took us to the top of the mosque. We were able to climb the very peak of the minaret and to admire amazing views.

On the top of the minaret

We saw the Citadel [home of those who ruled Egypt from 12th to the 19th century] and the Mosque of Sultan Hassan which was right next to the Ar-Rifa’i Mosque. Being on the very top was fascinating!!!

 

We had another delightful evening with Miriam and Petra. Early in the morning they flew back to the Netherlands. We were two singles again.

 

Thu, July 9, 98. EGYPT: Cairo, Saqqara, Luxor.

 

J.: We set off early to Saqqara to see Zoser’s Step Pyramid. [27th century BC.] Likely Egypt’s first pyramid and world’s oldest stone structure of its size.  

Saqqara, Egypt

 

Before us there was a 700-km ride up the Nile Valley. First we had to get food and water for the trip. We stopped in a nearby village. This area was already beyond “the tourist zone.” Tourist buses go to Saqqara and then return to Cario. While Greg was doing shopping in a store, I got surrounded by hordes of curious children. There was lots of them and everybody wanted to talk to me. I felt very uncomfortable. After some of them started touching and trying different parts of the bike, I reacted decisively and an older man helped me to break up the crowd. 

In Asyut (300 km to Luxor) on another checkpoint (lots of them in the Middle East), the police stopped us for several minutes. We did know what was happening. The officials were very friendly, though. They directed us to another road that was going through the desert. On the next checkpoint we got a military escort for the next 300 km. Asyut-Qena region is the heart of fundamentalist movement and the government is afraid that the fundamentalists may attack tourists. That was actually fun, because we had to follow different pick-up trucks really fast and at one point our escort consisted of an armored vehicle. We saw AUTHENTIC Egypt: men in white gowns and headdresses, donkeys carrying goods, veiled women, crowded streets, roads on several meters high mounds, corn fields cultivated in a thousand years old fashion. And we didn’t have to ask for directions!

 

 

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Luxor

We arrived in Luxor around midnight.

Night Thu/Fri/Sat/Sun 9/10/11/12 in Everest Hotel in Luxor.

 

Fri, July 10, 98. EGYPT: Luxor—Karnak Temple.

 

J.: There was a shocking killing in Luxor in 1997. Egyptian fundamentalists murdered 60 tourists. Since then the business has been much worse. As a result the prices of accommodation and food were lower than we expected (clean air-conditioned room: US$ 6 for two).

In the morning we decided to tour the east bank: the Karnak Temple and the Luxor Temple.

 

Karnak Temple:

·        Karnak Temple Complex measures 1.5 km by 0.8 km. 

Karnak Temple, Luxor, Egypt

[Started during the Middle Kingdom (. Finished (added temples, pylons, courts, columns) during New Kingdom. ]

·        [Second pylon on the left. Entrance to Temple of Ramses III on the right. ]

·        We were fascinated with the columns of the Great Hypostyle Hall. The hall covers an area of 6000 sq m which is large enough to contain Notre Dame Cathedral.  

Great Hypostyle Hall in Karnak Temple, Luxor, Egypt

·        [Now I look like a giant while in fact I felt like a dwarf. ]

·        [Obelisk of Hatshepsut on the left. ]

·        [Statues of Ramses II and the Second Pylon. Great Hypostyle Hall in the middle. ]

·        The temples are in a great shape. We found out why: they have been rebuilt. [Mut Temple is being rebuilt]

 

Luxor Temple:

We got there in the afternoon. Another fascinating site. 

Luxor Temple: Statues of Ramses II and first pylon (24m high)

Beside Statues of Ramses II there was an Obelisk. There used to be two obelisks. The other one stands in the Place de la Concorde in Paris, France. I felt sorry for hordes of “package” tourists who were rushed in and out the site. How could one enjoy a place if one has 20-30 minutes to explore it?!

After a tour, we decided to have a nap (in the museum!). We waited until dark and saw a beautiful sunset over the Nile River.

 

·        [Great Court of Ramses II.  ]

·        [Colonnade of Amenophis III. ]

·        [First pylon at night. ]

·        [Colonnade of Amenophis III, again. This time at night. ]

 

In the hotel we met a German couple on Honda XR600. We had much less equipment.

 

Sat, July 11, 98. EGYPT: Luxor.

 

J.: The next day we got up early. At 9 we were already on the ferryboat to the west bank (charge: 1 pound each). No tourists on the ferry. Locals only.  

Ferry on the Nile River: a good view of Egyptian plates. 33195

 

West Bank:

That day the temperature reached 43 C. Hot and dry. That day we drank 4 1,5-litre bottles of water each. Greg soaked his shirt to cool off. After a 3-minute motorcycle ride the shirt was crispy dry again. The place was fascinating. The only inconvenience was the fact that one would have to buy tickets before visiting a particular tomb or temple. We had to plan the whole day in the morning—thanks to the Lonely Planet book, it wasn’t too difficult. The most expensive entrance charge was to the Tomb of Nefertari (recently discovered). Tickets: 100 pounds normal, 50 pounds students (CAN$ 21). Time spent inside the tomb was limited to a 10(15)-minute visit. There was heavy security everywhere. We didn’t miss the infamous site of the ‘97 massacre, the Temple of Hatshepsut.  

Temple of Hatshepsut - first woman ever to reign as king

·        [Colossi of Memnon (18m high)—the only remains of a temple. ]

·        [Valley of the Queens. ]

·        [Temple of Ramses III (Medinat Habu).]

·        [Great Hypostyle Hall. Only the bases of columns remained. ]

 

Valley of the Kings.

We got to the Valley of the Kings at the end of the day and visited 4 tombs (paid for 3 only—friendly tomb guards let us in to the last one for a small baksheesh). Taking pictures with flash was not allowed. Well, it was difficult to resist the temptation especially after the guard’s approval.

Tomb of Tuthmosis IV

·        [Tomb of Tuthmosis IV. Gods Osiris and Hathor present the Pharaoh with the key of life. ]

·        [Beside entrance to Tomb of Tuthmosis III. ]

We climbed a hill to see the Nile Valley. Beautiful. 

View from the hill over the Nile Valley

 

Came back the same way. 

Ferry on the Nile. Luxor temple on the left. You can see Colonnade of Amenophis III.

A problem arose: the ferry deck was much lower than the landing pier. We asked our fellow ferry riders for help. The response was quick and adequate. As soon as our bikes were on the pier, though, our helpers demanded baksheesh. Somehow we managed to escape them.

In the evening we visited a kebab place where we had to wash cups for ourselves,

Not extremely clean eatery, but very tasty food

and a Kushari Restaurant. Large portions cost 3.5 pounds (1.5$CAN). Delicious.

 

Sun, July 12, 98. EGYPT: Luxor to the Red Sea coast.

 

J.: We were ready to leave around 11 am, but the police didn’t let us go! All the tourists had to travel in a convoy under the military escort. The convoy set off at 2 pm. In the meantime I fixed my broken rear view mirror, and Greg checked his battery.

 

The road was very picturesque. We came across a small sandstorm. After an hour or so, my mouth was full of sand, not to mention eyes, ears, and nose. The sand got even to the underwear area.

The area was amazing: the Red Sea on the right, mountains on the left, infinity ahead and behind us. 

Infinity...

At one point I noticed my headlight running low. We stopped. Yes... My battery failed.

Battery failure in the middle of nowhere

Unfortunately, I didn’t check it on time (Greg did, in Luxor). Now it was too late. We had to jump-start my bike. The area was very scarcely populated (a village every 50 or more km) and after dark I ran out of gas, probably due to the faulty battery. We also had no water left. So I got stuck in the middle of the desert highway (very little traffic) while Greg (barely made it) went to get gas and water. It was a very uneasy hour. He displayed a lot of “energy in his ass” (my saying) and came back soon with water and gas. He also found a place for us to sleep (night Sun/Mon 12/13)—beside the restaurant near Ras Gharib. That night we took the opportunity to watch the final World Cup game. France defeated Brazil 3:0. My battery was still dead, though.

 

Mon, July 13, 98. EGYPT: Red Sea coast, St. Paul’s Monastery, Suez, Sinai Desert.

 

J.: We set off in the morning. Views over turquoise Red Sea were amazing: mountainous desert on the left, flat road in the middle, sea on the right.

 

St. Paul’s Monastery.

We stopped in St. Paul’s Monastery (Coptic Church of Egypt). St. Paul lived there in a cave for nearly 90 years during the 4th century. There were few buses full of children visiting. We couldn’t get rid of those friendly kids no matter what. They were so glad when they found out that we were Christians.  

School trip in St. Paul's Monastery, Egypt

 

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Sinai

 

Suez.

We decided to look for a battery in Suez. We couldn't find the right store. Finally we got some help from friendly locals. They took us to the town centre to a store that had everything but yet it occupied an area of maybe 15 square metres. The city was quite chaotic with crowds of curious children. I don’t think they get any tourists there. I installed the new battery (60 pounds – US$ 20). Thanks, guys, for your help. 

Installing new battery

Amazingly, this battery lasted until after the '99 trip. 

With the new battery we set off to St. Catharine’s Monastery, but were unable to get there, so we decided to sleep in the desert again. (Night Mon/Tue 13/14)

 

Sinai Desert (near Wadi Feran).

The night was beautiful. After it got dark, we found a place about 300 meters from the road. It was the middle of the desert, dark, and we didn’t know what was around us. It seemed that we slept beside a huge dragon. It was warm so we didn’t pitch the tent—a mattress and a sleeping bag were enough. At one point we noticed glowing sky as if there was a city nearby. After a few minutes full moon appeared. Beautiful! I woke up in the middle of the night. The moon was gone and that night I saw the biggest number of stars in the sky. It was one of the best “hotels” I ever slept in.

 

Tue, July 14, 98. EGYPT: Sinai Desert, Mount Sinai, Dahab.

 

J.: In the morning the view was even better. We were surrounded by the mountains of eroded slopes that formed dramatic shapes. Best place ever. 

Better than 5-star hotel. Sinai near Wadi Feran, Egypt.

The most amazing, beautiful, astonishing, friendly, stunning, incredible, peaceful, spectacular, quiet, mythical, fabulous accommodation we could ever find.

 

St. Catherine’s Monastery and Mount Sinai.

We arrived at the Monastery just on time to see the chapel of the Burning Bush. The monastery was founded in the 4th century AD beside a place that was believed to be the burning bush from which God spoke to Moses. The fortress comes from the 6th century. Mt Sinai (Gebel Musa) is 2285m above sea level. Christians, Muslims and Jews believe that God delivered his Ten Commandments to Moses from this summit.

On the summit there was a Greek Orthodox chapel and a small mosque. Most of the people visit Mount Sinai in the morning due to the excruciating heat. We started climbing the summit around 1 pm. It was HOT but we knew we could manage. The only people we met during the climb were souvenir merchants on the top of the mountain who lived there permanently.

G: It was worth climbing. The temperature on the summit dropped to probably 25C. What a relief! And the views! Spectacular! I am speechless.  

Top of Mount Sinai, Egypt

J.: Right below the summit, there was Elijah’s Hollow, a small plateau. A 500 year-old cypress tree marked the spot where the prophet Elijah heard the voice of God. We descended taking the 3000 Steps of Repentance. (G.: That was cheating! We were supposed to climb up the peak using this route, but honestly, we couldn’t find the steps.)

 

Drive To Dahab.

The drive was fabulous— beautiful landscape. In Dahab we found a camp “Palm Beach”. 3 nights Tue/Wed/Thu/Fri 14/15/16/17 there. 5 pounds (2$CAN) per night per person.

 

Wed/Thu, July 15/16, 98. EGYPT: Dahab.

 

J.: The next day we found a place that offered introductory dives (US$ 65 for two dives each). It was quite easy to operate the equipment, but very difficult to keep one level in water. We dived to the depth of 6-8 meters. To get to our second dive, we had to be transported with a motorboat Zephyr. We decided to explore this activity in the future.  

Happy divers, Dahab, Egypt  Professor and two very talented students. Dahab, Egypt.

On Thursday, we rented snorkeling equipment and spent the day at the Blue Hole. The bottom of the Blue Hole reaches 80 metres. About 50 metres away from the shore there is another underwater cliff down reaching 800 metres (eight hundred!). Water temperature: approx. 27 C.  

Snorkling in the Blue Hole. Dahab, Egypt.

We met a couple of Australian travelers on Suzuki 650 Freewind. They had been travelling for three months. They visited India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Syria and Jordan so far. One feature distinguished them among other bikers-travelers: they were both in their late forties. When I’m 50 I want to have enough guts to be still on the road!

On the other side of the gulf, there was the “forbidden land.” You may visit Saudi Arabia only if you have a personal invitation, you intend to work there or if you are a Muslim.

Dahab had a very relaxed, laid-back atmosphere. Food and accommodation were cheap. The rooms at the camp were huts made out of straw. Inside there was lots of fresh air as well as ants. We decided that we have to come back there in the future.  

Palm Beach Camp - indeed, there was a lot of palms. Dahab, Egypt



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