Egypt part I
I left my hotel in Tobruk Libya around 6:30 am and reached the Egyptian border an hour and a half later. Exiting Libya was a breeze; In fact I didn’t even know I had exited until I was in Egypt. The Libyan side has an enormous new complex for their border control but the whole place was shut down with massive mounds of earth piled around the whole perimeter which must have been a km in circumference. I couldn’t find anyone there to return my Libyan number plate too so I by-passed the compound and kept the plate as a souvenir.
As soon as I entered Egypt the hassle started. Soldiers wearing all sorts of technicolor uniforms were demanding to see my passport and nose through my stuff. Half the guys that did look at my passport didn’t even know what they were looking at. I have a visa for Myanmar with my photo on it and they thought it was the main page. None of them could speak any English either so it was a complete waste of time, well mine anyway; I suspect their whole lives are a waste of time.
I carried on checkpoint after checkpoint until I got escorted into a complete run down disused looking building. I have literally seen nicer crack dens. The place was disgusting, the walls were all filthy, and the bare concrete floors full of holes. It was packed with people giving me dirty looks, shouting and screaming, and pushing and shoving. This was emigration control although it looked like they lost control a long time ago. I had to leave my bike and all my gear outside but I asked some guys from Sudan to mind it for me. I had no choice but to trust them.
I was then told to fill out a piece of paper and sit in this filthy office on some scraps of furniture surrounded by about ten guys with menacing heads. The form and my passport soon disappeared from sight. I sat there for 3 hours in total. Every now and then I demanded to know what was going on but all they said was wait, you wait. Then a plasterer came in and started scraping the remains of the 50-year-old paint from the walls just to fill the already smoke-filled room with dust. While all this was going on people were arguing and abusing each other all around me. I just sat on the floor to annoy them and tried to get some sleep.
After 3 hours some dude with stripes all over his uniform marched in and everyone but me sprung to attention to greet and kiss him. He told me to follow him down the hall to another office. Here we were joined by another big wig and I was told to sit opposite them at a desk. One of these guys spoke perfect English and the conversation started off pleasant enough. They asked me where I came from even though they had my passport, what I did for a living, where I was going, was I married? Before one of them said “now I have to ask you more serious questions, you understand?”
He asked if I had ever worked in security to which I replied no. He then said are you sure to which I replied yes. “So see here we have a big problem, big problem” I know you worked for the CIA, we have found this information from the CIA website. I started laughing not knowing what the hell he was on about expecting someone to bust in with a camera. Then he asked what the picture on my Facebook profile contained. I told him there was a picture of me and my wife when we got married and a picture of me riding my motorcycle through the Atacama Desert.
He then mutters something to the other guy who pulls out his phone. Guess what on it; it’s only my Facebook profile. Then it clicked with me, I had the CIA down as my employer on Facebook. I started laughing thinking this can’t be serious but they were very serious. It took me ten minutes to explain that I wrote that years ago as a joke. I wasn’t even going to point out that CIA agents hardly have Facebook pages and if they did they hardly wrote that they worked for the CIA on them, there was no point. As Mark twain said, “Don’t argue with idiots, they will only drag you down to their level of stupidity and win from experience”.
Then they wanted to know what my thoughts were on the Egyptian revolution were. I told them I was a tourist and here to see the pyramids and that was all. I said I didn’t even know there was a revolution going on; that I figured it was over. The whole thing was like something you’d see in the movies, I was slightly amused but a little worried that I could be there until an embassy bailed me out. They left the room for about 10 minutes before coming back and telling me to go back to the other office.
About 20 min later one of the guys came down and told me they believed me and that they were going to let me in to the country. It only took another hour or so to get a stamp in my passport. I then had to go through more rigmarole with customs trying to get the bike in. This only took another 2 hours because I managed to find someone to do all the running around for me. It was straight forward enough and only cost $150 for something that should be free. As soon as I had my new number plates I shot off as fast as I could not daring to look back. I got stopped another 5 times by more idiots in uniforms over the next 10 km or so. They all want to see your passport and look in your bags. I had at least 4 different guys try to steel my Leatherman. The last guy I caught red-handed grabbing him by the shirt, and even though he had an AK47 over his shoulder, I managed to get the knife back. I shot straight through the last checkpoint that day sneaking out from behind a truck at the last-minute. They all shouted but I just lay across my petrol tank as to avoid getting shot in the back as best I could and took off. I managed to get away and find a hotel along the coast where I had dinner, swapped my number plate and crashed out.
I have since found out two guys a few months earlier were actually accused of spying while attempting to cross the same border and they were actually locked up for five days before being deported minus their car(Alps 2 Africa). If you’re thinking of crossing this border bring plenty of food and water, cancel all appointments and delete your past!
The next morning I removed the chair that I had barricading my hotel room door, had breakfast and got the hell out-of-town. It wasn’t long before I was stopped at another checkpoint. This time there was something wrong with my visa, probably because I don’t have one. When ordered to pull over I parked in the sun instead of in the shade like they told me too. I figured maybe the heat might hurry these guys up and deter them from searching me again and it worked. I just sat on the bike with my helmet on and didn’t say a word, I just pointed to the entry stamp and the writing underneath that explains that no visas are issued at my point of entry. It actually also says to charge me 15$ for the visa on the way out. Eventually they either got sick of me or the heat but they let me go.
I headed for Alexandria, Egypt’s second city. It was only about 300km away so I was able to take my time and enjoy the scenery and the ride. I didn’t come across another checkpoint for about 100km and these guys just waved me through, as did the next one. The country is a little more relaxed away from the border areas. I reached Alexandria about 2pm and met up with a fellow adventure motorcyclist named Omar. Omar a native of Alexandria kindly put me up for the night and fed me delicious groper fish that his father had caught the previous day. Omar has ridden the length of Africa before and was full of useful information on places to stay and places to avoid. Thanks very much for everything Omar; it was nice to meet you.
The next morning I set out for Cairo around 8 am. It was only a short 250 km ride and I was there in no time at all. As I entered the traffic chaos of Cairo my GPS literally went haywire. Instead of bringing me to the bike shop I was looking for it was diverting me 160km around the city. I had to keep stopping to reset it. I did manage to find my hotel easily enough as it was next to the pyramids; there are road signs pointing to them everywhere. I gave up looking for the bike shop after 3 hours of sweltering heat and traffic jams. It literally took me an hour to ride up one street that was 6km long.
I spent the next morning gazing at the wonders of the ancient world. The Pyramids are pretty amazing for sure and well worth a look if you get the chance. Tourism has taken a complete nose dive in Egypt since the revolution so you will get hassled quite a bit by people trying to make a living but it’s still worth coming for a look. I think I only saw two other foreigners at the pyramids. On the plus side 5 star hotels will give you a room for 40$ a night.
The next morning I rode to the red sea resort town of Hurghada. Getting out of Cairo was some craic without a GPS but somehow I managed. It’s one huge traffic jam in a city of 20 million people. You can taste the smog as you ride along. My eyes were sore and I had a headache by the time I reached the desert. It must have been 50 km or so before the air cleared and I see the blue sky again.
The ride took me through the desert for a while then skirted the coast of the red sea before making its way back inland. I stopped in the middle of the desert to take some photos and out of nowhere a truck full of cops appeared. They all jumped out of the back and surrounded me. It was lucky I had just put my camera away. They asked me why I was stopped and what was wrong. I told them I just stopped to eat something and they went crazy. They started shouting at me to move, “Go! Go now!” I rode off wondering what the hell is so important out there in the middle of the desert that you can’t even stop for a minute. I must check those photos.
Tourism in Egypt is virtually non-existent at the moment but for me that’s not all bad. I got a room in the Hilton in Hurghada for 40$ a night so I stayed for 2 nights. Hurghada is a nice little town spread along the red sea. It’s full of resorts and a few Russian tourists. It’s a popular diving spot with its turquoise clear waters. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to explore under the sea. I had to work out my route for the next few weeks and I had work to do on my bike.
I have been carrying spare tyres since Ireland and I decided it was time to put them on. I found a little tire shop on the side of the road and set about changing them. The rear went on smoothly enough but the front was a nightmare. The guy couldn’t get it on for the life of him. It took the two of us about an hour to finally get it on but then it wouldn’t fit right. We had to beat it as we pumped till finally it went up.
I rode off on my next mission, to find US$ for Sudan as their ATM machines will not work with foreign cards. I pulled into a bank but they would not change money unless I had an account. I asked to open an account and was basically told to piss off. This also happened at the next bank. I asked them where I was supposed to change money and they said they didn’t know. As I was leaving a customer who overheard me approached and told me about a whole street of money changing shops a few blocks away. It seems the banks don’t even know where their opposition works.
When I jumped on my bike the front wheel was flat again so I had to push the bike back around to my new friend the tire repair man. He removed the bead again and cleaned it more thoroughly before pumping it again. This time it seemed to be holding, the guy was so happy he even tried to charge me again.