To the Western Desert, Bagdad, El-Kharga, Dakhla, Faranfra, for not much.
The new friends in Luxor invite me for dinner, one more last time, next morning I leave Luxor, I need to find my way back to Cairo, need sort out my car paperwork. I have been nearly one month in the country. My chosen route takes me west into the desert. "Bagdad 145" reads a sign on road to the El-Kharga oasis. The road is long and tiring, featureless, looks mostly like construction rubble near the road. The tabletop mountain to the left is always far away. I do 500km from Luxor to Dakhla, which I find a bit smoggy when sun has set already. There is a fine restaurant, Ahmed Hamdy; I am so hungry, eat so much; soup, salad, tahini, chicken, rice and spinach.
The morning reveals part of the cause for the smog, brick burning chimneys, burn and smoke in the sunrise.
Not far is Al-Qasr, Islamic village, Said shows me round for small baksheesh, leads me through its alleys, "mind your head", he has the keys for the corn mill, olive press and madrasa (school), complete with prison cell. The mud mosque calls back memories of Djenne, Mali. The minaret is Abuuyid, 1000 years old. I climb the old stairs to its top, is a quiet morning, I am alone here.
I head on. It is a nice drive, I expect a lot for the remainder of the day. Approaching Faranfra oasis however the air becomes more humid/foggy, the White Desert then is completely overcast. To bring a desert to life it takes light, the conditions today, a joyless grey experience, no luck with photos. No point to hang about. I roll 900kms straight into Cairo. Only after sunset the skies turn red, I have been to the desert with a car with no name. Give me Sakara! my beer, though it is hard to attract the waiters’ attention, on TV the Angola Africa cup has commenced.
Days in Cairo, Smog and bureaucracy.
I come to Cairo on the 14th of Jan - and Christina (wordpress) is here again, back from a month in Yemen. She intends to stay.
Cairo is all smog, this is winter, cold, clouds; some rain is expected for the weekend. I like it.
After a month in Egypt I need to get my papers sorted. Extending the Visa is really easy, takes 2 hours, for 3 months or 6 months, no problem; costs next to nothing.
Doing the car papers turns out to be a bit more of a hassle, actually really difficult (in my case) and eventually undoable (in my case, because of a number discrepancy). I find the customs office that actually deals with it out on the airport (taxi), after having been to another office (taxi). I am assigned a guy, Karim, he buys a half a dozen of papers, makes dozens of copies, we buy insurance for 520 E£, (Egyptian Pounds, 1 USD is 5 E£, 1 EUR is 8 E£), is looking good, then I need to come back with the van, the next day. I pay 50 E£ to Karim head back 20km to downtown, by bus now.
I am back on the airport the next morning. I wait for Karim. No way to do that on my own, understand/read the language, understand the process and system. He comes eventually. He gets permissions and some stamps and signatures on second and first floor, buys some more paperwork for a few pounds, we get a tea, drink, wait, he smokes, you want to be prepared.
Now we enter the yard for checking actual car numbers (chassis, engine) with paper numbers and they find that the actual engine number doesn’t match with the engine number on the carnet. This is not good. Nobody cares in Europe what engine is in the car? Egyptian bureaucracy does and now starts its real munch; 50 or so papers, 50 or so signatures, vistas and permissions from offices yard, 1st floor and 2nd floor; from left to right and back to the car park and all the way back up to the 2nd floor. Like exercise, 3 copies, 5 copies and more copies, 2 E£ here for papers, 5 E£ for copies and so on, 1 E£ for tea for my guy, 1 E£ for a my own tea, 13 E£ here and more there. Another 5 E£ for more copies and some change for the guy leaning at the door. At some point the chief of the helpers calls the chief of the offices, some colonel, we go and see him. Another 5-10 offices later I get my carnet back with one additional month granted, I pay 1050 E£. What do you want, is for a whole month? Another guy who presents himself as the brother of Karim starts hanging around us, Mustafa, an idiot, he wants to help as well (and later money). He babbles constantly. Back to insurance, I get my 520 E£ back from insurance, oh this is not bad. All has its order. I don’t need it as I won’t get my car papers completed. What does that mean?
My guy Karim, wants another tea, Mustapha too, - I need to get rid of him. How good are my papers now? The idiot is certainly disturbing for my understanding. Well, we need to drive first to another office to get a no claims certificate. OK, a good chance to get rid of the new guy, who strangely doesn’t understand why I am not taking him, as he is the brother. There is a rule, never believe this!
My helper and I leave for the other office in Cairo town, get there after another 30 minutes the no-claims paper what-ever it is worth it. I pay Karim another 200 E£ for all his help, I could not have done without him. But he advises me I have to go to Nuweiba on the Gulf of Aqabah (is where I entered) and have my car papers finalized, only they can correct the mistake in the vehicle documents. The important thing is my customs/carnet papers are ok; I do not dare asking whether I should drive without insurance.
So how good are my papers?
Drive to Nuweiba and back.
So there Christina and I go and see the Great Pyramids in Giza; want to at least have seen the pyramids, who knows how far I get with the papers I have. The pyramids are a fantastic sight this morning, majestic, sound architecture, built to outlast time; why exactly they were built is still so much a theme of speculations. Once we wonder out into the desert and escape the so well known busses and masses and associated hassles, serenity sets in and the scope of the task of what it took to achieve organising and constructing these monuments becomes even more phenomenal, in four and a half millennia no one else has attempted similar. Cairo town lies to the east a bit cloudy, some rain this morning; more rain is expected.
After entering the heart of Cheops/Khufu, and I don’t feel any special energy, just the lack of Oxygen, but some go in there to pray, we set out, drive East, traverse Cairo, past the airport, leave the smog behind, through the tunnel under the Suez canal, enter Sinai. There is a lot of water next to the road, a lot of mud on the road, darkness falls, it is dangerous to drive, there’s a truck half submerged where the road gave in to the waters. Heavy rains and associated flash floods in Eastern Egypt have caused death and destruction. But we are lucky. The road is open, apart from debris, mud and rocks dry when we go through.
Nuweiba at 11 at night, delicious food is found at Dr. Shish Kebab. We pour a good whisky in our cokes under the table. Road was so wearying.
In Nuweiba customs, I find a good bunch of higher officers; one speaks English well, gives me his phone number and explains. The papers are what they are. I should not worry too much and enjoy my time in Egypt. The police on the street do not understand so much about tourist’s customs papers, "just get a bit loud with them" he advocates. I thank him so much, I don’t dare asking how to do without insurance.
So we drive back, papers still only half good, no insurance. The road is closed and open and closed again after another bout of rain. The news report 17 dead in rain related floods. Again we get through and arrive back in Cairo. 1000 km for not so much!
Days in Cairo, Muslim quarters.
I am glad to get a second chance in Cairo, which was a dream destination for so many years. We park again where I stayed before, in Zamalek, the island in the Nile, on the corniche road near the Al-Gezira Sports Club, near the El-Pasha restaurant, which is apparently the best restaurant in Egypt, 3rd best in Africa; an Egyptian friend would once invite us there, the Italian restaurant (part of El-Pasha’s 5 or so restaurants), I can confirm it serves pretty good food. The El-Pasha (or is it Le Pasha) boat also houses Jonnies Pub, where the good-looking and better-off all have the obligatory Jonny Walker Black on the table, music around midnight becomes loud, a mix of oriental, lounge, salsa, it is not expensive, unless you have a bottle of Black Label. A nice surrounding, el-Zamalek, but how/why did I come especially right here. Well was the only parking that I could find on my first day back in December the 23rd that morning when I arrived. The only street with free spaces after touring for 6 hours! Restaurants have no clients in mornings. All is packed in evenings, the honking and shouting of the park guys usually goes on till 3 a.m.
Cairo, now I have some time for you, a bit more time, 3 weeks and a bit. And these 3 weeks would rush by in no time. I force myself everyday through my Read and Write Arabic book; am actually making some progress recognise the letters. But more than anything else I want people, understand how people live. So there we go every other day over the bridge, from Zamalek to the East, Tahir Square, Talat Harp Square, and very often further east into the Muslim quarters, especially around Friday prayers, to the Coptic churches on Sundays, also to the Egyptian museum, but more to that later. And there would be always a lot more to do.
Every day we eat falafel (fried seasoned chickpea paste balls), fried eggplant, babaganug (paste on eggplant base), always spicy Egyptian pickles to go along, is so cheap and so delicious, also Kushari (special melange of spicy lentils, rice, noodles, tomato sauce, or should it be really spelt French couch à riz?), also sweat potatoes from a street oven. Is all so delicious and cheap!
There is an Indian restaurant in Mohandeseen, named Bukhara, London style Indian cuisine so nice to change sometimes. And there is - Beano’s American coffee chain in Zamalek, I know, but I can plug in my computer and work till late, before having a quick beer or many quick ones in Jonnies on my way home. After a while everybody knows you, the park guys, the Beano’s people, the guy behind the bar, the falafel people, I always like a city once I have found my own little way round.
Egypt wins the Football Africa Cup of Nations in Angola, days of riot.
There finally, with no forewarning, is usual for such events, the decisive counter with the one genius pass by Mohamed Zidan in an otherwise dull match that has just been dragging on for 85 minutes. A quick pass through the legs of a Ghanaian, and Mohamed Gedo scores nicely into the far right corner.
That was it then. Tears and disbelieve on the Ghanaian side, astounding and only eventually real joy with the Egyptians, not even my pub wants to go as crazy as should here in Cairo so far away from Angola, the localization of the real events. Just when we thought about hanging in on there for another 20 minutes or longer of extra time luck strikes. So I've got to leave my beers and crawl out and take pictures then.
Well Egypt writes history, 3rd win of the CAN, the Coup Afrique des Nations in a row; no one else has achieved this so-far. Egypt today is the greatest nation in Africa and a proud people celebrate on the streets of Cairo till morning and tiredness overtakes again. A couple of 100,000 stop every car or bus, the traffic jam of honking celebrations reaches beyond - well beyond what I see here in Mohandessien. The interesting fact is, hardly any police show up, cordon off or accompany the peaceful victory demonstrations, no alcohol is involved, no hooliganism, no rioting, this is a real family event, with real joy, the olds and veiled women come out, bring babies and children, bratty youngsters, and nobles. And it carries on, seems only I am tired. Welcome to Egypt.
Sara, a friend has maybe captured the better images in Luxor A day at the riots.
Days in Cairo. Smog over the roofs and satellite dishes.
There are these days and weeks when u go without it, but then comes a time when you are in dire need for one. The hotel and the shower! This one comes with a view.