From Dahab to Luxor
Next was our first long stretch driving in convoy. We cut across the Sinai peninsular through some pretty spectacular but desolate mountains towards the Gulf of Suez. All along the way we were stopped by police checkpoints, set up in seemingly the middle of nowhere. Sometimes they wanted to see our passports, sometimes not, sometimes they wanted to see our Egyptian licences, sometimes not, sometimes we were just waved through after Debs showed them a list with an official looking stamp on it.
One particularly large oasis was the only scenic relief from the desert where there would be hardly a blade of grass to be seen. Once at the Gulf of Suez, the scenery becanme even less interesting. Nothing but flat desert to the right and flat sea to the left, with the occasional small oil rig or ship.
Approaching Suez, there were more settlements and villages, mostly pretty run down and poor. Our abiding memory of the region will be the incredible amounts of rubbish just lying around - even in the uninhabited desert regions where it just blows around and accumulates on spiny bushes.
A we approached the Suez Canal, we could see huge container ships slowily making their way north or south. We took the tunnel underneath which cost us the incredibly tiny sum of 2 Egyptian pounds (about 50 cents) ! Would that tolls at home were of that magnitude.
Once on the western side of the Gulf, we needed to make as much distance as possible as it was getting late and there were no places for us to camp. The area around Suez itself is all powerlines stretching in every direction, desert, mine sites, desert, factories, desert ... you get the idea. One of the ugliest landscapes in the world we are sure. As we headed south there were a few resorts lining the waterside. Sometimes these were on the tiniest of spaces as the road itself hugged the water nearly all the way. And on we drove into the early evening looking for a place we could pull up for the night. Eventually we found a dry area just off the road where we could stay the night, and maybe sleep if the trucks would be kind enough to stop blasting their horns every five minutes! Of couse some passing police decided we needed investigating (and wanted the usual "payment" of course), but left us alone after some chatting with Debs who always seems to know how best to handle them. Needless to say not our most comfortable night - we were also close enough to a town to get a 4.30 am wake up call from the mosque as well, so we were all up well before dawn and eager to get on the road.
Driving down the coast the next day was also a revelation. Towards the Red Sea resort areas, the building sarted. For 100kms or more there was resort after resort after resort. Some finished, most in varying stages of construction, with most looking as if they had been abandoned for yearswith no progress. And those that were up and running were exactly the sort of place you would not want to stay, looking more like council built mass housing! Don't be fooled by glossy brochures of glamorous Red Sea Resorts! They are awful. Apparently the diving is great, but you have to go quite a way offshore to the reefs. Dahab was a much nicer place and the diving was right there in front of you.
More police roadblocks were encountered -0 they seem to be the norm on the roads here. One however was more interesting. We were stopped and our Egyptian drivers' licences were taken (along with Hans and Jenny's passports). There was much fuss that our Egyptian licence plates were attached in the wrong place and we had to pay a fine of 50 Egyptian pounds per vehicle. Of course Debs was not going to fall for this! She kept insisting that there was a language problem and that calling the tourist police to get a good English speaker would clear all this up. Of course he was not too keen on this - after all this was a nice little earner for him and he didn't want to let any others police know! Mind you, we weren't the only ones pulled up. The locals seemed to suffer the same demands. How we would have fared on our own we don't know -0 Debs is invaluable!!
So we bypassed the uninspiring resort area of Hurgarda and kept on to Safaga. We stayed in a camp ground with the lovely name of Lotus Bay, where we enjoyed hot showers and a good sheltered area to sit and relax over dinner. We went for a drive around the port town itself. A pleasant enough place, not one to linger too long in. Just finding somewhere to buy some water and softt drink was reasonably difficult. Most shops were tiny with very limited goods, but we found one, a huge one, about the size of your average 711.
The main reason for getting to Safaga was the official convoy to Luxor. The route is suppsedly under threat from terrorist activity against tourists, so you get significant police escort. No private or tourist vehicles can travel the road to Luxor alone. So we had to marshall in a large yard along with hundreds of coaches and minibuses and then proceed with police escort onto the road. The police like to keep everyone moving at high speed and hassle you along if you are going too slow. However, yours truely had an attack of awful nausea (not unexpected in this country...) and at one stage I was feeling dreadfully sick and had to get Russ to stop so I could getout of the car. Well, what a commotion. The rest of our convoy stopped with us by the side of the road, then the police drew up alongside and fanned out with guns drawn, stopping all the hundreds of vehicles behind us that normally use the road (we were near the end of the line and it was mostly trucks and commercial vehicles).
After about 4 hours of driving through desert, we suddenly hit lush green. We had reached the Nile Valley. Then we turned south towards Luxor and drove through the most fertile farmland you can imagine. The demarcation is extraordinary between dry and fertile.
And so at last in Luxor at Rezeiky Camp for two nights, where we had rooms and, importantly, hot showers of course.