2 April 08
Libya Border - Mersa Matrouth
After a midnight wake up call from Se to chase away the 'wild dogs' that were surrounding our camp we got a good nights rest and after an awesome shower and coffee were good to go at 9am. It was a nervous day when you have a border crossing and today was no exception with a crossing into Egypt looming large! We made it through Libyan emigration in about 1 hour and said farewell to Ahmed and Fathi who'd been great.(For anyone wanting to travel to Libya, Fathi Salama is a great guide and you can contact him on [email protected]) After that we were on our own and it was forward to the Egyptian side.
Right from the very first contact the Egyptian people were friendly and welcoming. We made it through immigration first which was a breeze as we were ushered to the front of the queue. Next we were back in our vehicles and being ushered to the front of the vehicle search queue. The locals actually had to reverse to let us in! Andy went first and drove over the inspection pit where a guy spent ages tapping and inspecting the underside of his landy. After that he went off the pit and went about unpacking various parts of his vehicle. Eventually we were called for inspection and a tall dude with glasses as me to open the back and he went through all the wolf boxes, look under my seat, looked through the cubby box, even got up onto the roof to inspect the amo boxes after I refuse to unbolt them and bring them done.
Next was the carnet man who checked our licence document and signed the bottom of the carnet and told s to drive to the traffic office about 20 meters away. This was where they check the engine and chassies numbers. We had no idea where ours were but eventually uncovered the engine fluid using a lot of brake fluid to clear away the grime and found the chassies number under the steering guard. They took a rubbing of these, stuck them to a piece of paper and sent us to the customs building. Here we had to copy all our documents, change money at the bank, and pay 502E£ for customs clearance. They gave us a piece of paper that we had to take back to the traffic office. The traffic office then sent us to the 3rd party insurance office who asked for 520E£ for insurance so it was back to the car for more $US, back to the bank to change it and then back to the insurance office. Once we got our insurance we were sent to get our Egyptian plates and licence document. Got the licence plate and were sent back to the customs office to get the carnet stamped. Go this and were sent back to the traffic office to get the Egyptian licence document, a small laminated car all in Arabic. We paid another 60E£ for this, fitted our number plates and were good to go! All this was done with genuine smiles and helpful assistance from all officials and was a really pleasant, if drawn out experience. All in all it took 4 hours. Egypt was notably different from Libya right away with wiser roads and cleaner towns. It was 3pm when we got through the border and we decided to make the drive to Mersa Matrouth about 250km from the border. Made it there by 6ish and booked into a very basic hotel. Went out for a great seafood meal of calamari, prawns and fish and turned in at 11ish after and exhausting day. CRAZY FUUL3 April 08Day 33Mersa Matrouh - Alexandria260kmBreakfast went down as the worst we've yet experienced! The deserted dinning room was so dusty I don't think it had been cleaned since the 70's. The curtains were falling down and windows were so grimy we could hardly see the sea view. The plates looked antique with dark cracks and the cutlery was dirty. I just hate to think what the kitchen looked like! Breakfast consisted of the most revolting fuul (mushed up beans with a thick layer of oil on the top), flat bread, cheesy triangle and jam. The fuul tasted like tasteless dog food and we opted to spread the cheesie and jam with our fingers rather than risk using the cutlery. This was all served by the strange man from reception and we could only laugh at how bad it all was!We did a bit of admin on the internet which was brilliantly super fast! Bought a Egyptian SIM card and said our goodbyes to travel buddies, Any and Noeleen, who were going to Cairo. We then took the coastal route to Alex.I learnt from the guidebook that 17.2 million land mines remain in the Western Desert from WWII!! Britain and Germany refuse to fund the de-mining since Egypt won't sign the Ottawa Treaty (agreeing to stop make land mines). Fair enough! We passed El Alamain where a huge battle was fought between the African corps and Germany, who were defeated and pushed back through Libya and Tunisia. Thousands of landmines remain along this coastal region of the Western Desert (everything west of the Nile) so we stayed on the tar road and admired the turquoise blue water instead. We also passed the area where a nuclear power plant is to be built in the next 10 years. It must be the prettiest power plant location ever (not sure about the landmines though?).Arriving in Alex on Thurs (their Fri) afternoon was absolutely chaotic with mad drivers, rush hour traffic and no apparent road rules. Bruce negotiated his way through the traffic very well and thanks to the GPS, and one wrong turn, we made it unscratched to our hotel, The Union. The only room available was the Delux Suite with an amazing sea view. At £190E£ (17£) we took it and oh my gosh it's so wonderful to have a clean room, sparkling bathroom, AND balcony onto the beautiful harbour. This place is top draw for us and a real treat! We stayed in the 'old town' part of Alex and there is a huge harbour bay curving around with a fort at one end. We left Ubhejane parked in a public car park and he's got many watchful eyes looking after him… for a price of baksheesh!Ordering beers to our room we had sundowners looking over the harbour with tooting horns below. We went out for dinner to Denis restaurant for some local seafood. Pleasantly it wasn't touristy, had great calamari, served beers for Bruce, and was very reasonably priced. Taking a stroll through the busy night streets in Alex we picked up a good vibe and everyone was genuinely friendly and wanting to talk to us without asking for Baksheesh. There was a party in the street for a new shop that had opened and fireworks were banging and music booming. We really like Alex and oh the best thing is that we found a lady to do ALL our dirty washing. How brilliant. Climbing into clean crisp sheets we were very happy!FISHERMAN AND CATACOOMBES4 April 08Day 34Alexandria, Egypt0 kmWe woke to the view of local fisherman fishing with nets in the harbour. We watched as they threw the massive net in from a wooden rowing boat until they had a complete circle covered. Going down to the shore we watched with the local gathering as they then pulled in the net with 2 guys beating the water to chase the fish into the net. It was fun watching with the friendly locals and they caught a fair few fish but mostly tiny ones which were shared out amongst them whilst the bigger ones were sold on the spot. Breakfast was a million steps up on yesterdays with a croissant, jam, butter, cheesy, egg and soft roll with tea. This hotel is great! We decided to explore Alex on foot and walk to the catacombs. On the way we happened to have a surprisingly brilliant shopping day finding all our random things that we needed. We bought: a replacement lock for the cubby box, blue overalls for Bruce (for working on the landy), sugarcane juice, plug adapter and camera lense cleaning kit. We were super chuffed with ourselves. The walk through Alex took us right through the poorest part of town and we experienced the slums first hand. Since it was their weekend there were markets everywhere selling all sorts of interesting things from hedgehogs to bunnies and sweet potatoes. Everyone was so poor yet so friendly.The catacombs were excellent. They were discovered in the 1900's when a donkey cart disappeared down a hole. They are a maze of tunnels 35m underground where people were buried in sarcophages (in 2nd Century). A spiral staircase wound down the shaft where the bodies were lowered to 3 levels of tombs. The last is becoming flooded with spring water but fun to explore.Afterwards we walked about 4km back to our hotel, stopping for a great fruit juice cocktail with ice cream, and with our new adapter for the laptop we sat and organised our Libyan photos and blog all afternoon with beer and a fantastic view!