10 February 2011
Total Distance: 19835
Distance covered today:669km
Finish: Pyramids, Cairo, Egypt
Yesterday evening, as per last experience, the Jordanian side was very efficient. They even have a massive vehicle scanner which means no unpacking and manually placing every bag through x-rays like on the Egyptian side. Once we were on the boat we are told 'sorry, you must get off the boat because you have no Egyptian visa'. At this stage my temper flared into Zone Red as I was told personally by an official at the Egyptian Embassy in Amman yesterday that we can get a visa upon arrival. I told them in no uncertain terms we are not getting off the boat. So, here we are, back on the Egyptian side, Nuweiba. We drove off the ferry 05h20. Remember 05h20. First of all we were told the person who issues visas, will only be in at 09h00. Shortly after 9h00 he arrived and told us that we will have to wait because there is a 'problem' with our passports. Come back in 1 hour. What is the problem I asked. Come back in 1 hour! OK, 1 hour later I was back and they tell me: come back in 1 hour. This is not going our way. Another hour later I am called into a back office and 2 gorillas start to ask me questions in the most broken English: You where from? What you do? What why come gibberish? I am pulling out all sorts of documents thinking a paper war might win the battle including our paperwork from the Libyans, our flight tickets etc. etc. Another hour later a youngish looking man walks past and these 2 gorillas nearly knocked their chairs and tables over while jumping to attention and breaking a sweat just by seeing the arrival of Mr Cool. Some time later I was called in by Mr Cool. He asked me in perfect English, French and Arabic what language I prefer. I thought telling him 'Afrikaans' would not be the appropriate answer. First he played good cop by softening me up by asking familiar questions - where are you from etc. Slowly but surely though it start turning into a full-on interrogation and the gloves came off. Over and over the same questions - why are we here, where do we go to, how many languages do we have in South Africa (testing if I am actually a South African), what do I think of the current situation in Cairo - waiting for an irregular answer. 2 hours later and he told me I should go outside and wait for 10 minutes. 30 minutes later I am called to another office and given our passports with our visa in and told to do the paperwork for the vehicle. Arriving at the Customs Office, the officer is actually very helpful and tells me that he can unfortunately only give me a permit for the vehicle for 3 days. Why I asked. Because our visas are only valid for 3 days. So back to the Immigration Office to ask why we only got 3 days. No problem the officer said, you can actually stay longer if you wish. I told him that 'No problem' was exactly what the embassy official told me about getting a visa on the border. No problem mister. Yeah right, I may look stupid but we are not going to fall in the trap for the 3rd time by believing 'No Problem' answers. Shortly before 3pm we drive out - nearly TEN HOURS after arrival! My mood is sour and the arrogant idiots put us into a dangerous position to drive like crazy to cover the distance 1280km to the Libyan border in just over 2 days through a country in turmoil. We got fuel and after the petrol attendant try to overcharge me with more than R50, we took off again through the Sinai Desert via St Katherine. At the least the desert scenery was as beautiful as the first time we came through here. Some parts actually look similar to Wadi Rum's landscape. We hit the coastline just as a magnificent sunset made the day better. Driving north along the eastern side of the Red Sea we are starting to look for accommodation but due to the economic meltdown and political turmoil every town, every village is covered in darkness and not a single hotel is open. Got a call from Ehab to tell us that Mubarak is going to give an important speech and as he does not know what the result will be he advised us to get as quick as possible to the western side of Cairo and not to be trapped on the east should the speech not be well-received. Shortly after 9pm we drove into a Cairo I don't recognize. Normally the highways which are covered bumper to bumper with traffic is void of life. The city is as dark as the desert and an eerie ominous air is hanging above it. At various point between the Suez Canal and Cairo, we are stopped by Army personnel blocking the road with massive tanks. We saw tanks every few kilometres yet we are treated with the utmost courtesy and apologising for the state of the country and not once do we feel threatened by army or civilians. We took the ring road around the Cairo to avoid the centre at all cost. This road took us right passed the pyramids. As it was getting late and we have not had the best of night's rest for the last 4 nights, we decided to use the army as our barrier. So we drove right up to the entrance gates of the pyramids opposite the 5star Mena House Hotel where we stay when I do the exclusive Africa tours with the Australians tour groups. We asked the officer in charge if we can sleep there behind the tanks after seeing everyone is in a relaxed mood. The hotel allows us to use their marble covered toilet facilities. So, here we are in Cairo, sleeping on the side of the road in the middle of city void of life where normally the streets are buzzing with people 24 hours of the day. But who else can say they fell asleep in the shadows of the pyramids?!
Cape to Cairo has been achieved. Certainly not the way we anticipated and the joyful atmosphere was lacking due to sombre city and being surrounded by soldiers and tanks. However we cannot be in a safer place.11 February 2011
Total Distance: 20485
Distance covered today:650km
Start: Pyramids, Cairo
Finish: Golden Sun Hotel, Soloum, Egypt
The night passed without any incident and not even a car horn was blown. We took off at 6am and headed for Alexandria where we had to fetch the two other travellers who booked the same agent and sharing the cost of our trip through Libya. After a quick drive down the promenade of Alexandria which is lined with high-rise buildings around a lovely bay where once a massive lighthouse stood guard (also one of the Ancient Seven Wonders of the world). We fetched Mary and Dallas (don't ask for his nick-name!) from their hotel and took off to the Libyan border along the north coast. Mary is originally from Ireland and Dallas is Australian and they currently travel from the Far East to Ireland through the Middle East including places like Uzbekistan, Turkistan, Iraq, Iran and other weird and wonderful places. We made space for them behind our seats and they were not too uncomfortable. For the next 500km we saw endless hotels, shops and restaurants shut and it is very depressing to see. Finding food was quite a mission but eventually we got a village where the mosque just finished and everyone was queuing for food. We got bread rolls and fruit and soon after pulled into the deserted entrance of the Palm Beach Resort. The oranges we bought were probably the best I have had in my entire life - super sweet, juicy and no pips.
We pulled into Soloum which is the last town some 10km from the Libyan border. The hotel leaves much to be desired as although the rooms are clean, the mattresses are so thin you feel every wooden slat underneath and the hot water showers we were promised are non-existent.
The trip through Egypt became a constant battle against bad luck, bureaucracy, political upheaval, circumstances changing on a daily basis, back-up plans crashing down one after the other. However against all odds, we achieved our overall goal irrespective of the obstacles thrown at us and by taking the tiniest gaps of opportunities we were given. As Teena once said, where the one door closes another opens. Going through Africa is not about standing frustrated in front of closed doors but taking the bold step over the threshold of a door always left slightly ajar and opening yourselves and your mind for the 'Great Unknown' awaiting you on the other side.12 February 2011
Total Distance: 20813
Distance covered today:328km
Start: Golden Sun Hotel, Soloum, Egypt
Finish: Desert wild camping some 300km west of the Egypt/Libya border
After a relatively painless 1-hour border procedure on the Egyptian side, we crossed to Libya in order to meet our 8am appointment with our Libyan travel agent. We got stopped at the first gate and as our agent has our visa we cannot proceed any further. We were told via email that he will be waiting at the gate for us, but no-one approached us so we had no choice but to unpack our chairs and wait. Eventually a very friendly young man approached us and shouted 'Bafana Bafana' when he saw the South African flag on the side of the vehicle. He called me over and asked me what we would like to eat and drink. I told him we have no Libyan money but he insisted that he will pay for it. We got hot dog rolls with a spicy mince inside - very tasty. A few other border officials took pity on us and came chatting in a friendly manner about this and that. Eventually the man who bought us food came over again and we asked him to contact our agent on his phone and we were told that due to the change in dates we had to make to our itinerary after the unrest in Egypt, they are struggling to get the confirmation from their Ministry of Tourism. So we sat at the border until 12pm when our guide Ali eventually arrived. And 2.5 hours later we were inside Libya with actually very little hassles if any. Our Samaritan turns out to be the Head of Narcotics at the border and Libya has Zero Tolerance for drugs and alcohol, so we expected a gruelling check of the vehicle. However, he just asked me if we have alcohol and looking him in the eyes, I said only a dry empty bottle and not a single bag was unpacked from the vehicle.
The Libyan landscape is like parts of Sudan - flat and featureless. We soon left the coastal road and drove through the desert. No trees and the tallest bush is no more than 30cm high. And did I mention flat! Camels are walking around seemingly wild. Shortly after sunset we just pulled off the road a few hundred meters and to put up camp. The temperatures soon dropped to freezing and after a lovely hot meal prepared by Dallas and Mary, we hit the warmth of our sleeping bags.13 February 2011
Total Distance: 21021
Distance covered today: 208 km
Start: Desert wild camping some 300km west of the Egypt/Libya border, Libya
Finish: Youth Hostel, Cyrene, Libya
We have discovered that the itinerary proposed by our agent was not doable unless we travel at 160km per hour. Mary and Dallas are travelling with Ali in his vehicle so they can do this but not the Land Rover. So we are now trying to extend the stay to do all the items we would like to see but with very strict rules in Libya, it will take time to organise. In the meantime we decided to go to one of the old Greek cities along the Mediterranean Coast called Cyrene. We drove on a road some 2km east of our camp straight north until we got the coastline. Some 30km before we got to the coast, the vegetation and the landscape experienced a dramatic change. The non-existent vegetation suddenly turned into lush green fields of grass with many flocks of sheep with very long woolly coats to protect them again the bitter cold. The flat landscape turned into soft undulating hills which also brought along settlements and off course traffic. We thought Egyptian drivers are bad but the Libyans are suicidal. They overtake another car even when a car is coming at full speed from the front on a collision course. The one in the front has no choice but swerve to the edge of the road in order to prevent an accident.
We got to Cyrene by lunchtime and after lunch we explored the ancient ruins which span a huge area and situated on a hill giving perfect vantage over the valley below and the sea in the distance. We see beautiful statues where every plead in the dresses on the figures is carved into the marble. Every feature in the body and dress is perfectly captures in stone. Some mosaic floors adorn parts of the buildings and huge pillars reach at perfect angles for the cold skies above. The best of this massive open air museum though is that not a single tourist can be seen. We have the whole place for ourselves. Where can one do this anywhere else in the world!
Also here in Libya is an air of apprehension as we see restaurants void of people and Ali our guide tells us that the police is cracking down on any potential uprising which has now seen the end of presidents in countries on both sides of Libya - Tunisia and Egypt. It is a shame to a certain extent not to see the hustle and bustle of people doing what they normally do but it is still great to be in a country which very few tourists actually ever visit.
14 February 2011
Total Distance: 21808
Distance covered today: 787 km
Start: Youth Hostel, Cyrene, Libya
Finish: Youth Hostel, Sirt, Libya
The road from Cyrene hugs the coastline but one can't always see it as it often behind a 2nd drop of landscape. In fact the landscape so far has not changed that often and it is very flat. Most of the population lives along the coastline so we encounter often villages however poverty is evident as we still have to come across a nice-looking house in any of the towns. The houses are normal brick houses but most of them are unfinished and unpainted. Oil was discovered not long after independence during a time of political freedom. Before oil thought the country was one of the poorest in the world. Kaddafi came to power at a very young age of 27 and soon outlawed opposition parties, press freedom etc. It seems though as if he is popular enough to withstand the political upheaval in the region. The road infrastructure is very good with tar roads criss-crossing the country and at least this ensures us covering ground in good time. One finds a number of blue gum trees along the way as well as palm trees but very little else in the range of trees. There are also grape vines but only for the production of grapes as alcohol is strictly forbidden in the country (although we do hear that the youth often makes their own alcohol and that there is a lively black market in alcohol). It will be very hard to cross the country without a guide as all signage is in Arabic. The only time when one sees English on billboards will be close to tourist sites like the Roman cities. Across of our accommodation is a restaurant and it is spelt in 3 different ways along the wall and on signs - restaurant, restorant and restautant. As we could not reach Leptis Magna in one day, we had to find a place close enough at that was Sirt. As this was the birthplace of Kaddafi, its importance has grown tremendously over the last decade or two. He believes in a United States of Africa and thus started a project where massive administration offices were erected in the hope that it will become a type of 'Washington' where other African countries will set up their representation. The eventual goal will be to change the capital from Tripoli to Sirt. Only time will tell, but we have only seen empty grounds and offices.
The wind today was incredible at it was the worst sandstorm we have encountered so far. For 3 hours one could look straight into the sun and the light was weaker than that of a full moon. Visibility was reduced to less than 100m.
Like yesterday the whole of the youth hostel is empty but we are happy to have hot showers and the hosts are very friendly offering to take us to a Turkish Restaurant which Mary and Dallas found in the guide books. The food was really good with things like quail on the menu. Most meals here are in the form of starter, a soup and main course.15 February 2011
Total Distance: 22143
Distance covered today: 335 km
Start: Youth Hostel, Sirt, Libya
Finish: Hostel, Leptis Magna, Libya
A relatively short drive for the day took us through more flat landscapes which changes only in vegetation - sometimes sparse green short grass to sandy deserts. We arrived shortly after midday at Leptis Magna and after checking into our hotel only a 2 minutes walk from the entrance, we headed to this famous Roman city which is supposedly the best in the whole of Africa. The size of the city is staggering - over 3 square kilometres and more than 75% of it is still covered by sand. The city was built next to a harbour and was the gateway to Southern Europe across the waters, Carthage in Tunisia, Alexandria in Egypt and the interior of Africa to the south and it was a very wealthy city based on trading from all the corners of the world. It was originally built by the Phoenicians and later extended by the Romans including Caeser. It dates back to some 100BC but was sadly destroyed by a massive earthquake in 365AD. The Italians did some incredible restorations and today one can see the most important parts of the city including the hot baths, the main entrance, the Forum and amphitheatre. To cover this large city one can spend a few days. To rebuild it will take most probably another 365 years. The granite for the pillars came from Greece (green), Egypt (red), Italy (white) and Algeria (blue) and the different coloured pillars increase the beauty of the city. As always the site is far more impressive than any photo can tell.16 February 2011
Total Distance: 22273
Distance covered today: 130 km
Start: Hostel, Leptis Magna, Libya
Finish: Hotel, Tripoli, Libya
After a morning visit of Leptis Magna, we headed out on the Suicide Highway to the capital of Libya, Tripoli. I call it Suicide because anyone driving here in Libya is taking his/her own life into their own hands. These people are obviously looking forward to the afterlife because they are driving like possessed. They do often 140km/h on a two lane road going through a busy town where cars pull out of drive-ways into the road, people making u-turns, stopping for no reason etc. They don't care about fuel consumption because it is silly cheap - R0.90 per litre. Yes, you are reading correct - less than R1 for a litre of diesel. Can't even buy water for that price.
The people are living off course in a police state. One can't drive 20km without going through a roadblock where one has to explain where you go to. We had to get an itinerary before we set off through the country and one has to stick to that for dear life. We find it extremely frustrating and even when we want to go and sleep in a city, we have to stop at the police barricade before entering the city and they must call 'somewhere' to get permission. I can completely understand why Black people in our country went into revolt due to the oppressive 'Pass-system' which controlled their movement.
We got into Tripoli and the azure blue Mediterranean is certainly looking very inviting and to be honest, at this stage we are at a point where we are ready to get out of this mess the sooner the better. Our aim is to get the Tunisian visa tomorrow and hopefully the sooner the better and next week catch the ferry from Tunis to Italy where we can breathe again outside this oppressive Arab world. But in the same breath we must say that the people are friendly. Just not our type of place we would like to live in and far removed from the Africa we know.
Thank you Adrie and Anet for passing on the latest travel info and yes, getting internet is very difficult but all is well.