Daily Archives: March 16, 2009
Out of Africa
The last 60 hours have been interesting to say the least. To tell the story will take a bit of time and is a great reminder of how things on the road are totally out of your control.
The plan was to leave Luxor on Friday evening hoping to take a bus to Hurghada on the cost of the Red Sea. From here I was take a ferry for a 90 minute trip to Sharm El Sheik on the southernmost tip of the Sinai Pennisula and go up the coast to Dahab on Saturday. I’d make a day trip to St Catherine’s before heading to Jordan by ferry.
Things didn’t quite go according to schedule.
The bus ride from Luxor to Hurghada went smoothly enough for a six hour bus ride. I arrived in Hurghada at ten past midnight and where I was supposed to have a guy from a hotel where I had reserved a room waiting for me. There was no one there. I waited a full 30 minutes before walking across the street to another hotel and booking a room for the night. My bus was 10 minutes late, which in Egypt is right on time. If you can’t show up when you are supposed to, and I have no idea where your hotel is, then you lose my business.
The next morning I wake up, pack up all my stuff and get ready to make the trip to the ferry station. I was told that the boat leaved at noon, so I got there plenty early. I get to the ticket office only to find out that the ferry wasn’t running. It was in dry dock in Suez for repairs. I was going to have to go by bus.
If you look at a map, I basically had to go up the coast to Suez then back down the other side of the coast on the Sinai peninsula. The attraction of the ferry for a trip like this is pretty obvious. I flagged a cab which took me to the wrong bus station, and then got another cab which took me to the correct bus station. By this time it was 11:30am. The bus to Dahab wasn’t leaving until 11pm but there was a bus going to Suez at 1pm. I could go to Suez and then figure it out from there. I would at least be much closer even if I had to stay there overnight.
The bus was a real piece of shit. I’d like to put it in more gentile terms, but that is what it was. The seat cushions weren’t attached to the seats. There was just bare metal and a cushion on top. Everything was painted black. Every part of the bus was covered with dust and there was a big spare tire in the middle of the bus. The ride itself wasn’t too bad. Egypt around the Red Sea seems much cleaner and more developed the Egypt along the nile. The area around the north Red Sea contains what little oil industry Egypt has.
We pulled into Suez around 5:30pm. Up until then, I hadn’t see much in the way of industry in Egypt. It seemed Suez was a giant industrial park for the rest of the country. In addition to all the shipping going through the canal, there was evidence of factories, milling, and other signs of economic activity lacking in the rest of the country.
There was a bus leaving for Sharm El Sheik at 6:30pm. A German couple who was on my bus from Hurghada asked if I was interested in getting a private car to St. Catherine’s, the world oldest Christian monastery. It would cost more than the bus, but it would eliminate later bus rides from Sharm to Dahab and a day trip to St. Catherine’s. The bus would cost around 40 EGP and the car would cost about 100 EGP, but it would eliminate a night in Sharm, which would probably be expensive, and the future bus ride and day trips. I agreed.
The car we got was a minibus. This did no surprise me as this is how most of the private trips are arranged. As it was a minibus, there were also some other passengers that we were taking to drop off on the say to St. Catherine’s. This bothered the Germans. They expected to be the only passengers and to have a real car, not a van. I didn’t see what the big deal was. We were being taken to where we wanted to go for a price we agreed upon.
We drove under the Suez Canal and crossed from Africa to Asia. Probably the only place on earth you can cross continents underground. It was dark and I couldn’t see the canal or anything else, During the six hours we had to stop at eight police checkpoints and four times I had to produce my passport. I had no clue what they were looking for or what purpose they served, other than to make work for police.
We eventually pull into St. Catherine’s at about midnight, and the Germans inform me that they were not going to pay the driver the price they agreed upon. They (in reality the man in the group) were upset that the Egyptians only paid 50 pounds and we were paying 100. This seemed to him to be some great injustice. Also, he was also upset that he didn’t get to ride in a car. They argued with the driver for 30 minutes while I sat in the van freezing my ass off because it was midnight in March in the desert mountains.
I don’t know how things ended up, but I was embarrassed to have been associated with the German couple. We agreed upon 100 pounds and if he didn’t like the van or the other passengers he didn’t have to go. He knew all that when we started. Also, life isn’t fair. There is nothing in Egypt that tourists are going to pay the same price for as locals. That’s life. I didn’t get worked up over it because I wasn’t concerned so much about what other people were paying so much as what sort of value I was getting out of it. At 100 pounds it was a deal for me, even if someone else got to go for 50. If I hadn’t paid 100, the trip wouldn’t have happened.
The driver was a nice guy and took me to the guesthouse at St. Catherine’s. I was able to get a room for US$25 on the grounds of the monastery. I ended up paying the driver 120 just because I felt bad for what the Germans had done to him. (the poor guy must have felt like Poland). I finally got to go to bed.
I woke up and with all the activity of the night before forgot that I was in the mountains. I opened up the door of my room to see the sun hitting the mountain side right outside my door. It was a beautiful morning. I grabbed my camera and set out to take some photos of St. Catherine’s (a World Heritage Site) before I took the bus to Dahab. I walked around outside the walls of the monastery for a bit only to be denied entrance to the grounds of the monastery itself. In all the commotion I had forgotten it was Sunday. It was closed.
So far for those of you keeping score, we have a broken ferry, cheap ass Germans and a closed monastery. Now I had to decide what to do. I could stay another day and wait for the grounds to open on Monday, or I could just go to Dahab. I picked Dahab. Unfortunately, there was one bit of information I didn’t know. Dahab wasn’t the launching point for the ferry to Jordan. That was further north in Nuweiba. There were also no buses running so I ended up just taking another private car (this time the cost was totally on my shoulders) to go to the ferry terminal. I made the executive decision to cut my Egypt losses short and just go to Jordan today.
I get to Nuweiba and find out that the cost of a ticket for foreigners is US$75, which seemed really expensive. I arrived at 1pm and the boat was leaving at 3pm, so I paid the ticket (there was really no other way to get to Jordan) and set out to wait at the terminal. I met an Australian guy who was on my bus going to Abu Simbel and we chatted up. I also met some Canadians and Americans. Eventually it was time to get on the ferry. All the foreigners loaded on to a bus and went to the boat.
Just then we heard a siren and a convoy of Land Rovers and back Mercedes. Some government official, of which country I don’t know, wanted to take the ferry. The bus stopped and we waited for the official to get on the boat. As it turns out, not only was the loading delayed, the entire trip was canceled because the official wanted to take the whole ferry for himself and his entourage. WHAT. A. DICK.
Several hundred people including tourists from every major country on Earth were stranded so Senior Minister Abdul El Dickhead could travel without having to sit next to other people. That is a microcosm is what is wrong with Egypt. This wasn’t planned before hand. We were literally about to start boarding the ship when this guy showed up.
So back to the holding pen we go.
Eventually at 5:30pm, the boat has returned and we start the boarding process again. There was nothing about this entire process which made sense. We spent 90 minutes on the boat before we left. We (foreigners) had our passports checked 3 times on the boat, each time they looked for the exact same thing. They had a desk to get Jordanian stamps on the boat, which at first made sense, but they just took my passport and told me they would give it back when we arrived in Aqaba.
The passport process in Jordan was a mess. They tended to give preference to processing the tourists and less to processing the Egyptian men on the boat. They took our passports on the boat and then gave us a slip of paper to get our passports back later.
I am now in Aqaba where I am going to stay for two days to take care of some stuff. I have a box of stuff I want to mail out, a ton of emails to answer as well as some things to do on the website. The next week will take me to one of the new seven wonders of the world; Petra. I will also be going to Wadi Rum which is sort of exciting because Lawrence of Arabia is my favorite movie.