Friday, 12 October 2007


After four nights in the desert we descended off a very barren limestone plateau towards the Nile Valley. Suddenly I saw tress in the distance through the haze to be followed by the lush cultivated fields flanking the Nile a few kilometres on either bank. The contrast with the desert was quite stark. After spending the afternoon relaxing and attending to “personal administration” (laundry, repairing kit etc) in the shady Rezeiky Campsite in Luxor, we asked about hiring bikes for the following day. An hour later two bikes or, as Gavin would describe them, lumps of junk arrived. We enquired after the price but the man who brought them had to rush off again apparently. I think he was rushing home for breakfast. Later the campsite manager informed us of the price of which I think the majority was his commission.

The price was OK so the next day we were up with the birds to cross the Nile on the ferry to the west bank to explore the ancient tombs. We finally figured out the rather complicated system for tickets and decided to visit one of the Tombs of the Nobles, but first we headed up the hill to the Valley of the Kings. Despite a dog almost taking a chunk out of Gavin’s calf we made it one piece to the gate where the police told we must leave the bikes. When we returned they had, very considerately moved bikes into the shade for us!! They did not look impressed when we rode off without giving bakshish for such a thoughtful act.

Getting back to the Valley of the Kings, the tomb of Tutankamon is the most intact of all the tombs. That means that none of the treasures were taken by the locals to be melted down or burned and there was no roman graffiti and the like. However, not only did we have to pay the entrance fee for the valley but also pay even more again for this one tomb, so we gave it a miss. We were more than happy with the three tombs we visited. Each tomb was very different to the next one. The exquisite carving and painting was the common theme. To enter one tomb we climbed up a ladder and then descended to quite deep through a number of different corridors- it was very hot and humid inside. We did ask ourselves whether the humidity caused by all these bodied huffing and puffing up and down the steps was damaging the paintings and plaster.

Of course we were back in “Tourists Ville” and even when visiting the tombs the whole tour group seems to stick together. In one tomb we were patiently waiting at the entrance to the tomb room for a group to enter so that we could leave via the network of corridors. After we finally made it out we realised that by the time the whole group had entered the tomb the same group was already starting to leave and we had ended up waiting for the whole group to arrive and leave before we made our own escape. Another tomb, higher in the valley had far fewer visitors and we even had it to ourselves for a short spell. There were beautiful carvings flanking the entrance and although it was not a large tomb with many corridors we looked straight down to the large stone tomb of Sethi II. I think King Sethi died quite a bit prematurely because some of the artwork appeared to be completed in quite a hurry and some of the walls just had the outline traced out. The local “hangers on,” who obviously do not have to pay an entrance fee each day, were making a nuisance of themselves in the tombs; ready to point out something of interest with their torch or offering to take a forbidden photograph.

Next we squeaked, rattled and wobbled our way down to the Tombs of the Nobles. The absence of any information telling you where you might find the group of tombs, let alone the specific tomb we had paid to enter turned this part of our excursion into an orienteering trip. One lad offered to how us the way for far too much money which we declined, his final words were “you will never find it” and indicated that we were looking in the wrong direction (which we were not and were actually quite close). We certainly found lots of tombs but they were all blocked off and there was no one around.

Eventually another chap found us and took us the long way round, we had been very close- a matter of metres, and even when we arrived there was nothing to indicate in any language or communication method that this was the tomb. Another chap awoke from his slumber and produced the keys to let us in. As he was hurrying me down the steps, Gavin was left behind with our original helpful local with no money for bakshish, oh dear. Here we viewed two tombs much smaller than the kings tombs but absolutely delightful. Our two guides also helped us solve a conundrum. We had been wondering how the original Egyptian artisans illuminated the tombs because any kind of candle or lamp would have left a sooty residue on their beautiful work. In these tombs the light was not very good so using a couple of pieces of cardboard covered in foil the guides reflected sunlight into the tombs, just as the ancient Egyptians did. Needless to say we did reward for their hard work, and again needless to say they wanted more. Whatever you give it is never enough!

On the way home a tour bus driver had some trouble understanding why I could not see him indicating he was turning left when he then proceeded to overtake and turn left through me. I did try to explain that both my eyes are in the front of my head rather than in the back, but I am not sure if such a detailed anatomical description was too complicated for him.

The next day we visited the extremely impressive Temples of Karnak, less than half a kilometre from our campsite. We left an hour so later than we had intended after chatting to a Dutch couple in a 1986 Series 3 Land rover who had travelled up from the direction we are travelling in. So we got lots of tips and heard about all the things that had gone wrong with their car.

S0, the Temples of Karnak, a huge complex, yet the main entrance seemed to be through a hole in the fence.

Again, quite understandably there were many, many tour groups and the inevitable “hangers on”/ “guides” just waiting in the wings to show you something which, if you are walking around with you eyes open you will see, just so they can demand bakshish. Gavin, such a polite boy, would patiently explain to them that they may as well go away because they will not be getting any bakshish from us. I just ignored them. I have had enough of them interrupting our conversation, standing in the middle of my path so I have to stop etc.I realise that there is the argument that they are only trying to make money. It is however counter-productive as far as we are concerned. For example, the idea of going into a shop selling souvenirs (some of which are quite interesting) is totally abhorrent to me and the hassle technique does not appear to work so well with other people either. Also the touts are SO irritating it just makes you want to leave the area, otherwise we might stop for a drink etc.We have been thinking about setting up the "Bakshish Eradication Front" (BEF), using passive resistance methods to make our stand. Let us know if anyone is interested in joining?

We have been whiling a way the time a bit in Luxor because the ferry to Wadi Halfa in Sudan does not leave until Monday and the campsite here is good. In that time we have developed another flat tyre- the same tyre that has had punctures on three or four different occasions so far. We do need a new tyre but the tyres available in North Africa are not suitable for the rest of the journey so we are trying to hold out until we are further south. So Gavin has become quite expert now at getting the tyre off and mending the tube. Naturally, I have also become expert in advising and supporting. I just hope I never have to do it on my own.

Why do we enjoy the desert so much? Amongst many reasons is that it is beautiful and peaceful. Given the number of mosques on the towns and cities it is inevitable that when staying in a campsite we are not that far from one. This is fine, some are really quite lovely, until 4am in the morning when the Call of the Faithful to Prayer seems to take longer and longer as the end of Ramadan has approached. Yesterday I am sure it lasted for more than 40 minutes. I just wish that it was not quite so loud. Ramadan is now finished which means that we do not feel quite as bad when we eat or drink in public.

Tomorrow we head south to Aswan in a tourist convoy and prepare to spend an extortionate amount of money to use the ferry to Wadi Halfa. We have learned tat the convoys, mainly tour buses like to travel quite fast at about 120km/hr, we travel at a maximum speed of around 85 km/hr. So I suspect we shall annoy a few more bus drivers. We have already decided that when we get back to New Zealand we will be shouting at each other to communicate normally because we are so used to shouting over the noise of the engine. If we go any faster we might become permanently deaf.

It is quite likely that it will be quite a while before we post any more entries because once in Sudan it can take a while to retake possession of the car (potentially days) and then there is only desert for a few days until Khartoum.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Walk like an Egyptian

Everything seems to happen slowly in Egypt, especially during Ramadan. We have now been in the country for over two weeks but have really only just made it out of Cairo. Admittedly, our first week was spent lounging around the Sinai Peninsula, as Catkin described earlier, but our "quick trip" to Cairo to get visas spare parts and see the pyramids took the best part of the second week. It seems that no matter what you plan, it really is only possible to one thing per day. If you tell anyone what you have got planned for the afternoon they will without fail tell you that it will be too late, and that you must go in the morning instead. Anyway, after extending our stay for another two days we have managed to do all we set out to.

The pyramids were pretty awesome. It’s hard to comprehend their sheer size until you are standing there next to them. The whole day was a bit of an adventure in the end. We decided to go by public transport, and took the Metro to Giza Station. Whilst waiting to cross to road to the bus stop, a local struck up conversation with us, and, as luck would have it he was taking the same bus and would show us the way. Once on the bus, which involved running out to it across two lanes of traffic and jumping on as it slowed down slightly, he confided in us, saying that the tickets at the main entrance to the pyramids were very expensive, but there was an "Egyptian" entrance which was cheaper, easier, included everything, and entailed taking a camel or horse ride into the pyramids area. Catkin laughed her head off when he told us that his name was Omar Sharif, but he didn’t seem to see it as a joke, and I think that might really have been his name after all. After getting off the bus, he insisted on showing us to the entrance, and before we knew it we were sitting astride horses and bargaining on the price and how far we would be taken. Every time a price was offered our friend Omar would be in the background nodding his head vigorously, indicating what a good price we were getting. Obviously he was watching his commission decrease each time the price went down. We still have no idea whether we were ripped off or not, suffice to say that the final agreed price was a quarter of what was initially asked. In a land where a fixed price on anything is the exception rather than the rule and bargaining is a way of life, we have taken the view that there is no such thing as being ripped off - there is either a mutually agreed price or no sale, and if you pay too much it is your own fault!

The traffic in Cairo is something else, and possibly the worst we have driven in. Half the locals seem to be practising for competing in the touring car championship, with bumper to bumper driving and last minute overtaking manoeuvres, while the rest seem to have no concept of road safety, stopping in the middle of three busy lanes to fix a broken light cover or turning left from the far right hand lane across lanes of traffic. Add to this the pedestrians-with-a-death-wish and it makes for happy times. We were even run into, and by a Land Rover Discovery of all vehicles! Luckily it was only a light tap and no damage was done (to us anyway – not sure about the Discovery).

We met up again with our French friends, who spent nearly a week longer in Aqaba after we left, waiting for their new Carnet. They had just arrived in Cairo after a few days in the Sinai, and were about to apply for visas for Sudan. We briefly touched on the subject of the forthcoming quarterfinal between France and the All Blacks. Jean-François delightedly exclaimed that he would be cheering for the All Blacks. I’d like to think that I had converted him, but it turns out he has a strong dislike for the French Coach, who it seems is tipped to be the next sports minister if France win the World Cup. Looks like he might have a chance…

At last, on Thursday, we left Cairo in our dust, after spending the whole day completing our remaining errands. First up we picked up some spare filters and parts from the Land Rover service centre in 10th of Ramadan City (40km east of Cairo). Next we had another puncture repaired, which involved a very animated discussion about the price – I think we are finally getting the hang of Egyptian bargaining now. The remainder of the day was taken up driving all over western Cairo trying to find the Carrefour supermarket so we could re-supply our food crates.

The Western Oases beckoned. Not very well signposted though… Luckily, while were staying at the hotel, I happened to read an article in a magazine about an archaeologist who is director of the Antiquities Department. His ideal long weekend was to be spent visiting the western oases and desert. In it he described the route taken out of Cairo and mentioned driving through 6th of October City (which isn’t on our map). Fortunately we saw a turn-off to this city which we took, and it has since turned out to be the right way. Otherwise we would have ended up a long way from our intended destination although we still would have made it to Luxor eventually.

We have had a night in each of the Black and White Deserts. These make up part of the Western Desert, which extends into Libya and is part of the mighty Sahara. The desert nights have been very peaceful, with clear skies full of stars, no one around for miles and a comfortable temperature. On the first morning in the desert I took the opportunity to do some work on the car, replacing some worn suspension bushes.

On Saturday we stopped early to tune into the BBC World Service Sports World programme which, thanks to the lack of any 8th division football from East Anglia, deigned to play the commentary of the last 12 minutes of the England vs Australia Quarter Final of the World Cup (bad news about the result, Gilly). So there we were, sitting in the Sahara listening to the rugby on a shortwave radio. It could only have been better if we had remembered to put beer in the fridge instead of Miranda Orange. Late last night though the trusty BBC brought me the bad news about the All Blacks exit. In between the static, I thought maybe I had misheard, so had to read for another hour until the next news bulletin. Unfortunately I had heard right the first time…

Finally, some news for tractor buffs. So far, Egypt has been the first country that we have been through on this trip where the noble Massey Ferguson tractor has not been sighted. They have been everywhere else in numbers, most notably in Turkey, but not yet here. We are still looking though.

Happy birthday Andrew,

from us in the Sahara.
Hope you have now decided who to back to win
the World Cup!!
Love G&C