Lake Nubia, Abu Simbel, & Aswan.
Just north of the Sudanese border town of Wadi Halfa there is a new land border connecting Sudan and Egypt. This is a recent development and until a couple of years ago all overland travellers had to use the infamous Wadi Halfa – Aswan ferry, and the cars would follow a few days later on a barge. With the help of George’s fixer I got through the Sudanese side in very little time. The Egyptian side was painful. It was busy and disorganised. The officials often didn’t wear uniforms, making it difficult to figure out who was who.
First off I had to empty everything from my car and have it scanned, as if I was in an airport. It was hard work going back and forth between the security office and the car while carrying heavy luggage. I had to scan everything, including the spare wheels. The security officer in charge wanted to see everything I had laid out on the ground before I repacked the car. While I was organising my luggage some young Egyptian men opened the driver’s door of my car, got in, and started taking selfies behind the wheel. I was horrified by this as I couldn’t imagine helping myself to someone else’s car without permission, let alone not acknowledging their existence.
The customs procedure was frustrating. To get any foreign vehicle into Egypt is a major task, and you’ll need to plan it well in advance. I had a carnet for the car, backed up by a security deposit of 200% of the value of the car, held by the AA in South Africa. Egypt was the only country with such crazy rules about foreign cars, the rest of the countries I visited were happy with about R2000 in security. It was an endless back and forth of forms, translations into Arabic, fees and inspections. Eventually, after hours and hours, I received my Egyptian number plates and was allowed to leave the compound. The last ferry of the day was set to sail soon, so I drove the Alfa in anger through the desert to make it to the ferry on time, and I did, just.
Shortly before I left the border I met a couple who were part of the Nile Valley Friendship overloading group, of which Tarek had been a part. They, like Tarek, were lovely and hospitable people, and after the short ferry ride across Lake Nubia, showed me to very nice hotel in Abu Simbel. After a good dinner and a night’s rest it was great to see Egypt by the light of day.
Abu Simbel is a very small tourist town, built around the Temple, which was moved away from its original location which is now under water. I had a short walk around the Temple in the morning sun, which was already uncomfortably hot. I’m not good with heat. There were very few tourists which was the consequence of a revolution and a military coup. “You should have seen it before the revolution” was something I heard often from people in the tourism industry.
After an hour or so it was time to join up with the military convoy that escorts the busses to and from Aswan. It left the temple car park at about 10am and for a small fee (or backsheesh) private cars can join up. The convoy left the temple and headed for the open desert and after the first military checkpoint sped off at about 140 kph. I kept up for a while but I decided that on the low quality fuel, and in the heat, it was best to just slow down and cruise. I watched to convoy disappear into the desert and I was alone again, this was also the last time I saw the Nile Valley Friendship.
I arrived in Aswan in the early afternoon. The town is built along the eastern bank of the Nile, where the river is wide and full of islands. I stayed at the Isis Corniche Hotel, right on the water. I had booked a few days here while in Abu Simbel, based on a recommendation of a friend.
I parked my car just off the main street, as no hotel in Egypt has parking for a car due to the car bombings of a few years ago. I found a gap on the edge of a back street and left my car there for a few days, hoping it would be untouched.
The hotel was mostly empty, and occasionally tourists would arrive by boat and disappear down the river towards the temple, I was the only guest staying on more than a few hours. I spent my time at the pool or in the bar when I wanted to escape the heat, which was tremendous.
After dinner one night I passed by the office of the jeweller at the hotel, Jacob, who invited me in for tea. He thought it was rather odd that a young westerner would be travelling alone in Egypt at a time like this, so I told him my story of how I had crossed Africa in my little car, and he could barely believe it. Over the days I often visited Jacob for tea, as he was kind and good for conversation. I imagine it must be so difficult for people like him, who depend on the tourist industry, who’ve seen it destroyed by the revolution and coup.
On my second day in Aswan I took a walk around town. It was noisy and dirty and generally unpleasant. This had been the site of ancient civilisations, but walking around Aswan you wouldn’t know it. It’s a cinderblock city, and the buildings all look like they’re half built, or half demolished and often it’s difficult to tell which.
While walking alone the edge of the river, a man approached and offered a sailing trip on the river in a small wooden boat, and being desperate to escape the noise and heat of the city, I agreed, and I’m glad I did.
Out on the water the noise fades and the coolness of the water is very pleasant. We set off from quite near my hotel and headed around Kitchener’s Island and Elephantine Island. Here I could glimpse the Egypt of Agatha Christie and Winston Churchill. It was beautiful and I was glad for the break from the chaos of the shore.
My day off in Aswan had been the first day since Nairobi that I hadn’t been on the road. It was nice to have a little time off, however I didn’t fancy hanging around Aswan much longer. I plotted a route away from the Nile Valley towards the Red Sea where it was cooler and quieter. So I booked a few hotels in towns along the coast and plotted my route: Edfu, Marsa Alam, Hurghada, Suez, Sharm El Sheikh, Eilat and safe harbour in Israel.