Day 55 Monday 28th JuneLibya-Egypt
Tobruk to Marsa Matrou
Thank goodness we stayed a night at Tobruk rather than driving 400km to the border from Cyrene! With the assistance of Salah we crossed the Libyan border into the kilometre of no-mans land at about 10.30am having taken only 45 minutes to get through the mass of cars and people overheating as they waited for an official to deal with their papers.
Negotiating Egyptian bureaucracy and money-grabbing culture made this the worst border we had crossed so far and was as bad as we had been led to believe. However stressed and infuriated we became during the five hours we spent waiting, going from one office to the next and back again and again and again and again (no exaggeration!) each time pushing through crowds of people, filling in forms and more forms to be filed in a mass of paperwork, paying fee after inexplicable fee, we feel that we got away relatively lightly.
We were escorted to the front of the queue to get our visas stamped and then to take the car through to customs and our possessions only received a cursory check, unlike many people whose possessions were not only empted from their cars but often taken away with no explanation and no appeal. The video camera was signed into Joanne’s passport and we will have to pay a huge fee if we do not take it out again.
We spent well over an hour toing and froing between different people and offices all in discussion about the fact that we do not have an engine number on the engine only on a plate in the engine bay along with the chassis number. Unfortunately the number marked on the plate is one digit different from the number on our paperwork but given the fact that the wrong numbers they eventually scribbled on the numerous bits of paper completed before we were issued Egyptian number plates it would hardly matter. Given the way everyone else was treated the discussion, argument, search after search for another number was most likely to be a way of getting more money out of us – they failed.
A Libyan man, Ali Mayouf, tried to translate and was being helpful as far as we were concerned but not according to the customs man who threw his arms in the air and yelled at Ali Mayouf until he gave up and left us to our own devices. He first noticed the car because of our OXFORD2OXFORD logos – 1997-8 he had studied for an MSc in Earth Science at Oxford Brookes University and his wife had studied at and English language school on the Cowley Road.
Four and a half hours into this ordeal work stopped for lunch but after being shouted at by the man who had shouted at Ali Mayouf earlier we went to see the boss who sent a runner with Tim to sort out the problem and, finally, a hot five hours later we drove away only to be stopped at the exit of no-mans land to check everything again, then at a couple of checkpoints along the road to the first main town across the border, Marsa Matrouh.
It was only at this point that we realised that the little card Tim had been issued with was an Egyptian driving licence…we hadn’t thought to get one for Joanne. We are told, not by the customs people, that one can drive on a British licence here and as we have international driving licences we should both be able to drive but we have not tested that out at a police checkpoint yet!
Day 56 Tuesday 29th JuneEgypt
After a busy week in Libya and a stressful border crossing we felt we needed a day to catch up on our admin and have a rest so we left Florence parked outside the hotel and did little more than walk along the promenade (which was deserted in the daytime and packed with all ages at night), buy a few things such as an Egyptian SIM card for one of our mobile phones, catch up on e-mails and take a quick swim in the sea.
Marsa Matrouh is an Egyptian holiday resort on the Mediterranean and we have arrived at the beginning of the season, apparently it’s packed in July and August when people head from the cities to the slightly cooler climes of the coast. It is now about 30 C but the strong wind makes it quite pleasant. The sea in the large sheltered bay is an inviting turquoise. However, going for a dip wearing our swimming costumes is not an option here.
The white sand beaches are lined with umbrellas sheltering robed people packed together on upright plastic seats. Sunbathing is not the done thing when all but a couple of women we have seen are covered up from head to foot, some were in full black robes with gloves and face veil. Plenty of children and some men were swimming; we didn’t see any women swimming but some were standing up to their shoulders in the water - probably a bit tricky to swim in a full-length dress and headscarf.
We didn’t want to sit on a plastic chair and listen to pop music so persuaded the beach attendant to let us go onto the beach without paying. A woman in black under an umbrella offered to watch our flip-flops and towels and we waded out fully clothed for a refreshing swim. It was odd swimming in cotton shirt and trousers but we did not want to offend and we attracted enough attention as it was!
Day 57 Wednesday 30th JuneEgypt
We had intended to leave today for Alexandria but Joanne had diarrhoea during the night so we decided to rest for the day and catch up on telephone calls and e-mails. It seems to be a mild bug that cleared up quickly and Tim showed only brief symptoms. We consider ourselves quite lucky not to have come down with any bugs or food poisoning before now having eaten in some fairly dodgy places over the last few weeks!
We made some good contacts for our stay in Egypt by phone and e-mail today and have begun preparations for our onward journey to India in two to three weeks, depending on shipping. We are looking forward to meeting David Hutson of Barwil Shipping who has very generously sponsored our stay in Alexandria and Mark Rakestraw and the rest of the British Embassy staff in Cairo.
Early evening we took Florence a few kilometres along to coast to find the pool where Cleopatra is reputed to have bathed. We did find a rock hollowed out in the middle with waves splashing around it which busloads of Egyptians were videoing and paddling out to in their robes so guess that was probably it, though it is difficult to be sure given the vague details in the tourist leaflet. It was a beautiful coastline with fine white sand and clear sea but unfortunately it was too rocky to swim.
Having not eaten all day Joanne ate lentil soup and rice, which was actually very good, while Tim ate a full meal. Joanne apologised to the chefs (who had cooked a full meal anyway despite our instructions to the manager and the restaurant manager earlier in the day) when they came into the restaurant to get our signatures and have their photos taken with us!
Day 58 Thursday 1st JulyEgypt
Visit to El Alamein
The battle at El Alamein was, according to Sir Winston Churchill, a turning point in the Second World War. From here Montgomery quickly pushed the Axis forces back across North Africa.
Having travelled across North Africa in the last few weeks visiting the museum at El Alamein was very interesting and helped us piece together our knowledge of the campaign. The huge cemetery is in a huge expanse of rocky sand and, like much of the area across which the Axis and Allied armies fought from 1939-1945, must have been a challenging and inhospitable place to fight. The train that trundled past, as we were escorted around the cemetery by a tourism policeman, was on a line built by the Egyptians to support the British forces. The Egyptians were bound to support Britain by a treaty signed the year before.
Day 59 Friday 2nd JulyEgypt
We count ourselves very lucky to be sponsored for our time in Alexandria by a British shipping agent who is also being incredibly helpful by helping us with our next challenge – getting our car and ourselves from here to Mumbai, India, by the cheapest means possible. We would very much like to travel on a ship with Florence, who will have to be containerised, but without some very senior help, this is highly unlikely. With David Hutson and his team at Barwil on the case we have not yet given up hope and are most reassured that we are in good hands.
Today is the weekend in Egpyt but as it is still a working day in the UK we e-mailed some people back in England about shipping and about the car fan (the only new addition to the car it is playing up already and we have to disconnect it when we stop so that it does not keep running and run the battery down) before we set off to explore Alexandria.
After a light lunch at the Palestine hotel in the gardens of the palace of King Farouk at Montazah we travelled the 25km length of the corniche, the beach packed with even more umbrellas and plastic chairs than in Marsa Matrouh, to visit the old part of Alexandria.
We had been invited by the Manager to visit the Cecil hotel, built in 1929 and now being refurbished as a Sofitel hotel. Unfortunately he was not there but the Deputy Manager invited us to drink tea and then showed us the rooms where Agatha Christie and Cecil Bedemille stayed and the room, now a bar, where Montgomery stayed.
In the evening we met up with David and two friends, Frank who is working on a joint British Gas and Egyptian gas project, and his wife, Nessie who took us for a great fish meal near the fish market in the old area of the city. En route we drove along the corniche and looked over the harbour looking out towards the old fort and the place where the ancient lighthouse stood until it was destroyed in a storm. It would be a great place to dive because the remains of the ancient Greek city lie beneath the sea past the fort.
It was a really fun evening and we thoroughly enjoyed hearing their tales of living and working at Brits in Egypt, once we had stopped boring them with tales of our adventures with Forence!
Day 60 Saturday 3rd JulyEgypt
As it is Saturday we were very pleased to have been invited to join our Alexandria host in his usual weekend activity and spent a very enjoyable day at a beach resort.
Joanne caught up with diary notes in the most exotic location so far - drinking an ice-coffee at the beach bar and then relaxed for the afternoon before having a quick dip in the stunningly beautiful turquoise sea. Unfortunately it was too rough to swim properly but we had a good go!
Thanks to David we had a really fun day!
Work tomorrow as we will be going to Davids office to look into what preparation we need to do to ship the car to India.
Day 61 Sunday 4th JulyEgypt
The weekends are a little unusual here: Friday is the main holiday, being the Muslim religious day, so most people finish early on Thursday and take Saturday as a holiday too. However, there is a significant Coptic (Christian) population in Egypt for whom Sunday is the religious day. It seems that the working week therefore varies with some people taking only Friday as a day off, others Friday and Saturday, Saturday and Sunday or Friday and Sunday. Working hours vary too, with many offices closed in the afternoon and working through the evening so it’s all a bit confusing for the uninitiated! Still, Sunday is effectively a working day so it was very useful to spend an extra night in Alexandria so that we could spend today in the Barwil office working on our plans for shipping the car to India.
The car will need to be containerised to be shipped from Egypt through the Red Sea to India. We would very much like to travel on board the ship but few companies take passengers on cargo ships, especially people who wish to board in the Middle East.
Furthermore, with new international shipping security laws coming into force on the 1st July this year getting the car on a ship let alone ourselves is even more challenging. We have offered to work on board but we accept that the chances of being accepted are nigh on impossible. We are, therefore, also looking into flights from Egypt to India for ourselves and hope to find a sponsor.
Of course, fifty years ago when our car was built travelling by ship was the done thing, now that most people fly travelling by ship with or without a car is more difficult to arrange and much more expensive. Still, we will keep trying and, with the help of supportive shipping agents like David Hutson of Barwil Egypt who like a challenge, we will hopefully succeed.
For the benefit of those particularly interested in the maintenance of our greatest asset, the car, we found a garage with facilities to lift Florence up taking the weight off her wheels which enabled the nipples on the front suspension wishbones to be greased effectively. On average we do this weekly, depending on mileage covered, but garage services vary so we have our own grease gun and jack as a backup. We could also check underneath and, so far, despite an odd encounter with some unfriendly speed humps, all is fine.
We spent a fun evening at the members (and guests) only expat “Portuguese Club” in the residential area near the British Embassy and watched the final of the European Cup.
Day 62 Monday 5th JulyEgypt
Our route took us inland from the Mediterranean coast for the first time today as we drove South-South-East along the “Desert Road” from Alexandria to Cairo.
The air blowing in the windows was hot and as we neared the centre of Cairo also polluted and humid, so, having survived a near miss with a truck doing a U-turn in front of us on the dual-carriageway and our first encounter with crazy Cairo traffic, we arrived at the plush Semiramis Intercontinental Hotel feeling decidedly hot and sweaty.
David Todd, the Executive Assistant Manager, forgave us for being rather smelly after he had spent five minutes in the car escorting us to the underground hotel car park.
“I feel like I’ve just stepped out of a sauna!” he admitted as he got out, though he was impressed with Florence, especially as his father used to drive a Morris Oxford. David’s three-year-old son, Archie, loved the car but would have preferred “a big Beetle”!
Our room is on the 20th floor of the Semiramis Intercontinental Hotel and has a breathtaking view over the Nile. Drinking tea and eating small pastries while watching the sunset behind the Cairo tower on the island opposite is awesome. It is quite hazy, possibly due to the pollution hanging in the heat over the city, but we can just make out the pyramids at Giza peaking out behind the Sheraton tower. We cannot quite believe our luck!
The hotel is close to Garden City where many of the Embassies are located including the British Embassy. The Consul, Mark Rakestraw, invited us to the British Embassy Club for the evening that, though while not soaking up Cairo culture, was great because we met several Brits who live in Cairo and enjoyed hearing their thoughts on the place.
Having focused much of our attention on crossing North Africa, when we first arrived in Egypt we had no fixed plans, no guidebook, no idea where we would be staying and few contacts, our main priority being to arrange passage for Florence and ourselves to India. We should not have worried. We were hosted superbly in Alexandria where we began the arrangements for shipping the car and in Cairo Mark Rakestraw has been immensely helpful and welcoming. His support in introducing us to other British Embassy and British Council staff, giving us a letter of introduction to the Indian Consul and introducing us to the Semiramis Intercontinental has enabled us to make the most of our time in Egypt. We still have much to do and are not sure how things will work out over the next couple of weeks but we have had a good start.
Day 63 Tuesday 6th JulyEgypt
Great news! Safmarine Container Lines have agreed to ship Florence to India with no sea-freight charges. That means that we only have to pay for the other items including port fees, lashing and loading fees and any costs incurred in customs, we’re not quite sure how much all of that will add up to yet but not paying the sea freight is a superb help. Shipping is much more expensive than it was a year ago, let alone fifty years ago relatively speaking, in part due to the increased demand for raw materials such as steel by China. But with the help of companies like Safmarine the costs of shipping on our journey should not be too prohibitive.
Schools have now broken up for the summer but the British Council in Cairo run a summer school at a converted villa in the suburb of Heliopolis for Egyptian children and we were pleased to be invited to speak to them this afternoon about our adventure. About seventy children aged from seven to fifteen asked questions ranging from “Do you think Egypt is beautiful?” to “What is the Red Cross?”. This time no one asked our favourite question so far, that was asked in Tripoli, “Where is your playground?” (Answer: “the world”)!
After more than eight weeks without a haircut and not having shaved since arriving in Africa Tim only vaguely resembled his smart London former self. However, plans for a press conference at the Residence of the British Ambassador tomorrow morning made a haircut essential. Despite the staff not speaking a word of English and Tim’s Arabic not quite stretching to “short back and sides and a neat beard trim please” he succeeded in getting a very good haircut, beard and moustache trim, an upper body massage and a couple of cups of tea all for E£50 including a generous tip. (About £4.50 sterling)
Day 64 Wednesday 7th JulyEgypt
With a member of the British Embassy security team sitting in the front seat and radioing ahead we drove straight past the barriers and guards protecting the area around the British and American Embassies and into the compound of the Ambassadors Residence. We were met at the front door by the butler who ushered us in then asked what we were there for! The answer, “Press conference? To meet the Press Officer?” seemed to work and we waited in one of the public reception rooms.
The Residence is an elegant building with lawns at the front and gardens behind that once ran right down to the Nile. In 1956 a main road was built straight along the western edge of the Nile through the gardens of Residence and other similar buildings in Garden City. Despite having a noisy road at the end of the garden it is still beautiful and one can imagine how it might have been fifty years ago when some diplomats apparently used to arrive by floatplane.
Dina, the Embassy press officer, had issued our press release to the Cairo media and had a good response so we spent the rest of the morning being interviewed, photographed or filmed inside the Residence, in the garden, driving to and fro in front of the Residence or posing in front of Florence.
Though hot we enjoyed talking to a variety of English and Arabic media, including Egyptian national TV (the Arabic channel will apparently translate what we said), national and Cairo press, two magazines and Reuters. Most wanted to know what we thought of Egypt, why we were undertaking this adventure and which country have we liked best so far. Reuters inevitably took a harder line wanting to know about the implications of the security situation in the Middle East for our trip. The resulting article published so far in India, Pakistan and New Zealand gives an accurate portrayal of the reasons behind choosing our route.
We and the media were not the only ones enlivening the Residence this morning. In the hallway lay an odd abandoned rucksack and Lonely Planet guide and at one point filming had to pause while several scantily clad teenagers dashed past us to the pool. About thirty students, friends and cousins of the Ambassadors children, were staying for a few days and visiting some of Egypt’s sights. Chatting with them and the Ambassadors wife over brunch on the terrace was much more relaxed and informal than we had expected the Residence to be.
Day 65 Thursday 8th JulyEgypt
As we have a letter of introduction to the Indian Consul from the British Consul in Cairo we expected that it would be relatively easy to get Indian visas here. First, though, we had to find the Consulate. We had the address and, according to the map, it was not far from where we were staying so we set off looking for 37 Talaat Harb Street. 46 was the only number marked and after a frustrating hour walking to the end of the long street we were eventually directed to a dingy entrance with a sign for a dentists surgery. Incredulously we climbed to the second floor and there was the Indian Consulate – perhaps they like to discourage people applying for visas!
We were sent across the road through another dingy entrance and up to a photo studio for passport photos but left when they said that four photos cost E£50 (£5)! If they had only negotiated a sensible price we might have considered it. Instead we went in search of a more reasonable option and found a photo shop where we bought twenty passport photos for E£18 – much more realistic.
The introduction to the Consul meant that he was polite but did not help us short cut the system (well, worth a go!) so we left our applications to be processed over the next five days. The guidebook states that it takes three days for non-Egyptians (one for locals) but apparently more security measures have increased the work involved.
We should have expected it to take a long time, as doing anything here seems to take longer than we think.
The Headquarters of the Egyptian Red Crescent is a large modern building next door to an even bigger modern WHO building. The Assistant to the Secretary General was pleased to meet us, told us that we were very good ambassadors for the British Red Cross and arranged for us to visit one of their projects when we return to Cairo next week.
David Dyas, the Vice-President and Managing Director of Xerox Egypt, had kindly offered to arrange for his IT department to try to resolve the dial-up connection problem we had with our laptop. Unfortunately, the problem turned out to be more serious than we had initially hoped and we had to leave the laptop with them for several days.
Spending an hour or so at the Pyramids at Giza posing for photos and video with Reuters was great fun and lifted our spirits briefly but because of the problem with the laptop we did not have time to make the most of the opportunity to explore one of the Great Wonders of the World.
With so much time spent meeting different people and driving from place to place either in taxis or with Florence through mad, busy traffic we were hot and tired by the time we returned to the hotel. Morale was probably at one of the lowest points for a long time. It might seem ridiculous but the possibility that we might have lost all our contacts and e-mails since we left is really upsetting.
Day 66 Friday 9th JulyEgypt
We had more time to visit the Pyramids at Giza this morning than we had had yesterday so we took our time wandering around and admiring the sole survivors from the ancient Seven Wonders of the World.
We seemed to be the only people who had resisted the determined persuasions of men selling horse and camel rides around the area and walked instead. Once we had walked a short distance away from the car/coach parks and entrances to the pyramids we were able to admire the incredible, perfectly angled mausoleums and wonder at how and why they had been built.
The city of Cairo is in the valley below and from the desert plateau of the pyramids we could see across to the rocky desert beyond the city where the citadel was built thousands of years after the pyramids.
We joined some of the British Embassy staff at a supper party hosted superbly by Fiona and Steve and had a really fun evening hearing about British expat life here as well as in India and Saudi Arabia.
Day 67 Saturday 10th JulyEgypt
After spending some time in the morning working out our options for the next couple of weeks we spend a very worthwhile afternoon at the Cairo Museum. “Wow!”ing regularly, we marvelled at the sophistication of the civilisation in Egypt 2-3000 years before Christ and reflected on the slow and in some cases almost regressive development of the human race since.
Despite some unusual labelling of exhibits and a slightly jumbled display, the artefacts and treasures were amazing. As there are more than 100,000 relics and antiquities in the museum we could not possibly look in detail at each one but focused on some of the most interesting exhibits including the items from Tutankhamun’s tomb (even more impressive given that he was a young pharaoh who only reigned for nine years, it’s hard to imagine how grand the tombs of more important pharaohs would have been); animal mummies; intricate and beautiful jewellery; and models and detailed lifelike paintings still vivid 4600 years after they were painted on a wall in a mud brick building.
In the evening we had a brief respite from the intensity of Cairo. Though it was still around us the noise and stress of the city seemed distant as we drifted along the Nile on a Felucca, a traditional Nile broad-sail boat.
Sipping cold white wine and eating canapés as we watched the sun set over Cairo was a lovely way to spend an evening.
Feeling suitably mellow Tim was even persuaded to take a few apple-flavoured puffs of “hubby-bubbly” or sheesha/water pipe at the end of a relaxing evening.
Day 68 Sunday 11th JulyEgypt
We focused on preparations for shipping today, eating an enjoyable lunch with the line manager of Safmarine Container Lines (who are shipping Florence to India) and copied, faxed and e-mailed several documents to the shipping agents (who are arranging the stuffing and loading of the container).
For supper we ate a main course of kushari, a cheap and quick Egyptian dish of pasta, rice and lentils topped with tomato sauce and crisp onion for E£10 (£1) including extra sauce, two Sprites and a tip. The café only serves kushari (small, medium or large bowl) so we went to a fatatri – a café that serves only fiteer – for desert. Fiteer is a bit like a savoury or sweet pizza made with flaky pastry. The sweet special had jam, coconut, nuts and sultanas folded inside and was covered in a thick layer of honey then icing sugar. As much fun as eating it was watching the drama of making it: small balls of dough laid out in a row on a marble slab were one after another rolled then stretched by whirling it around until paper thin, then the chosen ingredients were spread in the middle before putting it in a tin and baking it in the oven.
Day 69 Monday 12th JulyEgypt
As agreed with Abubachr, the very helpful IT manager at Xerox Egypt, our laptop was returned to us at 9am. Thankfully the dial-up connection is now restored but, despite the Xerox team having worked on it all day yesterday with the assistance of a “Microsoft expert”, our MS Outlook data has not been recovered. We spent the morning trying to reinstall our original settings and the addresses, e-mails and diary that was saved up to February and will now have to put a notice on the website asking all of those people who have e-mailed us with advice, invitations and suggestions, particularly from Australia and New Zealand, to e-mail us again. Saying we’re devastated is an understatement.
Still, new technology might have let us down but the most important thing is our fifty-year-old car and she is still going strong. Florence stayed in the underground car park today as we did a tour, sponsored by the Intercontinental, of Old Cairo.
Our local guide, a 26-year-old Egyptian girl gave a good summary of the history of Egypt and about Islam at the mosque, Judaism at the only surviving synagogue in Egypt and Christianity at the Hanging Church.
We left our guide in Old Cairo, preferring to continue on our own rather than go straight back to the hotel, dodged past the police and guides telling us to go into the church and that everything else was closed or blocked off, and wandered through the old city walls to the Christian cemetery. The area resembled an accommodation area, which it is really, they just happen to be dead people! Tombs resemble houses and are laid out along streets, there were even cars parked there, the most noticeable being a (very expensive) Porsche Cayenne (?) that seemed rather out of place. The mausoleums were topped with angels and crosses and some were recent. Hearing the Muslim call to prayer while wandering around a Coptic Christian cemetery seemed rather incongruous but reinforced the way that the history of Christianity, Islam and Judaism are so closely intertwined in this area. The odd car and men hanging around gave the impression that something else other than just paying respects to the dead was going on but we thought best not to hang around too long to find out.
We struggled to find the entrance to the Nileometer on Rhoda Island because there was nothing to say that entrance to it is through a museum but it was worth persevering. It was built in the ninth century to measure the rise and fall of the river Nile, the higher it was the higher the taxes because the harvest was likely to be better. The measuring device is a graduated stone column about 8metres high in a paved area below ground level and is now covered by a domed roof constructed in the 19th Century. Surprisingly there is nothing to stop someone walking down the steep stone steps to the bottom of the column even though there is no handrail, well, except a fear of heights. Joanne had had a nightmare about a similar staircase the night before so was going nowhere near, and Tim changed his mind about descending after two steps!
Day 70 Tuesday 13th JulyEgypt
The Egyptian Gazette reported today that the current “extreme heat wave accompanied by high humidity” in Egypt is due to last a couple more days and that temperatures in the region will be five degrees hotter than average. The temperature reached 41C yesterday and feels hotter today, especially in the car. As long as the car is travelling at a reasonable pace and we have the windows open the temperature is bearable, we just accept that we usually arrive at our destination looking hot, damp and windblown. People coped up until a few years ago without air-con and many people still do but we often meet people who think we’re mad to consider travelling without it.
The only time we wish we had it is driving in crowded cities where traffic is intense. Cairo particularly has dreadful air quality, and one can see the polluted smog hanging over the city. There is no legislation to control the state of the cars or their emissions, let alone the way the Caireans drive, so it is difficult to avoid the hot air loaded with exhaust fumes when driving stop-start through the chaotic streets.
Having stayed in Cairo now for eight days we didn’t want to overstay our welcome and have decided to leave Cairo for a few days and plan to return to see a little more of the city after having loaded Florence into the container for her journey by ship to India.
In the meantime, we had considered going South to Luxor for a few days but this would have been a long, hot detour so a visit to the Valley of the Kings will have to wait until our next trip to Egypt. Instead we did what many Cairo-based expats do at a weekend and drove to the Red Sea coastal resort of Ain Sukhna. From there we hope to visit the monasteries of St Paul and St Anthony as well as spend some time catching up on preparation for our journey to India, e-mails and updates to the website, filing photos, maintaining accounts etc.
We made many plans and preparations before we left the UK but there is only so much that can be done in advance and we are finding that spending time meeting and talking with people en route is the most effective method for getting things organised. Remaining open-minded and not pushing to find all of the answers in one go seems to result in solutions, well, most of the time.
Something that Florence’s original owner would not have had access to is the Internet which, to us, is an immensely valuable tool enabling us to explain to potential sponsors what we are doing and give sponsors publicity, to keep in touch with family and friends, to make arrangements for the rest of the journey and to raise funds for the British Red Cross.
Xerox Egypt introduced us to Vodaphone Egypt whose sponsorship has given us the option of connecting to the Internet free of charge and without a phone line, using GPRS. In non-tech speak this means connecting to the Internet using a card in the computer that works like a mobile phone. This and Jetset Global Roaming, the worldwide dial-up connection that Community Internet have sponsored, means that we should (technology permitting) be able to connect from anywhere – maybe even the car! At least in Egypt anyway – we will have to contact Vodaphone India (or a partner company), Vodaphone Australia and Vodaphone New Zealand for sponsorship by way of a SIM card for the laptop and the mobile phone when we reach there.
One of the bits of documentation we need before the car will be accepted by customs at the port is what turned out to be a scribbled slip of paper stating that this car has not had any speeding tickets or fines while in Egypt. Apparently, it can only be issued at a police station in Cairo or Saloum, the border with Libya, so Tim had to get it today as we do not intend to return to Cairo (or Saloum!) before we go to the port of Damietta.
After a few more phone calls, a visit to the British Embassy, meeting with the Vodaphone engineer and visiting the police station we finally checked out of the Semiramis Intercontinental at 3pm – our host, David Todd, probably thought he would never get rid of us! Having been offered initially a couple of free nights we ended up staying for eight and very much enjoyed our time there.
But we could not leave immediately, like most places we were normal guests until one of the porters spotted the car and suddenly we had a small crowd of porters, drivers and other guests oohing and ahhing over Florence; we departed in our usual style with the beep and hoot of our two horns creating much excitement and laughter as we waved goodbye!
We had successfully navigated into the city when we arrived and could confidently drive in and out to the pyramids on a variety of routes so Joanne, navigating, was reasonably confident that with the directions she had been given in the hotel finding the Suez road could not be so difficult. How wrong! We somehow managed to totally miss the junction for the ring road so decided to continue further along the Nile and follow a more minor road across country instead. Across the mountains rather than to Suez and down the coast road it was bound to be more interesting, if only we could find it.
The road was marked on our map but the map is not detailed enough to show all the other roads and with no obvious turnoff, no town signs and no road signs by the time we stopped to ask a policeman we had gone about 20km too far South. Heading back North again we saw a road sign in Arabic where we expected the turnoff to be so asked a few men who gave us detailed directions with hand gestures to match but they were sadly all in Arabic (our Arabic greetings must have improved) and all we could gather was that Ain Sukhna was straight on. “Right?…la (no), left?…la”. Straight on under a bridge through a stream dodging potholes, broken tarmac and trucks took us to a T-junction…?
It is our own fault for not having a detailed map but it would be so much easier if people would admit to not knowing rather than making up an answer just to be “helpful” or indeed telling us the solution they think is best, not giving the information we ask for. Most frustrating!
Eventually, after several more junctions and attempts at directions we realised that one of the roads we were about to take and didn’t because of the insistence by three policemen that it was the wrong one, was indeed the direct route we wanted, but by then we were past it and heading inescapably onto the main Cairo-Suez Desert Road.
Initially four then dual carriageway across rocky barren desert, the main road was in a relatively good condition with only a few bits of rough tarmac, bumps and road signs in Arabic, if there at all, to catch us out. There are few road signs in English but they only marked the major route, not the secondary roads and asking for directions simply resulted in confusion then a mass of directions that bore no resemblance to the road layout. Had we found the more direct route through the mountains it might have been cooler and more interesting but the road conditions would probably have been worse and at least we arrived before dark, just.
Day 71 Wednesday 14th JulyEgypt
Sometimes we just need a break, especially now when we have a weeks worth of work on the laptop to catch up on, so having somewhere quiet to stay is great.
The Plan Hotel at Ain Sukhna is one of several new developments at the northern end of the Red Sea just south of Suez. It is frequented mainly by Italian, Czech and Slovak groups. The other hotel within the same complex caters to wealthy Egyptians, many of whom stay here for weekend breaks from Cairo. The sales department here are trying to reach out to the British market so were keen to use our story in a newsletter. In return for a lovely quiet room opening onto gardens, pool, sea and somewhere to work for a couple of days we are more than happy to oblige.
The private resort beach has soft sand and shallow sea, ideal for families, which is probably why many expats we met in Cairo come here for weekends. We had to wade out a hundred metres or so before we could swim but as there were few waves we have been able to do some serious morning swimming. Very different from the beach resort we went to near Alexandria where the sea looked beautiful but was far too rough to swim.
Day 72 Thursday 15th JulyEgypt
We’re still waiting for final confirmation that we cannot travel on the ship with Florence, we know it’s unlikely but while there’s a tiny chance that we can we’re keeping our fingers crossed. We’re also now considering trying to find a passage on a yacht from Egypt to India, perhaps via Oman but bypassing Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The back-up plan is that we will fly.
We spent much of the day on the computer making the most of our fabulous new Vodaphone mobile connect card which gives us access to the internet and SMS text messages without having to find a suitable telephone line. We were excited to watch the first two updates on our journey broadcast on BBC Oxford and now on-line (link to the BBC Oxford site from the media page on this site).
Day 73 Friday 16th JulyEgypt
St Paul’s Monastery
Bhuna (Father) Sarabamon amba Paula showed us around the 4th Century monastery of St Paul.
After a guided tour of the monastery by a monk, Bhuna Sarabamon amba Paula, we were offered tea and a snack of bread, boiled eggs, goats cheese and tuna at the western visitors room. Here we met a trainee monk, Emad amba Paula, who immediately recognised us from a picture in "Al Ahram", an Egyptian national newspaper. He was very amusing and we stayed with him until after the monastery officially closed talking about the Coptic faith and why he has chosen to become a monk.
Emad is responsible for the employees at the monastery, several of whom were keen to meet these crazy adventurers and pose for a photo with us and the car.
Day 76 Monday 19th JulyEgypt
By chance Tim met a fellow Oxford Brookes University graduate in Cairo today.
Wanil Doss studied International Relations and now helps run one of the family businesses. One of these businesses is the historic Windsor Hotel - a characterful place, full of antique charm and one of the few places associated with the British that survived the revolution in 1952 - and had kindly offered to accomodate us for a couple of nights.
Day 77 Tuesday 20th JulyEgypt
Having met with the Assistant Secretary General of the Egyptian Red Crescent a week ago we were invited to visit the Cairo branch to see first hand some of the work that they do.
The President of the branch, Mr Mustafa Hafez, showed us around, justifiably proudly, the women’s centre and the youth and sports centre.
Mr Mustafa then explained that the Red Crescent has been one of the leading organisations in a project to build new apartment blocks to replace the slums in the area and re-house the people living there as he showed us around the site where homes for several hundred families were under construction.
Day 78 Wednesday 21st JulyEgypt
Cairo-Sharm el Sheikh
Our first days independent travel without Florence felt a bit lonely.
The Windsor Hotel had booked our coach tickets for us and advised that we should leave the hotel at 9am in order to be at the coach station at 9.30 to get on the coach leaving for Sharm-el-Sheikh at 10am. After a five-minute taxi ride and an argument with the driver who demanded a ridiculous sum we sat at the coach station until the coach arrived at 9.55. The coach trip did take a little over six hours to get to Sharm-el-Sheikh as we had been told but that did not include the two hours it took to reach the outskirts of Cairo having stopped for half an hour or so with no explanation at two other pick-up areas. The passengers on the overfull coach were surprisingly quiet and patient, even the row that ensued when the conductor sold the seats of three young men when they were off the coach buying tea seemed reasonably calm and was quickly resolved.
The coach station in Sharm is nowhere near anywhere and the hotel reception staff had been particularly hopeless when we had asked their advice about how to get there: “there is a bus from the airport” was about the only information they could offer, they could not seem to grasp the concept that guests might not arrive by air or car. So we had no choice but to find a taxi driver who knew where the new hotel was and guess at what was a suitable price. We were nearly caught up in the scuffle that ensued when Tim’s response to several taxi drivers vying for our trade was to set up a “Dutch auction” where he asked each in the group how much they would charge to take us to the Intercontinental hotel. Luckily, the taxi driver who offered the lowest bid was very jovial, he asked for more but still shook our hands when Tim insisted on sticking to the original deal: “In England we have an expression – my word is my bond!” said Tim…it had been a long day. With hindsight and given the high costs of everything in Sharm the Dutch auction method had actually achieved a very competitive price.
Forty five minutes after checking in at the impressive Intercontinental Garden Reef Resort we gave up waiting for the porter to bring our luggage to our room, despite three phone calls to the concierge (well two because the phone didn’t work properly), and went back to collect it ourselves.
The sea was beautifully inviting but after a couple of minutes in the water we were told that the jetty was closed so we had to get out. We had only managed to get towels because the man responsible was friendly and bent the rules (reception had run out of towel cards).
After note [We couldn’t have used the towels from the room; after a couple of calls to housekeeping by 9pm we were still lacking some towels and it was only when the room was made up before our departure that we discovered that the bathroom should have had bathrobes, flannels, slippers, two large towels, two small towels and a towel for the bidet. We had had two towels initially, and no apology.]
Despite these irritations it is a lovely place, well designed and laid out to make the most of it’s position overlooking the bay with the “Garden Reef” below the surface of the sea. The staff are all friendly and eager to please. We are grateful to be staying at such a luxurious place for a couple of days.
Day 79 Thursday 22nd JulyEgypt
As we ate breakfast we watched the dive boats racing towards the bay in front of the hotel from Na’ama bay where many of the hotels and dive clubs are. The hotel we are staying at for a couple of days looks over the bay hiding the Middle and Far reefs which are popular with divers, by ten o’clock four boats were anchored together just off shore. From the sandy rock shoreline beneath the hotel we can walk along a floating pontoon over the coral and snorkel straight off the end. Or dive even…
In 1989 an international panel of scientists and conservationists designated this area of the Red Sea “One of the seven underwater Wonders of the World”. We considered that staying in one of the worlds top diving resorts and not diving would be such a missed opportunity that today we started a three day PADI diving course courtesy of “Divers Lodge” www.divers-lodgessh.com at the Intercontinental Garden Reef Resort. All going well, in three days time we’ll be marvelling at an incredible underwater world.
Day 80 Friday 23rd JulyEgypt
Second day of the diving course, still in the pool and progressing to the sea tomorrow.
Each of the three hotels in the Intercontinental Group in Sharm-el-Sheikh are sponsoring us with two nights accommodation so this afternoon we moved to the next resort along the coast in the same bay, the Crowne Plaza. It is also new and has well-designed and equipped rooms with pleasant, helpful and efficient staff.
Our accommodation in the last few weeks has been varied and we immediately adjust our expectations accordingly. Thus sleeping under the stars at the gateway to a monastery rated as highly as staying in a top class hotel, but for different reasons. However, when we are lucky enough to stay in a hotel our expectations rise according to the standard that it purports to be.
The Crowne Plaza has most definitely reached our expectations and we are very pleased to have been offered accommodation here. In fact, we are grateful for all offers of accommodation, whatever standard!
The only drawback, if one could call it that, is that it is about a km to the main road, not a problem for the majority of the guests but we wanted to catch a bus to the small port about 15km from here. Taxis are expensive, relatively, especially for tourists but we managed to catch a minibus usually used by locals and hotel staff only. They charged us more than they would charge locals but a lot less than we would have paid for a taxi so we all won.
We had been told Sharm-el-Sheikh is a popular place for yachts to stop off and so were keen to find out if there is one that might be heading south and aboard which we could catch a lift towards India. There’s a very slim chance but we think it’s worth checking. After a little effort we found the harbour master who was helpful but confirmed that at the moment he has only a couple of private yachts here, neither of which is heading South. Apparently, the Prince of Saudi Arabia is coming in tomorrow but, sadly, he is not heading home, instead he’s going North to the Mediterranean. It seems we have chosen the wrong season to be heading South, most yachts, we are told, go to the Mediterranean at this time of year and go South in Autumn. The Harbour master gave us the telephone numbers of people in Hurghada and Port Said and wished us luck.
As we were close by we took a taxi to a restaurant on a rocky promontory overlooking the sea and at the foot of a lighthouse – Al Fanar. The location was fabulous; looking out over the sea as the sun set, and the Italian food was very good. Inevitably, the prices were steep so we were disappointed to find a chip of pottery in the walnut sauce and more disappointed when we had to argue to come to a suitable compromise over the bill.
After turning down four taxis we found one for a sensible price and headed back to the hotel.
Day 81 Satuday 24th JulyEgypt
We did two open-water dives today and very much enjoyed exploring a small part of the underwater national park of the Red Sea. Tim is now qualified as a PADI “scuba diver”. Joanne qualified a few years ago as an open-water diver but redid the beginners’ course because of skill, and confidence, fade.
We are still trying to organise our journey from Egypt to India, either by sea/land or by air. Our preference is something other than flying and we spoke to a couple of marina managers at lunchtime by phone. We are waiting for them to get back to us but the chances of us finding a place on a private yacht to India or the Gulf are slim. Our backup is that we fly but we are struggling to get through to anyone who will speak to us at Egypt air to discuss sponsorship.
We also used the lunch break to catch up on some e-mails – having a Vodaphone Connect Card means we could sit at the beach bar and show the chef our website, he was most intrigued!
Day 82 Sunday 25th JulyEgypt
We dived for 55 minutes today and explored the “Far Garden” with Kornelia, a Polish Dive Master who is currently here with her family and intending to stay for a few months to gain more experience diving and instructing before going to spend some time doing the same thing in New Zealand. We both felt much more confident and relaxed under water today and enjoyed exploring the reef. We saw so many fish and incredible colourful coral formations that it is impossible to describe them all. We almost floated weightless through the water pointing out fish to each other such as inquisitive clown fish, elegant angel fish, pudgy puffer fish and schools of tiny glass fish glittering in the sunlight spotlighting a dramatic coral stack. The experience almost seems unreal having emerged from the underwater world into the world above the water.
After two days at the Crowne Plaza we moved to the Holiday Inn a few kilometres along the coast where we were greeted by a welcoming General Manager and friendly and helpful Front Desk Manager. www.holidayinnsharm.com The restaurant staff were friendly too, and were surprised when we greeted them in Arabic. As usual our few words provoked long sentences in reply and our minimal Arabic ground to a halt. Still, with the help of our waiter we learnt how to say, “Enjoy your meal” – “belhana wel shiffa” (spelling not correct!) and revised a few phrases.
“Tesbah ala khier! – “Good night”.
Day 83 Monday 26th JulyEgypt
Tim’s tummy is still not well - at this rate we’ll have to go in search of more tablets and “Diorayte”! Both of us have suffered on and off to differing degrees since we arrived in Egypt and though never serious having an upset stomach is not ideal!
Luckily today we are well placed to spend the day in the hotel working on plans for the next stage of our journey so Tim has been able to take things easy and is getting better, “Inshallah”.
We have several possible methods of travel for our onward journey to India but, though we have given them our best shot and we remain hopeful we are not confident that any of them will work out. We now have two weeks before the car is due to arrive in India so if we do not arrange something soon we will have to give in, get on a coach back to Cairo and buy a flight to Mumbai. To complicate matters each of the possible options involves starting from a different place in Egypt so until we have an answer we hope to stay in Sharm-el-Sheikh.
Day 84 Tuesday 27th JulyEgypt
A tedious and frustrating day spent trying to economically extend our stay in Sharm and plot our escape plan. No real progress on either front.
Tim’s tummy still dodgy but not serious.
Day 85 Wednesday 28th JulyEgypt
Still in Sharm though our accommodation sponsorship has run out so we have moved to a significantly cheaper hotel – basic but quiet, characterful and clean and at £9 for a double room B&B it’s not bad value considering we’re in a holiday resort at peak season. We could have paid more for an upstairs room with air con and en-suite but it seems unnecessarily extravagant – downstairs we have a fan, windows and a little outside seating area where we can work and read comfortably.
With no pool, no beach view, no private beach and low prices this place is frequented by independent travellers and attracts an interesting mix; the three people in the room next door are from Hungary, Slovakia and Greece, for example. In contrast, the big resort hotels, three of which sponsored us for our first 6 nights here, are packed with package tours mainly from the UK, Italy, Russia and Egypt.
This is the second day that we have devoted solely to travel planning – there are many potential options for travelling from here to India though few may be realistic or within our budget. Getting answers from airlines and agencies, yacht owners and others and finding specific route information is proving frustrating. So we are still here, waiting for replies to many e-mails and telephone messages.
We are heartened to have established e-mail communications with the British High Commission staff in Mumbai who have already been very helpful (thanks to a superb introduction from the British Consul in Cairo who has been a star!) and we are making progress on plans for the start of the India leg of our journey.
Day 86 Thursday 29th JulyEgypt
Trying hard to pull together our “get out of Egypt” plan was a race against time today because everyone here stops work mid afternoon on Thursday in preparation for the weekend tomorrow. Disappointingly we had to chase everyone and made little progress. Only one travel agent responded and that was thanks to a verbal prod from a member of staff in the British Embassy.
We have given up hope of travelling to India via any of the Gulf states, on a ship or on a yacht despite our determined efforts and are now focusing on arranging an economical flight from Cairo to Mumbai. This is proving more challenging than we had expected – there are no direct flights (well, one is billed as “direct” but it sits on the tarmac for a few hours en route) and most involve at least one transit of several hours resulting in overall flight times of about 24hours. Not great but we’ll put up with that as long as we can get seats in the near future and for a reasonable price; we’re still working on it.
We have begun to make good progress on our plans for India. Though we have enjoyed our month in Egypt, much longer than the time we have spent in any other country, and have made some good friends, we now feel we need to be moving on and are looking forward to meeting up with Florence and continuing our journey to NZ.
On a journey like this where there is only so much we can organise in advance it is inevitable that we have a few days spent trying make arrangements and it is all to be expected so, having done as much as we could by 6pm, frustrated we took the evening off.
The beach of Ne’ama bay is about a kilometre walk from here and most of it is “owned” by beachfront hotels who do not welcome casual visitors but it was late so Joanne went for a swim anyway believing that they do not own the sea. Tim moved his bag (he was guarding the lap-top etc) and himself on to the sand because sitting on the end of one of the mass of deserted beds involved a £5 fee.
Ne’ama Bay is one of the bays that make up the resort of Sharm-el Sheikh. There was originally a small fishing village and a port at Sharm-el-Maya, just South of Ne’ama Bay until the Israelis built a small holiday resort on the end of the peninsula when they occupied the Sinai in the 1970’s in response to Egypt blocking their access to the Red Sea. Because of the coastline and world-renowned diving on the reefs off the coast around the peninsula it has grown quickly into a holiday area with resorts still being built along the coast for several kilometres. Some of the resorts are fabulous and we were lucky enough to stay a short time in three of them.
Ne’ama Bay itself has a corniche along the beach and inland a pedestrian area with expensive souvenir shops, cafes, a packed “Macdonald’s” as well as other international fast-food chains, and noisy bars. We found the rooftop area of the “Camel Bar” to be an oasis of calm and sophistication above the brashness of the street below. The whole place exuded “cool”. The low cream sofas were even surprisingly cool – really effective when it is 38 degrees at night and everything gives our heat long after the sun has gone down. Sinking low behind the walls we could ignore the bright lights and enjoy watching the mountains fade into the darkness as the breeze drifted over us. The food was good too – the best homemade chips we had had since we left home – and good value and the beer was cool.
Our own air of “cool” had turned to sweat by the time we made it back to the hotel. A cold shower was the only solution.
Day 89 Sunday 1st AugustEgypt
By getting back to Cairo last night we could focus our efforts today on getting our journey to India organised on the first working day of the week. Speaking by phone to the only person at Egypt Air who could make the decision about whether to sponsor us or not had proven frustrating and used up most of the credits on the mobile and our e-mails were not getting through so we determined to meet the Vice-President Commercial and Marketing in person.
The office in Tahrir Square told us that he was at the main office at the airport so we took a taxi whose driver had been given directions by a policeman…to the wrong Egypt Air office; after much discussion and a concerted effort by the deputy manager there to prevent us going due to his total disbelief that we could have an appointment with the Vice-President, the taxi driver was given directions to the correct office and we headed out to the airport.
To our amazement our confident statement that we were going to see Mr Mohamed Mounir succeeded in getting us through security and up to the second floor where we made our way to the office of his team. Our polite insistence that only the main man could deal with us got us to his secretary. Nihah was charming, she knew who we were, loved the website, accepted our apologies for arriving without an appointment and in return apologised to us that Mr Mounir was in a meeting for an indefinite period of time. Still, she was happy for us to work on our laptop and drink tea in her office while we waited for him to return.
When the Vice-President did return Nihah introduced us and, after apologies, thanks and a two-minute sales pitch on our part confirmed with our answer to his question “What can you do for Egypt Air?” to our surprise Mr Mounir explained that, despite a tight budget, Egypt Air is keen to be associated with the Red Cross and Red Crescent and, if we could do some publicity shots, add the logo to our website and write an article for their in-flight magazine, we could have the maximum discount they offer.
As Mr Mounir took another call we shook his hand, thanked him and were then ushered out of his office to make the necessary practical arrangements with Nihah.
We were really pleased to be able to tell our friends (our unofficial “Cairo Oxford2Oxford support team”) this evening that we actually have our tickets – proof that we really are leaving Egypt. They were probably as relieved as we are that we have a confirmed departure so will no longer be calling them but they were far too polite to say so!
We count ourselves very lucky to have got back to Cairo just in time to be invited to join David Todd and some friends at his version of a supper party. Being Executive Assistant Manager of one of the top hotels in Cairo, the Semiramis Intercontinental, he hosted a most fabulous evening in the “Sabaya” Lebanese restaurant in the hotel. Superb cold then hot mezzehs were followed by a selection of fish, chicken and meat dishes. We finished the meal by retiring to the sumptuous “soft” area where we got comfortable on “pooffies” and piles of cushions and ate fruit and small sweet almond and marzipan cakes drenched in honey accompanied by tiny cups of spiced coffee.
David is one of several friends we have made during our month in Egypt and we are really pleased we had a chance to spend such a fun evening with him; Fiona and Steve, great hosts who invited us to supper on our first visit to Cairo and on our final visit have invited us to stay for a few days; Mark, the British Consul who has always answered our frequent calls and e-mails with amazing patience and whose help in many ways has enabled us to make the most of our time in Egypt; and Marks girlfriend, Lorna who also works at the Embassy and who, until now, we had not had a chance to meet. Unfortunately, David’s wife, Debbie, had already left for the UK so we have not met her – perhaps we’ll get a chance to look them up in whichever country David’s job takes him next. (That’s not meant as a threat, David!)
Day 90 Monday 2nd AugustEgypt
It is such a relief to have got the next step in our journey arranged and really good to be in a perfect place to get ourselves organised before we head off to another continent to meet with new people and a whole new culture.
There is so much more we could go and visit in Egypt but as we’re leaving tomorrow we are keen to get as up to date as we can before we go so will have to leave more sightseeing to our next visit to Egypt – preferably in the winter time!
Our hosts, Fiona and Steve, had already left for work by the time we surfaced, as we had slept in for the first time in ages but they have given us a key and seem relaxed about us using their apartment as a base. Being in a home where we can make a cup of tea when we fancy one, use a washing machine, sort out our belongings, not have to put our valuables in a safe, not have to practise our Arabic every time we step out of the bedroom etcetera is ideal for our last two days and we are really grateful for their generous hospitality.
Our ideal equipment list would include two laptops and this afternoon we’re demonstrating the benefits, not that we need to prove the need for another to ourselves. Tim is next to me working through a pile of receipts in French, Arabic and English dating back to our time in Morocco to update our accounts using Fiona’s laptop.
Apart from all the practical benefits of staying here for a couple of days, it is a really nice apartment and our lovely hosts have a couple of very cute and fluffy cats!
Day 91 Tuesday 3rd AugustEgypt
It is our last day in Egypt today as we fly to India at midnight tonight. We had intended to spend the whole day getting up to date with our accounts, website, adding photos to the website, e-mailing photos to people promised them weeks ago, e-mailing our contacts in India as well as finishing our washing, packing up no-longer needed books and paperwork that Steve and Fiona had offered to post in the UK and Spain for us and packing our bags…
By lunchtime, though, having spent the morning focused on the two laptops, we were tempted out by Steve’s offer to drive us all to an outdoor BBQ restaurant near Saqqara.
It is amazing how quick and definite the distinction is between Cairo city, the desert and the date palm groves near the Nile. Once clear of the congested traffic (apparently the traffic jams clear slightly around 3 in the morning, or when one of the three main Government Ministers is being driven to or from work at which time the roads are cleared ahead of them) we bumped South for twenty minutes along the edge of an irrigation canal close to the Nile to an open restaurant surrounded by fields of lush bright green crops, banana trees and in the distance plantations of date palm trees.
After a tasty lunch of barbequed chicken with tomato and fresh hot flat bread we continued on towards the red pyramid but the road was closed so we turned back and instead admired the oldest of the pyramids that have been discovered so far.
The stepped pyramid was built before the most well known larger pyramids at Giza. The view of it rising above the sand dunes and peaking through the date palms was well worth dragging ourselves away from our laptops – as was lunch!
After much last minute sorting and packing – there seems so much more to do when flying to another continent and preparing to start a new leg of the journey – Fiona cooked us supper then she and Steve waved us goodbye at the airport. The last couple of days with them had been a perfect end to our time in Egypt.
Once through the chaotic checking-in area we spent the last 45 minutes before take-off making use of our Egyptian Vodafone Connect Card: sending a final e-mail to all of those people who had helped us in Egypt and making sure those who we had texted from the Connect Card knew that it and our Egyptian mobile phone would cease working with effect from tonight.
We left Cairo with Egypt Air www.egyptair.com.eg at 1am for the seven-hour flight via Oman to Mumbai, India.