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At home in Egypt

Luxor was like diving into another world. The city and the surroundings offer stunning sights. Our favorite sights were the very well preserved temples (e.g. Karnak, etc.) as well as the tombs with beautiful wall paintings (Tutankhamun) in the Valley of the Kings. The absolute highlight was a hot-air balloon flight at sunrise over the Valley of the Kings and Hatschepsud temple for reasonable 350 LE (approx. 40 Euro).

However Luxor is a place full of contrasts. The locals try to surround their beautiful sights with as much noise as possible. Not only the muezzins warble the entire day from oversized loud speakers but also local oriental music entertains the entire city. You cannot escape. Since the tourism declined, an endless number of Nile cruisers are just waiting deserted on the river side. And the little numbers of tourists who are still in Luxor are chased by the locals.

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Luckily we met the tour guide Tony from Dragoman Overlanders in our Rezeiky camp. The Overlanders are a group of 20 travelers and drive the route Cairo – Cape Town in their small lorry. Tony was kind enough to submit our passports and Sudan visa forms at the Sudan consulate in Assuan. This gave us extra time in Luxor and especially facilitated our visa application process enormously. It usually takes a minimum of seven days.

After four days Luxor we drove to Aswan to get the ferry ticket and our Sudan visa. On the way we visited the temple “Horus” which is the best preserved temple in Egypt. In Aswan we stayed at the Isis hotel directly at the Nile river. That was peaceful and quiet. The next morning we coincidently met our motor bike friends, Susi, Mark and Tom again at the Nile Valley Cooperation. We saw them the last time in Little Petra in Jordan. Small World! We were very happy to see them and had to share a lot of experiences and stories. In order to get the ferry ticket we needed a police statement from the traffic court first. That confirms that we did not cause any accident and followed all traffic rules (which rules?) in Egypt. However when we got back to the Nile Valley Cooperation Mr. Salah told us that the “Pontoon” (our car has to go on that to Sudan) is still in Wadi Haifa (Sudan) and we shall come back tomorrow because “Inshallah” he might find a solution for our problem. Of course when we got there the next morning there was “Inshallah” still no solution and we had to come back on Saturday one week later! At least we finally got the Sudan Visa on that day after waiting at the Sudan consulate for five hours.

Up until today there is only a ferry connection between Egypt and Sudan at a very high price (online or pre-bookings are not possible). Even though a connecting street is almost finished (only 10 km have been missing for a while!), the two countries cannot find an agreement. However a street connection would also mean that the ferry company would not make any money anymore!

In order not to waste our time in Aswan we spontaneously drove to Marsa Alam at the Red Sea for snorkeling and diving. We spent our time at the diving spot Beach Safari Camp (GPS coordinates N25 11.767 E34 49.009).  It was beautiful but windy and chilly. On Friday the 25th of November we drove back to Aswan and booked ourselves a very nice hotel room at the Philae Hotel (GPS coordinates N24 05.357 E32 53.668). The hotel is lovely, has a beautiful view and is very clean and neat. In the afternoon the hotel owner invited us to a barbeque at his property directly at the Nile river. It was great for us to see a different site from Egypt.

And the next morning on the 26th of November – same game! We went to the Nile Valley Cooperation and Mr. Salah told us immediately that this time the pantoon crashed on the way to Aswan and can only be repaired in three days because there are public holidays in Egypt (again!). However we shall come back tomorrow and “inshallah” he will find a solution. The overlander lorry including Tom, the driver, also got stuck in Aswan (their 20 travelers took a ferry one week earlier). It was possible for Tom to put a lot of pressure on the ferry company because they are doing this tour all the time and make a lot of business with them. And what a surprise, all of a sudden the next morning (on the 27th of November) there was a slight change in the situation. Mr. Salah all of a sudden told us (after he sent us back again for a few hours) that there is a third pontoon, that is smaller and can take our cars tomorrow. What a nightmare!

We will tell you more about the ferry ride in our next blog….”Inshallah”…

Our impressions about Egypt

After four weeks of driving through Egypt we are slowly feeling like being at home. Suddenly we do not measure the locals with European expectations anymore. We do not want to improve everything because we know how it works. No, we only want to flow with this huge mass of people, odours and noises. We are even able to continue sleeping next to the noisy “chanting” of the muezzins at 04.30 h in the morning. Additionally we are well aware that we always play at least the double of the price compared to the locals and we just tolerate it with a smile.

The 80 million Egyptians have to go through a hard time at the moment. Since the revolution the tourism (which is a main source of income for the economy) has dropped enormously. At the same time the cost of living went up a lot. In addition the political and the legal environment became very unclear and insecure. On one hand we are lucky that we do not need to share the beautiful country with a lot of other tourists, however on the other hand we realize that the people are desperately looking for visitors to sell their services – to be honest, most of them just got on our nerves.

Interesting is the development of the two major groups in Egypt. There are the Muslims on the one hand. Since September 11th they have been able in general to strengthen their power and since the revolution in particular. On the other hand there are the Christian Coptic’s. For them life is getting more and more difficult. We talked to a few of them and they are really scared of the future.  For most of them they don’t see any Future in Egypt.

We travelled through a country that used to live under a dictatorship for decades and is now going through a big change. No one knows what the future is going to be.

Our Highlights:

  • The beautiful temples of Luxor (Karnak, etc.) and the Valley of the Kings
  • A hot air balloon flight  over Luxor’s sights
  • The very well preserved Horus temple
  • The challenging Sudan ferry booking and long waiting period
  • Snorkeling in Marsa Alam, Red Sea

Who wants to win a personal post card from Sudan?

Please write a funny comment under these blog.  The most hilarious answer will win and will get a personal post card (as funny as the email is) from us. We will inform the winner via email and we then just need the postal address.

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Visiting the Pharaoh

In summary we can say that driving in Egypt is like playing „Tetris“ in the street. There are no rules. Everyone drives the way he feels like and the winner is the biggest or the loudest car. A four line street is made to a six line street and vehicles drive only centimeters apart from each other. The traffic is packed with busses (always stopping somewhere), donkey wagons and millions of cars and motorbikes. But now one by one…

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We booked a hotel room at the May Fair Hotel (GPS coordinates N30 03.565 E31 13.261) in Zamalek in located in the middle of the embassy quarter in Cairo. Very early next morning we went confidently and full of energy to the embassies in order to get the visas for Sudan and Ethiopia. When we arrived there the doors were closed and no one was working. Great! Not only Israel seems to have lots of public holidays but also Egypt. Or maybe it is us? Do we attract all the public holidays in the region? Because of the “Feast of Sacrifice” public holidays the Sudan embassy (GPS coordinates N30 02.371 E31 14.050) was closed for the entire week. The Ethiopia embassy (GPS coordinates N30 02.398 E31 12.279) for four days and the German embassy (for our Ethiopian recommendation letter) for two days (GPS coordinates N30 03.301 E31 13.134). What shall we do now? We decided spontaneously to stay in Cairo for four days for the Ethiopia visa and to get the Sudan visa later in Assuan at the consulate. We wanted to discover the city, museums and the surrounding areas instead for the next days.

We went to the great pyramids of Giza on the same day. Before we left we walked along the streets in Cairo and watched the “Feast of Sacrifice” spectacle. The Feast of Sacrifice holidays are the highest Islamic public holidays and religious Muslims have to sacrifice an animal.  Therefore the anyway overcrowded city was additionally packed with sheeps, goats and cows standing at the roadside and all waiting to be killed. The animals were slaughtered one by one in the quite dirty streets in front of sightseers or people who wanted to buy meet. Blood flowed in streams down the roads. We don’t want to go into more details with regards to our vegetarian friends (Viktoria has not touched any meet since).

The Giza pyramids were a great experience, disregarding the annoying people who were trying to sell anything. We could not walk for two meters and felt like being persecuted all the time.

Unfortunately luck was not on our side on that day. Somebody broke into our hotel room in the evening while we were working on our computers in the hotel lobby. Our computer tablet and some cash money got stolen. Pity! We were very down at the beginning however that did not take very long. TIA (this is Africa). We heard from locals that the police have not been doing their job properly anymore since the revolution in Egypt and the crime is gradually increasing.

The next day we drove to Sakkara to see the step pyramid and the fascinating chamber tombs including the very well kept reliefs. The streets were almost empty, therefore relatively easy to drive. The public holidays must have at least one advantage for us!

The next days in Cairo we visited the Egyptian Museum and the Bazar El Kalili. The Egyptian Museum is packed with the most beautiful pieces of art from several epochs. Even though the presentation is very poor, the museum is a highlight.

Finally on Thursday, the 10th of November we received the Ethiopia visa within a record time of three hours. As it usually takes a minimum of one day we were asking the responsible person very nicely – and it worked. At noon we were back on the road again towards Al Fayyum to go to the desert freshwater lakes and to Wadi El Hitan. The vastness, cleanliness and silence of the desert were such a pleasure after buzzing Cairo. We were very impressed by finding very well kept whale and dinosaur bones in the middle of the dessert Wadi El Hitan. The Campsite is directly at the entrance of Wadi El Hitan  (GPS coordinates N29 15.842 E30 01.351). Nevertheless we spent the night at one of the lakes under the stars with pure enjoyable silence. From there we drove straight through the desert to the oasis Bawiti. The 60 km off-road driving is a dream not only for us but also for every off-road driver. In Bawiti we stayed at the Eden Garden Camp  (GPS coordinates N28 18.060 E28 56.393). It was a friendly, nice and clean place to stay. The oasis was very special because of the hot springs. Pleasingly hot mineral water bubbled everywhere – perfect to put the feed in or to take a relaxing bath.

On the way to the White Desert Julian took a bath in one of the oasis pump stations that was surrounded by an amazing desert panorama (GPS coordinates N28 02.057 E28 42.541). After the short bathing break we continued our way to the White Desert. The White Desert is outstandingly beautiful. Like an unreal dream is everything covered in pure unbelievably bright white. We have not seen something like that before. Our photos give a slight impression. In the middle of this white beauty we stayed in our favorite hotel “under the thousand stars” and enjoyed pesto, pasta, beer and campfire (GPS coordinates N27 15.764 E28 11.693). The next morning we continued our way to Luxor via the oasis Al-Farafra, Abu Minqar, Mut, Bala and Kharga. In Luxor we booked ourselves a hotel room at the Rezeiky Camp. (GPS Koordinaten N25 42.683 E32 38.919). This is an overlander hotspot with secure parking.

At this place we would like to mention that we are using the open street maps for Garmin for the Tracks4Africa. These two maps are a perfect combination for navigating. There are only some difficulties in Cairo when it comes to 3 streets on top of each other.

And further stories in our next blog…..

Our Highlights:

  • The “Feast of Sacrifice” spectacle in Cairo
  • The chaotic traffic in Cairo
  • The impressive sights of Cairo and surrounded areas.
  • The beautiful Al Fayyum freshwater lakes und the impressive wale bones in Wadi El Hitan
  • The outstandingly beautiful white desert

Follow our route on Google Maps

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From Asia to Africa

After we managed to finally board in Aqaba at 01:30 h in the morning, we had to go immediately on the ferry through the Egyptian pass control. Luckily an employee offered us to stay at the VIP lounge for the night. Great! This was such a relieve because the economy class was overbooked, loud and very smelly. Therefore we spent the night peacefully sleeping on white comfortable leather sofas. When we woke up in the morning we were already in Nuweiba. We only realized few days ago when we were reading the newspapers that we were even luckier. The ferry we took from Aqaba to Nuweiba caught fire in the boot only one week later. Almost no one got heart however our beautiful Toyota Landcruiser would have surely been damaged badly.

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The Egyptian border is very well known for making troubles. However our entry was relatively stress free.  A so called Tourist Police officer supported us with all administrative duties like entry form, insurance, customs paper and other forms. After one hour and paying 1200 LE (approx. 150 Euro) we were already out of the harbor. The first stop was again a petrol station. We could not believe that we only had to pay 0,19 Euro per liter diesel. From there we followed a travel guide recommendation and drove directly to the beach resort “Soft Beach” in Nuweiba (GPS coordinates N29.02283 E34.67382). And indeed it was good: clean, nice beaches and delicious food for little money. They even had internet, therefore the perfect place for us to get all important things done and organized for the next few days/weeks.

After spending four days at the sunny beach with delicious food and a lot of work on the computer we drove to Catherine Monastery on the 2nd of November. On the way we passed several police and military checkpoints without any problems. We left out the off-road tours through the White Wadi, because we did plenty off-road driving in Jordan.  We stopped directly at the Catherine Monastery. Katherine’s Monastery (GPS coordinates: 28° 33′ 21″ N, 33° 58′ 32″ O) has an altitude of 1500 meters and was established between the 548 and 565 century. The monastery today is run by Christian orthodox. Only some parts of the monastery are open for public.

We booked ourselves into the Farag Fox Camp (GPS Coordinates 28º33,85689’N, 33º57,50381’E) which is run by Bedouin’s. We can only recommend this place: beautifully situated, friendly people and interesting conversations at the fire place. In the afternoon the Bedouin’s included us in a medical camel treatment procedure. The general medicine did not work for this camel therefore the Bedouin’s used their traditional remedies. Firstly they cleaned the tongue with a cloth and a stone and then the entire mouth was rubbed with salt. At the end the camel was brand marked deeply three times on head and neck with a burning iron stick. The camel was totally fine with the torture remedy and felt better immediately – unbelievable.

On the 3rd of November 2011 early in the morning at 02:00 am we left for Moses Mountain together with a guide in order to watch the sunrise in the desert mountains.  The night was freezing cold. When we left the bright village behind us we were surrounded just by darkness, silence and an unbelievable starry sky. We started the tour on a deserted path that is only used by locals during the day – therefore far away from big tourist groups. Unfortunately our deserted path was linked together with the Catherine Monastery path the last 750 steps. And here you go, there were the masses of tourists climbing up with slippery shoes and improper equipment. No wonder that we could only do the rest of our tour very slowly like in snail paste. Nevertheless climbing up Moses Mountain was worthwhile because the first light of a rising sun is magical. And so were the photos we took.

An exceptionally beautiful and unusual house directly next to our Bedouin camp caught our attention when we arrived. The owner of this house is a German guy called Cosmos. Cosmos, a former Beuys-student walked all the way with his wife Irma and two donkeys from Cologne (Germany) to Jerusalem (Israel) and finally to Catherine’s Monastery (Egypt). It took them 10 years from 1997 to 2007!  Next to the Bedouin camp beautifully situated they decided in 2007 to settle down and to build a house. He told us his amazing story in the afternoon while we were filming him. Please see also his interesting story on his website: cosmos-damian-factory.org

Later in the afternoon we also interviewed Dr. Hilary Gilbert. She is the founder of the South Sinai Foundation and she told us about her work and her daily challenges.  The South Sinai Foundation helps to improve the life and status of the Bedouin’s with small development projects. Her projects include: education, health, sustainable development and job creation, conservation of environment and heritage.  Please see more information on her website www.southsinaifoundation.org

On the 4th of November in the morning we left our Bedouin Camp and drove towards Cairo. We spent the night in the dessert in our roof tent because the only camp ground in this area resembled rather a rubbish dump. We arrived in Cairo the next morning after passing again thousands of police and military checkpoints. In Egypt there are always two checkpoints in each village or military institution (at the beginning and at the end). Luckily we could continue immediately as soon as the police officers realized that we are German nationals. We wanted to go to Cairo in order to get the Sudan and Ethiopia visa as well as confirmations from the German Embassy. Therefore we stayed at the “May Fair Hotel” right in the middle of the embassy area in Cairo. The Hotel is neat and clean (for Egyptian standards) (GPS coordiantes: N30.05941 E31.22102) .

And further stories in our next blog that will come soon….

Our Highlights:

  • Pleasant ferry ride in the VIP lounge und stress-free entry to Egypt
  • Busy working days at a beautiful beach in Sinai
  • Traditional Bedouin Camel remedy
  • Climbing up mount Sinai
  • Interview with Cosmos. A German who walked with two donkeys from Cologne to Jerusalem
  • Interview with Hilary. Founder of the South Sinai Foundation