All’s well that ends well!

“Traffic police take 100 pounds.”
Mazar and I have lunch on a terrace in Aswan with a view of the Nile. There must be tables for at least fifty people, but we are the only guests. The tourist industry in Egypt has completely disintegrated and independent travellers like myself are given a genuinely warm welcome. Even the dreaded policemen and military at the numerous checkpoints act as if they have been instructed to be overtly friendly: “Welcome, welcome to Egypt!”

Thimba enjoying the early morning sun in the desert near Wadi Halfa

Thimba enjoying the early morning sun…

... in the desert near Wadi Halfa, Sudan

… in the desert near Wadi Halfa, Sudan…

... and I can't drive and take pictures at the same time, so these are taken by Mazar with my iPhone.

… and I can’t drive and take pictures at the same time, so these are taken by Mazar with my iPhone.

We had left Abu Simbel at 5.00 o’clock in the morning to avoid having to drive in an armed convoy; at least that’s the reason Mazar gives me for our departure in the waking hours.

On the ferry to Abu Simbel

On the ferry to Abu Simbel

IMG_0197

Egyptian number plates!

From Abu Simbel to Aswan is barely 275 kilometers. Until a couple of months ago this road was closed, and the only way to cross the border was to take the infamous ferry across Lake Nasser. Oh, how I would have loved to take that ferry! I remember Joanna Lumley (Absolutely Fabulous! and fabulous!) in a BBC travel documentary, surviving the 18 hours on a hugely overcrowded deck, wrapped in blankets to protect herself against the chilly night. But dogs are not allowed on the ferry, and I would have to leave Thimba on the barge, tied to the Land Rover. Not a comforting idea.

 

While we are enjoying a good lunch Mazar specifies the costs of yesterday’s bordercrossing. It was my 30th in Africa and by far the longest (six hours) and the most expensive, read: corrupt (€ 200). When Mazar sums up the expenses he uses the term “on the take” appropriately: “The traffic police take 100 pounds, customs take 500,” and so on and so forth.
I say goodbye to Mazar, who has become a good friend during the five days that we’ve been together. He arranged for a truck to pick me up in the desert, invited me to stay at his place in Wadi Halfa (I slept under the stars in his garden), and solved my cash problem. He’s a great guy, a reliable fixer, and an outstanding host.

Limping to Alexandria
I am not enjoying driving through the Nile Delta. When I use the engine to brake, the rattling is more than worrying, and all I really want and all I can think about is to get to Alexandria without another major mechanical failure. I stay at Rezeiky Camp (65 rooms, all empty) in the middle of Luxor, and discuss the situation in Egypt with Paras, the Coptic manager, who praises the new president Sisi and abhors the Muslim Brotherhood: “Muslims are crazy (pointing to his head), they can’t think!” In Hurghada, the 4-Seasons Hotel manager, Mohammad, is afraid that Thimba barks all night and that his other guests will complain. There are no other guests. “I’ll pay you twice when she barks even once,” I try. That convinces him. Motel Salma in Cairo is actually a nice place to camp, but with an ablution block so dirty I don’ even dare to enter. No wonder there are no other guests.

 

The sound of breaking glass
The Immigrations and Customs building is located in an old part of Alexandria. Narrow streets, numerous food stalls selling palatable snacks, the smell of a vibrant city. The man from Alltrans, the shipping agency, advises me to stay “close to him”. In the middle of the road a large group of people surrounds two armed trucks, yelling and scolding. They are transporting prisoners from this neighbourhood, and their families and friends are blocking the road. On the roofs of the trucks policemen brandish their automatic weapons. There are no windows but small hatches like in cattle trucks. We accelerate our pace and find the immigrations around the corner. We climb the stairs, navigating our way around people sitting and lying on the floor, begging, smoking, eating, some with children, others sleeping on a blanket. The cacophony of voices increases as we get nearer the immigration desks. I see people everywhere, in front of and behind the desks, and it’s impossible to determine who’s an official and who’s not. Too many men and women packed together in a stuffy place, shoving, pushing, poking, elbowing, shouting. My fixer guides me to a small room behind the row of desks and I take a seat directly opposite two officials. And wait, and wait a bit more, amidst a turbulent crowd that’s becoming more and more aggressive. A policeman in a white uniform knocks an unwilling customer out of the room right in from of me. Then there’s a power cut. Someone with a tea tray stumbles over my feet and spills hot tea and broken glass all over me. That’s it! I’ve been waiting for nearly two hours in this madhouse, I start to hyperventilate for the first time in my life and desperately need to get some fresh air. When we’re outside – with the stamped papers – my fixer asks me: “Is it like this in Holland?” And I honestly don’t know where to begin.

Exemplary Egyptian hospitality
I have arranged to meet up with Omar at a big shopping mall just outside Alexandria. It’s great to see him at last; we have a coffee and exchange war stories. When we discuss the (im)possiblity of finding a hotel that will accept Thimba, a couple of Omar’s friends invite me to stay in an apartment that they have. It turns out to be a big, luxuruous apartment that I can use all by myself, with a huge rooftop terrace overlooking the city. Sherif an Tarek and his family give me such a warm welcome, it is overwhelming! They invite me to have lunch with the entire family, they spoil me with delicious dinners, and offer to use their chauffeur and a car when I need to go into town. They have given me a supreme taste of Egyptian hospitality, something I will never forget.

Flying home
Sherif and Tarek organise for a private minivan to drive me to Cairo Airport on Saturday evening. I can leave my car at their place (24 hour guard and a big gate) where it will be picked up a couple of days later by someone from the shipping agency. Thimba is a bit restless in the kennel, but once inside the terminal she relaxes and lies down. Checking in with her is very easy and efficient, and I feel comfortable leaving her behind. After a direct flight of only 4 ½ hours we touch ground in Amsterdam, where Eljen is waiting for me.

The weary traveller and his dog have returned home!

14 thoughts on “All’s well that ends well!

  1. Susanne A.

    Nice to read the last part of your adventure an to see what happend after “Stuck in the Desert”.
    Great to know that you and Thimba are well!
    I do hope that you will let us being part of your further adventures.

    Like to read your news in the RR-Forum in Germany

    Susanne

    Reply
  2. Vince Prince

    The end of a fantastic journey. I have enjoyed reading the joys and tribulations of the trip. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  3. Bob Churcher

    Hi, great story, thanks for posting on your travels. If you have time do you happen to know if its possible to come into Egypt by ferry (with a Landrover) from Europe/Turkey these days. Thanks, Bob

    Reply
  4. Marite La Haye

    Prachtig spannend verhaal, wat een liefde spreekt er ook uit.
    Welkom in Dedemsvaart. Totaal andere samenleving, maar de contacten die je hebt op gedaan reizen altijd met je mee.

    Reply
  5. Annet Klinkhamer

    Hoi Gee, wat een fantastische reis en wat heb ik genoten van jouw beschrijvingen. Daarmee heb je wat mij betreft een enorme relativering aangebracht in het leven van alledag van de “achterblijvers”. En – als hondenbezitter – werd ik vele malen ontroerd door de keuzes die je hebt gemaakt om juist háár belang te dienen. En natuurlijk je foto’s……!

    Reply
  6. Gee Post author

    Hoi Annet,

    Dank je!
    Ik begin het leven van alledag weer langzaam maar zeker op te pakken. Dat viel nog niet mee de eerste weken, maar het voelt heerlijk om weer thuis te zijn!

    Liefs,

    Gee

    Reply
  7. Tristan

    Well done Gee, so glad Mazar took as good care of you as he did of us! We left Aswan at 2am to get to Abu Simbel on time so it seems they do it for everyone!
    Hope fatty at ALLTRANS looked after you well and that your car arrives in one piece, please please update on this as ours didn’t!

    Take care and I hope the European winter won’t take its toll on you two!

    Reply
  8. Gee Post author

    Hey Tristan,

    Great to hear from you!
    I am enjoying the Dutch winter, as a matter of fact, but Thimba isn’t.
    My car was very well looked after, and was waiting for me in a big warehouse when I picked her up in Rotterdam. She is now sort of hibernating, comfortably under a roof.

    Safe travels, and warm greetings from Holland,

    Gee

    Reply
  9. Alex Gilchrist

    Hi Gee,

    Glad you made it home safely. I’m planning on doing a similar trip with my dog in May and would love to ask you some questions. Do you think we could get in touch via email? Thanks,

    Alex

    Reply
    1. Gee Post author

      Hi Alex,

      Sure, you can mail me with any question you like!

      gee at geehurkmans dot com

      Cheers, and enjoy the preparations!

      Gee

      Reply

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