Trip Diary - Africa

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Egypt

Sinai – Tuesday 16th January

We caught the fast ferry from Aqaba (Jordan) across to Nuweiba (Egypt), the main port in the Sinai. The ferry only took an hour and a half, but waiting to disembark took another 40 minutes for no apparent reason. Anyway, once we were off, getting through Egyptian customs and immigration was confusing, but there was a real buzz about the place, and we were guided by a useful chap from the tourist poilice. Miranda, the Landcruiser only took two-and-a-half hours to be registered as Egyptian. Her new number plate is SINAI 7587 !!!!!

 Graham downloaded Tracks4Africa onto our GPS, so finding our way around on the African continent has been a piece of cake, even cheap campsites have been programmed in. Map reading and navigating appear to be a thing of the past.

Habiba Camp, north of Nuweiba was our first stop. It is on the coast of The Gulf of Aqaba. We found it safe, relaxing and staff friendly. We spent 3 nights there whilst we explored the stunning desert nearby. Using the GPS we drove through wadis stopping to look at ancient rock inscriptions and take photos of the beautiful colours in the rocks. We visited the Coloured Canyon, which is a walk of about one-and-a-half kilometres through a shallow canyon of colourful rock striations, from which it derives its name.

Graham had a couple of dips in the Red Sea until a jellyfish sting put him off. The children and I sat at a table on the shore doing schoolwork to the sounds of the waves and the odd camel wandering past.

From Nuweiba, we pressed on through the scenic desert mountains to St Katherine’s Monastery. We eventually found the track into the Blue Valley. It is called this as some of the rocks have been painted blue by an eccentric Belgian artist back in 1978. We had great fun using our 4 wheel drive over the desert sand and rocks. It was here that we decided to rough camp. It became Paradise Camp 3 (Blue Rock Camp). The children clambered up the rocks whilst I sat outside watching the glorious sunset and turning up the hem of my newly acquired Galabiyya, a loose flowing robe, which I wear over my western clothing when required.

At 2.30am the following morning we woke and packed up the camp. Using the GPS to navigate in total darkness (no moon), we found our way through 30km of desert back to the main road. We headed for Mt Sinai, the Biblical mountain where Moses received the Ten Commandments. Our plan was to climb the mountain and be at the top for sunrise at 6.30am. Once parked up near St Katherine’s Monastery, we dressed ourselves in our warmest clothes and set off on foot. As in all these places, there is always someone with a camel wanting to offer you a ride. I spent the first half-an-hour walking up with 2 camels behind me. It was a moonless night and so dark, that I couldn’t see the camels, and if my pace slowed I could feel their breath on the back of my neck. As if that wasn’t bad enough, their owner kept on asking if the children wanted to go up the mountain on his camels. Of course they did, so we also had nagging children trundling along. We almost aborted our mission, when the camels (and owner) turned around and headed back down. The children’s strength instantly returned and we continued onward. It took us two-and-a-half hours to reach the summit (2285m), where there were just 100’s and 100’s of tourists snapping away. They had walked up the day before and spent a freezing night at the top. I’m glad we had had the climb more or less to ourselves. We descended the mountain down the Steps of Repentance. It is hell on the leg muscles but beautiful never-the-less. There are 3750 steps. They were built by a penitent monk many years ago. As it is the more difficult route down, there was no one else there, so once again we had a piece of history to ourselves. The children bounded down without a care.

Once down, we visited the monastery. Its library houses over 3000 manuscripts and 5000 books, surpassed only by the Vatican’s. The children were fascinated by the burning bush (actually the descendent), where God spoke to Moses, telling him to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. We took lots of photos before returning to the car.

We drove northwards. Still with our exploration hats pulled firmly on our heads, we headed into a wadi (that had no GPS data) and spent the rest of the day driving through). We were amazed at how many people lived in it. They had organized irrigation in parts, with crops growing on the other side of the dunes. Unfortunately, we were unable to see what they grew, as our one attempt at looking saw us being shooed away by a very suspicious Egyptian, so no doubt he was growing a very suspicious crop!!! As the wadi was surprisingly populated, we had a real battle looking for somewhere to set up camp. With the sun setting we had no real choice but to duck in behind a sand dune, which later turned out to be military owned and where it looked like the Israelis, 30 years before had blown up disused pipe bombs. We called that Minefield Camp and left asap the following morning.

Egypt – 22nd Jan

Our next destination was Cairo. We crossed into Africa proper through the tunnel under the Suez Canal, sadly not visible due to the high security surrounding this sensitive site (Egypt’s No1 money earner). Graham’s driving in this part of the world (modified Egyptian style), and the GPS, helped us arrive safely at Salma Motel Camping in the capital.

Cairo is a mad hectic city. Cairo drivers drive at 80km/hr hooting and flashing, dodging donkey-drawn carts and reckless pedestrians. It’s all a frantic race. I did find myself hoping there was a heaven for donkeys and horses in this part of the world. Their hooves slip on the tar with the excessive weight of what they have to pull, their lives in the hands of wild lorry drivers and sometimes cruel children.

We also visited the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. Although interesting, I was disappointed with the Sphinx, which has been restored so much over the years that it looks like it was moulded from concrete.

A visit to the Antiquities Museum was also in order. We were fascinated by the Tutankamen Room where all his treasures are on display. I visited the mummies on my own and met the great Ramses II and Ramses III and some of the others.

We also popped into the Sudanese Embassy to pick up visas. After that, it was about as much of Cairo as we could absorb.

The Desert Oases was next. We spent 2 nights in Bahariya and 3 in Dakhla. We found the oases so worthwhile. You spend the day driving through the desert before coming across an oasis full of palm trees and small fields of Lucerne and wheat, watered by flood irrigation from the hot spring nearby. We all found the oases such an education and very relaxing. Our first night at Eden Garden Camp saw us sitting around a campfire with the owner, Tallat and his French mistress. He kept telling us how hard he worked and how tired he was. Not surprising if he has to keep a wife and child in town happy as well as a mistress and according to other villagers, other peoples wives too.

The following day, we paired up with some Dutch friends we had met along the way and barrelled through the Black Desert before getting hopelessly stuck in the sand of the White Desert. The desert is fascinating, full of rocks made of chalk (carved by the wind), masses of quartz crystals, iron pyrites and of course sand.

Using sand mats to eventually pull ourselves out, we camped at that point. The children know they are free and safe in the desert. They race off into the dunes with only their footprints left as evidence they were ever there. We camped up at this spot and named it ‘Sticky Sand Camp’.

In these oases, the water is hot. Most campsites and hotels have access to a spring and so we found ourselves wallowing in the sulphur-smelling hot water, extremely relaxing. Interestingly, the crops are also watered with the hot water.

In Dakhla, we camped at El Douhous Bedouin Camp. From here we continued to explore the oasis. One night the 4 of us found ourselves at an Egyptian party in the camp. The musicians played drum with such rhythm that you found yourself clapping and tapping. Before long, one of the men invited Graham to dance (as they do in these parts). Graham’s ability to dance like an Egyptian was superior to the Falcon Boys’ shuffle I have always associated with him. Of course, I wasn’t let off and had to emulate the dance movements of a teenage girl who was extremely gifted at hip thrusting and rotating her abdomen, she managed it with such grace!!

At the end of the evening, we were invited to join the family for lunch the next day in their home in the village. It was a pleasant experience, and we spent 3 hours with them communicating in a language that neither party spoke but that both understood. They fed us their delicious homebaked bread (flat bread) with feta cheese and home made rusks.

We are now in Luxor (Upper Egypt), on the Nile. Hopefully this afternoon we will visit Karnak Temple and tomorrow Valley of the Kings.

From here we will head south for Aswan; and then into Sudan - hopefully with 2 other vehicles (Dutch and German). Communication from here may be difficult…

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