After a week of being horizontal we headed off to Aswan to start the next leg of the trip. Along the way we stopped for somebody who had just written-off his car. From the state of the car we were expecting the worst, but the driver was sitting on the side of the road, clearly shaken, but fortunately with no visible injuries. He refused any help, almost as if he didn’t want to be a burden. All we were able to do was give him some water and have a quick game of pictionary at the next police check-point to explain to them that there was an accident down the road.
In Aswan we met Mohammed, our fixer for the ferry to Aswan. Imagine our surprise when the price we had been quoted in his email had gone up. The explanation we got was that we can give some money to customs to help them search our car. If they don’t have this extra bit of help then they have to do the job all by themselves, and maybe they decide that you should register all your kitchen knives or you have to prove to them that your spare tyre really is only full of air. Then suddenly it takes 3 days to search your car and in that time the ferry leaves and you have to stay for another week. We were also told that we could go on Thursday to put the car on the barge – “which is better because the barge is higher in the water so it is easier to drive on. It is also better because if your car is on the barge then you are guaranteed a place on the ferry.” After going past customs and having our car thoroughly searched (pointing to a water bottle and asking if it was for water) we found out that the barge would only be ready on Saturday and we would have to leave the car in the port – “which is better because then the barge can be loaded with other stuff first so your car won’t get damaged.”
This involved being moved from one office to the next, giving back our Egyptian number plates, having the carnet stamped and things written down in large official looking books, then waiting for the car to get signed in to stay in customs until Saturday (fee attached for storage etc). Fortunately all this was happening with typical African efficiency because we then found out that the barge was now ready – “which is better because now we don’t have to come back on Saturday”.
We wouldn’t have been the only overland vehicle stuck in customs. There was Land Rover from South Africa that had arrived on the ferry from Sudan. We didn’t understand the full story, but from what I understand, guy didn’t have money to get the car into Egypt at the time, said he was going to the bank and would be back in a bit, 7 years ago. Now the car sits, untouched.
We had originally been told that the whole process would take an hour or two. While we waited an Egyptian hour or two we met a Sudanese man who was sending some stuff back on the barge. Sudan is the one country our travel insurance refused to cover. Mention Sudan to somebody from South Africa or Europe and you get a funny look followed by an “Isn’t Sudan very dangerous?” When we told him we were from “Ganoob Africa” we got a funny look, followed by an “Isn’t South Africa very dangerous?” It transpires that Sudanese people are not dangerous, they are all happy, and the only thing dangerous about Sudan is the sun. He would also like to come to South Africa to buy a wife and two lions to take back to Sudan.
The barge that was ready actually wasn’t quite ready, so in the Egyptian hour or two we went and waited in some shade where I sat on a bed frame with a Sudanese barge crew member with my African phrase book and he tried to teach me some Arabic. Incredibly friendly guy. With the lesson over I got out my hammock and tied it to two poles in the shade for a snooze and got a thumbs up from him as he inspected my knots. High praise indeed!
When the barge was almost ready we drove the car down to load it on. There was just one more thing to be loaded onto another barge – a great big bloody steel sugar cane press with gears and motors etc, which was “carefully”pushed on, toppling onto other things, ripping other packages, knocking about 20 pots and pans into the water and then coming to a rest wedged between the barge and the bank. I always thought Afrikaans was the best language to use to shout and swear at people, but it sounds like a poem about love and ponies written in French when compared to Arabic.
We eventually drove the car onto a barge, extremely grateful that there were 20 people telling us what to do in Arabic with their own made-up hand gestures instead of just one guy because that is more helpful and far easier to understand.
“Park in the middle”
“Shouldn’t I park to the side in case another car comes?”
The barge captain came to us for some medical help because of terrible problems with his stomach. Fortunately we went on the hectic first aid course because after finding out that he had been to a wedding and eaten far too many pigeons over two days we had the knowledge to prescribe him some Rennies and he was much happier. Hopefully it helps with keeping the beast in one piece and above water.
Having left at 8:30 for an hour or two to get the car onto a barge we got back at 4:30. That evening we went to have supper at (please don’t judge us) McDonald’s before going for a walk in the bazaar, where I had a haircut. The guy gave me my first eyebrow trim ever and then did the hair plucking thing on my cheeks that ladies have done with a piece of cotton because they are sadists.
The next day we went to Elephantine island, a lovely place with Nubian houses and quiet dusty paths without the constant “Welcome to my shop, no charge for looking, welcome to Alaska, where you from? Ahhh South Africa, bafana bafana.” We were hijacked by a charming guy who lives on the island and calls himself Symbol because his red hair is “a symbol for the Nubian people”. He took us on a tour of the island for free because he “effing hates effing money and just wants to improve his English”. He then took us to his brother’s house for tea and before we knew it we had been sold a boat trip to the Nubian beach. I’m really glad we went though, because the scenery was beautiful, with king fishers flying around, lovely plants on the river bank, and even “magic trees” – masses of large Mimosas with leaves that fold when you touch them. My mom calls them “kaaitjie roer my nie” (kittie leave me alone) and they last for about a week before they die because kids keep touching them.
The Nubian beach is basically a riverbank where desert meets the river and people go for picnics and a goof in the Nile. While I swam Jules sat in the shade on the boat listening to the boat guy’s music (ranging from Egyptian music, to “got a pocket full of green and yellow faces to buy me some ho’s” rap to Lionel Ritchie). When we got back I started researching how to treat bilharzia before we headed out for supper (local food this time – by the end of this trip we will have stomachs made of cast iron. Township dogs will bow down before us as we drink Egyptian tap water, eat the salads and taunt the gods of gyppo guts). Symbol was hugely entertaining and a great laugh. I would definitely recommend trying to get hold of him if you ever come to Aswan. You can get hold of him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 00201003598282.
I had foolishly shown an interest in a game of backgammon being played at a souvenir shop when we first arrived in Aswan, so having used up my “tomorrow’s” I sat down to learn Egyptian backgammon outside their shop. Halfway through the game water came out of a manhole cover near us and ungodly smells attacked the lining of my nose. My coach casually rolled the dice and kept playing, so I sucked it up and carried on. After a while I became numb to the smell, but that didnt stop me from gagging occasionally. Fortunately a honey-sucker arrived and the guy had to attend to his shop, sweeping rising “water” away from the entrance, so I made a hasty retreat, without any guilt about not going inside to buy a plastic camel.
The next day was going to be a quick trip to the ferry office with our fixer to buy our tickets, followed by some touristy things like going to see the unfinished obelisk. I’m not sure if you’re spotting any trends yet, but the office was closed so we had to wait for it to open. Do you remember how we were told that having a car on the barge guarantees us a ticket on the ferry? From our fixer: “you are very lucky – I managed to get you the last two tickets.” Do you also remember how it was better that we got the car on the barge on Thursday so we wouldn’t have to go back to the port on the Saturday? If you remember that then you probably also remember that we didn’t need to park to the side of the barge in case there was another car. You might be surprised to hear that we didn’t get to see the obelisk on the Saturday because I had to go back to the port to move the car so that another one could be driven on.
We also paid our fixer Mohammed his fee today and although he had quoted us in dollars he had told us that Egyptian pounds would be fine. For some reason he was annoyed when we paid him according to today’s official rate as seen on xe.com instead of the “black market” rate. I think all is good and we are still good friends because I said I would put his details on our site so that other people can use his services.
Mohammed’s details are on his website – http://ferryaswanwadihalfa.wordpress.com/. He is a friendly guy and although the process seems quite disorganised I guess it is pretty typical and mostly out of his hands. He has been very helpful and responds to emails and phone calls quickly and when he gives you a time he is there at that time. He can also organise felucca trips on the Nile and excursions to Abu Simbel.
Jules and I have a new saying for things like this -”would you like a cup of TIA?” TIA is a TLA for “This Is Africa”. TLA is a TLA for “Three Letter Acronym”.
Jules is extremely lucky to be celebrating her birthday on the infamous barge from Aswan to Wadi Halfa tomorrow. 45 degree heat in the shade with flooding loos. She has also got a thoughtful gift from a loving romantic husband, a fan that plugs into the cigarette lighter. Sorry ladies, you had your chance about 10 years ago but you all blew it.
No pics I’m afraid – the laptop is in the car, on a barge, in the port, on a dam (or at least it was / they were last time we checked). Will upload some when we next get a chance, along with colourful descriptions of ferry loos and flies, and if you’re lucky a couple of pictures of those too.