“Some things in life are bad
They can really make you mad
Other things just make you swear and curse
When you’re chewing on life’s gristle
Don’t grumble, give a whistle
And this’ll help things turn out for the best…”
Oh how we could have done with a dose of Python this week. So, retrospectively in some cases, here’s to all the good stuff that happened during our protracted entry into Egypt and our stay so far. We got through the confusing, expensive and sometimes bizarre process and have made it to the desert. This is where we set out to come and we’re here! It began to sink in driving down the Port Said Desert Road towards Cairo that we are indeed looking at the Sahara, and we drove here. This is quite a big deal in a small way for us and there were some wide, slightly disbelieving smiles on our faces.
The last week had been tough, but even whilst in Port Said where having a glass half full was not allowed until after dark due to it being Ramadan, we did manage to enjoy some of the experience. We were able to hang out with some fellow travellers over a beer or two during the saga. We met some really good people who are a credit to Egypt, and got time to relax and adjust to the way things work here. Whilst it was tricky finding any food during the day, let alone particularly good vegan options, there was a huge choice of fresh, cheap fruit. We slept in beds and had proper showers (that said, as nice as it is to have the luxury of hotels, we are both looking forward to getting back in Troopy…you just get used to your own place after this long on the road and we miss it).
The last day in Port Said was actually an interesting experience I think, if a bit in-at-the-deep-end in how things work here in Africa. In the morning I set off down to the port again with Jack from Africality, with the aim of meeting up with our agent and getting the cars through customs and onto the Egyptian roads. More on the roads later, and why I think it was good to spend a few days here before driving myself! But for now, we needed to get into the port which was as easy as being escorted in by an agent the other day, but today we *apparently* needed a pass from the Police. This provided our morning’s entertainment. There is a room in the police station where the saga is played out – on 1 side, the senior officer sits behind an impressively large desk in an office. A boy sits outside the office ready to make photocopies when called, or to lock and unlock the office as the boss goes in and out. The rest of the room consists of a central space surrounded by perspex screens with 8 or so hatches. Behind the hatches sit various women and stacks of files. In 1 corner of the space there is a table where a man sits chatting to friends and hands out sticky stamps in exchange for cash. The game is quite simple – in order to get a pass to enter the port, we need to get enough signatures, rubber stamps and sticky stamps on a piece of paper for the officer to exchange that paper for a slip authorizing the issue of a pass. It is slightly more complicated by the fact that we have to use an agent to do this, and the agent has to disappear upstairs at unpredictable moments (presumably to another such office) to get more stamps/signatures. We don’t have any language in common. There are also no indications as to which hatch you have to go to for which purpose, and the only way to find out seems to be for the agent to push our paper through various hatches and see if he gets a stamp or shouted at to go away. It reminds me very much of a certain genre of computer game. After several rounds of this (interspersed by periods of sitting in a courtyard playing with stray cats), we seem to have collected the correct combination of stamps to win a pass and proceeded to the next level.
After that it was pretty straightforward and after some more sitting around the customs house we were able to drive out of the port gates soon after 2pm.
Onto the roads. Now this is where I am particularly glad to have had those days in Port Said, walking and travelling about by taxi to get accustomed to the roads. Things don’t work here like they do back home. It’s a free-for-all and nobody seems to follow rules or signs, but I have embraced it fully. If I were to do a U-turn across a concrete central barrier just short of traffic lights back home, I would expect a ticket. It may have been my worst bit of driving ever, but here it just made sense and actually unblocked some traffic. Honest. We are warned not to drive in Cairo, but I actually quite like it – its just another video game, and so much less tedious than London! The only thing we had a collision with was a horse over at the pyramids – its just so packed with horses, carts and camels that its inevitable that you’ll get a little nudge from something that’s trying to squeeze past you. Just glad it was soft and furry and not a tour bus, so no damage to either! Always look on the bright side of life?
And now this most excellent adventure continues – we get to go explore the desert!