Jen: Following our fantastic trip through the Western Desert we headed for the only campsite in Luxor – Reziky camp. We had the normal shenanigans in finding the entrance you could actually get into the site, then as the guy opened up the gate I saw a massive orange truck parked up inside, sure enough we’d met our first Dragoman trip. Typically Ross the driver was underneath it, cover ed in oil trying to fix a few things. We also got a chance to speak to a few people coming the other way and gain a few tips of where to go in Sudan and Ethiopia.
We spent the next couple of days in Luxor visiting the sites… how many there are to see. We visited Karnak temple, probably my favourite Egyptian site as it’s so vast and in such great condition.. We saw quite a few amazing spectacles of the gringos from the tourist buses who seemed to have no idea they were in Egypt – dressed in hotpants and the tightest, lowest cut t-shirts there was certainly nothing left to the imagination! We also took the ferry over to the Western Bank to see the Temple of Hatputshur,the Valley fo the Kings, the Valley of the Workers and the Temple of Habu. It’s amazing to see so much history all in one day, you can’t quite take it all in.
From Luxor we headed down to Aswan to try and arrange the ferry over Lake Nasser into Sudan. We’d learnt that due to the Eid Festival and holidays the normal schedule for the ferry had been suspended and we needed to take the next ferry or face being sat in Egypt for another 10 days. Anki the Dragoman leader had kindly spoken to the fixer they used in order for us to take the same barge as the Dragoman truck and therefore not have to wait along with all the other overlanders desperate to get a vehicle on the public barge.
The day of trying to load the car on the barge came, we met up with Mohammed the fixer, the Drago guys, an Oasis Overland driver (Nick) and Klaus, a guy from Germany with a landcruiser who’d taken this route about 4 times before on a motorbike. We spent most of the morning running around various offices to fill in more Egyptian forms, get stamps, return number plates, deal with carnets etc and then we parked up at the port waiting to load the car.
The port was a hive of activity with 30 or so locals and Sudanese men wheeling massive bags of ‘stuff’ down to the barge. There were men with huge fridge/ freezers literally on their back, boxes of tvs, food blenders all packaged up and carefully thrown onto the barge. There was also a lot of shouting and a fair few heated discussions which looked on the verge of being a full on fights
Finally after sitting around for a few hours we were given the nod to drive the trucks onto the barge. Everyone squeezed on quite nicely and I thought nothing of our disco being the last car on. Shortly after loading the car a full on fight broke out between some of the men and the port guys ushered us up off the dock. I walked up a little way but Ben was still down by the car. I couldn’t work out why he was hanging around near the fighting so went back down to see how he was, I naively asked if everything was ok, the reply was an unusually angry “no not really”. I then learnt that after loading our car all sorts of other things had been loaded around the car, I say loaded but in reality this means thrown on the barge. Ben had seen a couple of softer boxes hit the side of the disco but when a metal container and then a gas canister were literally bounced off the car he’d become very angry. He did what he could to calm the loading down and spoke to the “Chief loader” to look after the car. We then had to leave the port, hoping that our Disco would arrive in Sudan in one piece and not be too damaged.
Ben – Nervous times indeed, the car barge goes seperate to all the vehicle owners, I’d been dreading leaving it in other peoples hands since starting to plan the trip. The crazy loading Jen talks about, coupled with the sight of some of the loaders tearing the bags they were packing open and steeling the contents, made me pretty tense, we’d just have to hope for the best (and I’d told “cheif loader, Hanni, there was some cash in it if my car was unscathed the other end.)
We were promised our passenger tickets when we loaded the car but Mohammed then said we’d have to go to the ticket office the following day. After hanging around the ticket office all morning we were told we’d have to get them at the port the next day, on the day we were due to sail. We could tell there was a lot of people wanting to get on the ferry and were really concerned our car would arrive in Sudan without us.
The day of taking ferry came. We arrived at the port early in order to obtain our tickets. There were hundreds of people sat around, mounds of suitcases, tv’s, more food blenders etc and also a few truck loads piled high with belongings to be loaded on the ferry. Some Sudanese ladies ushered for us to sit near them in the shade and we immediately got the feeling Sudan would be a nice place to travel.
There were 13 of us “gringos” travelling together including the Dragoman group. Drago had been having a nightmare with Sudan visas as the rules and ways to get visas had changed every day and Ross was still waiting at the embassy trying to collect all the passports. Anki had managed to confirm that our tickets were indeed reserved but we had to pay for the tickets and hand in passports/ visas by midday. All morning we waited for news of the visas. Just before midday we learnt that the embassy had accepted payment for them but the passports had not been returned.
Ben had gone up to the ticket office with Anki to ensure that our tickets were still reserved, at this time a commotion had broken out around the office and police were taking a Sudanese guy away. There were loads of other men trying to free the guy and an big old fight was underway. The next thing the police and Sudanese guy went behind the gates, lots of other men were now charging at the gate and shouting trying to get their friend back. The next thing I saw was stones and rocks being thrown over the gate trying to get the crowd to retreat back, obviously all this did was make the crowd even more angry. We were a little distance away from all this at the time, and whilst it wasn’t great I didn’t feel unsafe, however a local man we’d spoken to earlier told us to move away and go and sit by his shop. Shortly after that a huge fight broke out with rocks and stones being pelted and all the men and boys arming themselves with sticks, some ripping up the metal barricades. We quickly moved back to an area that had a roof and crouched down. I was very relieved when Ben rejoined us at this time as I’d been worried he was in the middle of all the fighting. The dragoman sleeping mats were rather useful in covering our heads and protecting us from the stones. The trouble seemed to move up and down the port but was generally calming down until everything pretty much returned to normal, but it was all still very tense
Finally Ross returned from the embassy with visas and after a whole lot more waiting we finally made it onto the ferry. It was as squashed and dirty as I expected but Mohammed and Drago had done some kind of deal with the Captain which meant we were allowed up the front of the boat where the rest of the passengers weren’t allowed. It was an absolute luxury to have this space and it made the whole crossing so much nicer.
The next day we arrived in Sudan, we were extremely relieved to see the barge with the cars on waiting for us and even more relieved when our Disco seemed to be all in order. We were looking forward to exploring Sudan.
Ben – As soon as I arrived at the Barge Hanni arrived too from knowhere. I had a look over the car, and as all seemed OK accept a bent windscreen wiper, I paid up. Hanni seemed a nice man, and was greatfull for the cash. It seemed we could finally get on with the trip proper (after a final day of form filling of course), no more dodgy boats to organise, happy days! The small riot in the Aswan port was pretty alarming, it seemed to start from nothing. From where I was I saw one man get angry and try to climb into the ticket office window. He was the one who got carted away by the police, that caused a proper fist fight between 2 sudanese ladies, then the next thing I knew I was running with a crowd away from the gate in a shower of rocks. It was a nasty moment, but no anger was directed at us, we were simply caught in the middle like the vast majority of ferry goers.