30th October - 10th November (Aswan, Luxor, Giza, Hurgada, Nuweiba)
It wasn't until we disembarked our ferry boat at the Jordanian port of Aqaba, and I once again heard long forgotten common courtesies, that I realised just how much I had disliked Egypt. Tourists have been coming here for so long that the ingrained dual pricing (or state sponsored racism, in my opinion) and hassle make it a fairly tough country for the independent traveller.
Thinking back, we got of on the wrong foot from the start. The only border crossing between Sudan and Egypt is a passenger ferry along Lake Nasser, vehicles are shipped separately on river barges. The ferry boat was pleasant enough, taking 17 hours, but unfortunately Andi the Landi was lost at sea for 7 days, rather than the 36 hours for which we had prepared to be apart. This meant surviving on VERY limited supplies of clothes, underwear etc. After a few days waiting in the Egyptian port town of Aswan it became clear that we were going to be apart for some time, the barge having broken down and a tug dispatched from Egypt to fetch the stricken vessel. Kathy and I, fed up with constant hassle for boat rides, desert trips, taxis, alabaster etc decided to break out for a few days and wait for an arrival date for the car - so we took the bus to Luxor to see the temples of Karnak. This is when we discovered that traveling around Egypt as an independent is kind of like being in the Truman Show. Throughout our week long stay in southern Egypt (the terrorist bit) we continually came up against barriers whenever we tried to leave a city. The ever present Tourist police are on hand to stop foreigners from travelling on selected modes of public transport. This is ostensibly for security, but it quickly became clear that it is really a sanitisation exercise designed to fool tourists into thinking that they are not actually in Africa. We were refused access to local minibuses, but allowed to take the more expensive inter city coach (neither of which travel in the foreigners' convoy). We could take the train, but only 1st or 2nd class. Once the landi turned up we were able to drive, but only in a ridiculous convoy that travels at break neck speeds stopping only in tourist spots.
Eventually we made it to Luxor, and saw the awesomely impressive temple of Karnak. Definitely a contender for the prize of "most impressive man made thing" that we have seen on the trip. Its hard to capture the scale of the monuments and buildings, but here are some pictures anyway (Kathy included for purposes of scale - she is 5ft 8in at time of writing)
We planned to leave luxor and travel through the white desert, slipping beneath the radar of the omnipresent tourist police for a few days. Unfortunately it was not to be. At the first road block we were turned back, being told that it was too late to start the drive out from the city. This led to our most spontaneous decision of the trip so far. As we wandered back into the city of luxor, desperate to get out somehow, we found ourselves in a traffic jam of coaches. After a few minutes we worked our way to the front, and a police roadblock. "Hurgada?" yelled the policeman. We had somehow found our way into the evening convoy between Luxor and Hurgada that was in the process of setting off. The resort of Hurgada lies about 300km North East from Luxor, the opposite direction from the white desert, but it was the only way we going to leave Luxor that night, so we joined the convoy of some 300 coaches, winding through the pitch black eastern desert to the Red Sea coast, and started to rethink our Egypt action plan.
In other Egyptian news, the pyramids are really big, Sinai has been overrun by package holiday makers, and in general we were quite pleased to leave the country. The only thing I'll miss about the place is filling up all 100 litres of diesel for a tenner. The boat trip to Jordan marked my departure from Africa after 20 months unbroken on the continent, but this was no time for tears - still 2 more continents before christmas. We would have liked to simply drive into Israel, which borders the Sinai peninsula, but this would have precluded us from entering [sworn enemy] Syria. Not being able to enter Syria would mean having to drive through Iraq. With all the border politics coming into play, we could only be entering one region... The Middle East.