EGYPT: 01.01. - 20.02.2004

Route: Nuweiba, Suez, Cairo, Beni Suef, Minya, Quena, Luxor, Aswan, Luxor, Kairo, Suez, St. Catherine, Nuweiba

Distanz: 1928 Km

Preface: This country has nearly everything: sun, the sea, breathtaking mountains, desert, culture, aggressive dealers, and tricksters. We are really happy with the landscape, but we really didn't feel comfortable because of the Egyptians who nearly always try to get as much money out of the tourists as possible. Because of the overpopulation camping is only possible in the desert.

From Aqaba we traveled with the slow ferry to Egypt.  From Nuweiba we crossed the north part of Sinai to Cairo. First we followed the beautiful Wadi Watir which is winding through the great mountains of the Sinai. Except for the mountains there is also some dessert on the Sinai. According to our map, weexpected some villages and two or three towns, so we didn't worry about the supply for water and food. The first two villages consisted of some loam huts and the first city didn't exist at all, so our provisions became really scarce. In the afternoon of the third day we reached a restaurant, surrounded by some houses (according to our map we expected a town!!!). Quite hungry we bought nearly everything they had: some cookies, a small tin of beans and some bread. We also filled up all of our water bottles in the toilet. We had good luck and  the next day we reached El Nabkl, a small town with normal infrastructure (with a bakery, a small grocery store and a gas station).
In Cairo, together with hundreds of normal tourists, we visited the Egypt Museum. Is was very busy all over the museum. Everywhere you could find huge groups of tourists together with their guides and especially in front of the most important sights, it was nearly as loud as on the main road. We were really surprised, but on the first floor it was quite quiet. We were lucky, and the room with the mask of the Pharaoh Tut Ench Ammun was nearly empty, so we could enjoy to see the mask and had the chance to take some photos.

We were just going to leave Cairo, when we heard, that it is forbidden to travel from Cairo to Asswan with the bikes. The government is afraid of terrorist (after the bomb attack in Luxor in 1997), and so the police doesn't allow individually traveling tourists to enter this region without a permission. It is not dangerous any more, but the police is still worried for the tourists. So we went to the main office of the Tourist Police. There they told us, that it is possible to get a permission, but they would need an application with a timetable with all the hotels we are going to stay during the night. So we went back to our hotel (the beautiful rooftop Dahab Hotel), and together with Maeds, a cyclist from Denmark planning to cycle the same route, we wrote our application. Back in the police station one of the policemen took us to the normal tourist office where they (one policeman and the guy from the tourist office) made the translation from English into Arabic. Two days later, we got the permission, but instead of the paper with the permission, the police officer just told us, that he'll send a fax with the permission to all the police stations on our route. So we got lucky again and expecting Ufo, a friend of mine coming to visit us, we decided to leave after one week.

Because going to Egypt without visiting the Pyramids is like a summer without ice-cream, we used the two days until the arrival of Ufo to visit the Pyramids at Sakkara and Dashur. In Dashur we visited the Red Pyramid, the first real Pyramid, and climbed inside this amazing huge building. It is really fascinating how the Ancient Egyptians were able to built this great buildings nearly 5000 years ago. In Dashur we also saw the Bent Pyramid. Because oft stability reasons they changed the angle after half of the height and so the pyramid looks quite strange. During the night we camped in the desert some kilometers away from the pyramids and in the next morning we were able to make a unique photo. So: which of the pyramids is no original?
In Cairo, Ufo, a friend of mine and our home support came to visit us. Besides all the hugs from our friends at home he also brought a lot of equipment. A new camera (the other one had a broken screen, and still having guarantee, I had to send it home), a new tent an a warm sleeping bag for Nadine for the winter period in Turkey and Iran and a lot of chocolate.
Every time, when we talked about our journey at home everybody thought, that we are the first people on the whole planet with such a crazy idea. But by now, we met some other people traveling around with bicycles, but never as many as in the Dahab Hotel in Cairo. Together with Felix and Anita (traveling on a tandem from Switzerland to South Africa), Rob (since September 2001! on tour with his bike from Canada trough USA, South America, Africa) and Argus (he started in Brazil and cycled through Asia to Cairo) we had a great evening. Especially Rob, with his great and funny stories, was very entertaining.
Together with Ufo, we had a nearly historical shopping day on the bazaar. Ufo bought nearly everything he saw. Not willing to bargain at the beginning he found out, that it can be a great fun to bargain, and so he became really good after some deals. So it was easy to answer the question: "Who is the best buyer?" "UFO!!!". After only four days, we had to say good-bye to him.

Together with Maeds, the guy from Denmark, we started our journey through the Nile valley. The first night we spend at the home of Salah in Maadi about 20 Km south of Cairo. We met Salah on the ferry from Jordan to Egypt, and he invited us to his house. There the unexpected happened. The police was already waiting for us in front of his house. Of course we were really not happy with this situation, especially we didn't want to cause any problems to Salah. With the permission from the policeman, we went to a really beautiful restaurant. To enter the restaurant we had to cross a bridge in the garden. Inside they had several rooms, all equipped completely different. The Arabic room (sitting on the floor on mattresses) was already completely full. So we went to a nice room with normal chairs. Meanwhile Salah and Maeds had fun with their Sheeshas (Water pipe), we enjoyed a really good Cappuccino an a Hot Chocolate. When we returned there was no policeman in font of the house and so Salah made a telephone call and told the police to return to "guard" us. So the policeman returned, but when we started in the next morning, again no policeman was there. So we started to travel without any police.

After 60 Kilometers we arrived at the first police checkpoint. A police officer explained to us, that they would follow us with a police car for safety reasons. Now a rush through the Nile valley started. Together with a, from checkpoint to checkpoint changing police escort, we cycled the 711 Km from Maadi to Luxor in only 6 days. Because of the police we had to stick on our timetable and the hotels. We made up to 145 Km each day. Each day we started at about 8 am, after waiting for half an hour for the police, and after two breaks of 30 minutes we arrived at the next hotel at about 4 pm. Despite our expectations, all the police men were very friendly. Also the exchange of the escorts were very well organized. Only in the region of Sohag it didn't work.  For the last 20 km they exchanged the escort 3 times and we had to wait about 1,5 hours altogether for the next police car. 

Arriving in Luxor, we decided to stop here, instead of cycling  to Aswan. Maeds wanted to return to Cairo before flying back to Denmark, Nadine didn't want to cycle so hard, an I had problems with my Achilles sinew. So the next day, we went to Asswan by train, without the bikes . In Asswan we visited the high dam and arranged a 2 day's and 2 night's trip on a Felukka (small sailing boat). There are plenty of Felukkas in Asswan, but it is really hard to find a good boat and a good captain. Most of them just try to rip off the tourists. As probably nearly everybody, we also paid too much for the trip. After the guy who sold the trip to us tried to offer us some more of his "cheep" tours, I told him, that he is is too expensive. After that the guy got really rude and asked us to leave the boat (without paying back our money). We already started to pack our things, when the captain intervened and told the guy to leave his boat. We started at 12 am, and because the wind was really strong, we sailed really athletically on the Nile. Several times the water splashed over the bow and the boat lay so slanting in the water, that only some centimeters were missing, before the water came into the Felukka. During the whole trip, the meals the crew cooked for us, were neither really good nor enough. The first night we stayed on a quiet sandy bank. The next morning, we again were quite fast, and so we were really surprised, when the captain left the boat in the afternoon after a 2 hour break for lunch. He told us, that he would like to spend the night together with his family, and his son would stay on board to bring us to Kom Ombo in the morning. Because we were already able to see Kom Ombo, his son had big problems to sail slow enough. Because of the sail he was even able to be slower then the current. He also managed to sail a circle!! Well, after 1,5 hours he stopped and told us, that we would stay there for the night. Close to this place was a small village and the children
  had much fun sitting on the bank watching us, while we were reading on the boat. In the middle of the night the police came with a motorboat. The son of the captain had to show them all the papers, and after about half an hour they disappeared until the next morning. After dawn we were on the river again and tried to cross over to the other side to the town, when they returned with their motorboat and pushed us across the river. As soon as we reached the other side, they wanted some money from the son of the captain. Because he had no change he asked us, if we could change some money, but we didn't have enough change. So he asked us, if we would pay the bribery money, but of course we didn't do it. So after the breakfast we left the boat and returned to Luxor by train, expecting Nadine's Mom and Steffi. We think, that with a good captain a trip with a Felukka is a lot of fun.

In the evening, with a delay of 1,5 hour's Nadine's Mom and Steffi (a friend of Nadine's for many years) arrived at their hotel. As we expected, everybody was really happy to meet each other. On the first day we explored Luxor on a carriage (a wish from Nadine's Mom) and went to the bazaar in the afternoon. Of course Nadine's Mom was the dealers main victim. Nearly every dealer tried to sell her something. So without us, she probably would have lost a lot of money on her first day.
We also visited the "Valley of the Kings". We rented some bikes, crossed the river with the ferry, and cycled to the valley. The valley itself is really plain. There are only some holes going into the earth. The tombs are as different as the Pharaohs, who were buried here. There were tombs with really colorful paintings of the god of the Ancient Egyptians, and tombs going into the deep of the earth on several stairs. The most important tomb, the tomb of Tut Ench Ammun is not worth visiting. Because he died very young, they had to hurry up to finish his tomb, and so it is really simple made.
Another highlight of Luxor is the "Luxor Temple". It is also opened in the evening, and it is illuminated really beautiful. In this atmospheric light, the temple seems to be as impressing as it was some thousand years ago. Especially impressing are the pillars (about 4m thick and 15m high). After 7 too short days, with a visit to the "Valley of the Queens", another Felukka trip and a donkey ride, we had to say good-bye to Nadine's Mom and Steffi.

Because we missed the chance to see the Sufi Dancers in Konya (Turkey), we went to a presentation in Cairo. We arrived nearly half a hour before the beginning and could only get a seat in the last third. Although the Mosque was really full and the musicians already started to play, another bus with tourists arrived and all of them came loudly talking inside. We had good luck, because the people in front of us, sat down on the floor. But behind us the last people just decided to stand, so nobody in the last rows was able to see anything.  Some friends of us, who were sitting behind us, could barely see anything of the show and left quite early. The presentation itself was really impressing. The dancing Derwisch with his skirt like dress, was twirling around for nearly half an hour. Even though this was really great, he suddenly stopped, thanked the audience and walked from the stage, as if nothing had happened. The second dancer was very good also, although he just twirled for about 20 minutes. But he was wearing several dresses and took them of in an impressing way, as you can see on the picture.

From Cairo we cycled back to the Sinai. But now we cycled through the mountains. It was really worth to do these extra kilometers, because the mountains on the Sinai are very beautiful. The mountains are out of granite and sandstone and reach a height of 2700m. Together with the dessert they create an impressing landscape, especially when they start to glow during the sunset. To us, the mountains of the Sinai were the most beautiful part of Egypt. So if you go to Egypt you should visit them, as you visit the Pyramids in Giza.
In the middle of the mountains there is the famous Mt. Sinai. Here, Moses saw the burning bush and got the 10 commandments from god. There is still a monastery on the bottom of the mountain with 22 Greek Orthodox monks. We arrived on  Sunday, so we had the chance to enjoy the silence of the monastery and the mountains. During the week it is different. With many coaches and jeeps all the tourists from the resorts are brought to this historical place. So then it is really hard to feel the silence and peace of this place.

Our last three days we spent on the beach in Nuweiba. We rented a hut and a snorkeling mask in a lonesome camp about 3 Km south of the city. We heard much about snorkeling in the Red Sea, and we only expected to see some fishes. But what we saw was really great. Straight in front of our camp was the Stone House Reef. We just had to swim some meters away from the beach and had to look into the water, to be in a completely different world. Besides the beautiful coral reef we saw many fish. Not only one or two, as we expected, no hundreds of fish in many different colors, forms and sizes. Especially the Lion Fish was really impressing. It was surprising to us to see that the fish were not interested in us at all. With a small smile, I had to think about the anglers in Germany. They think, that noise and people who are swimming would disturb the fish. May be the fish in Germany are different, but here we were snorkeling sometimes closer than 1m to the fish, and they didn't care about us. We had only one problem. The water was really cold, so we couldn't stay longer than half a hour in the water. On the second day the guy from the resort took away the snorkeling mask, because he found a tourist who wanted to pay more for it than we. So we just spend our last day on the beach.

The next day we went back to Aqaba with the ferry. According to our information the ferry should depart at 12 am. At the ticket office at 10 am they told us, that the ferry will leave, when the Moslems return from the mosque (it was Friday, the holy day for the Moslems). We tried to exchange the rest of our Egypt money, but the bank didn't accept it. They even told us, that they don't have US Dollar or Euro, and this, although the ticket office only accepts US Dollars! Quite angry I left the bank and changed the money at a small store. The customs was really fast and at 11 am we were on the ferry. Then every half a hour some new passengers came on the boat, an then at 4 pm with a delay of three hours we left Egypt. When we arrived in Aqaba (Jordan) it was really hard and dangerous to leave the ferry. About 2000 Egyptians tried to leave the ferry through a 1m wide door, and everybody tried to be the first. So everybody pushed and shouted. I was squeezed several times so hard, that I was not able to breath and I'm still wondering, that I didn't brake a rib. Nadine was pushed against the parapet so hard that she got heavy pain in her back. She was only able to reach the entrance safely hidden behind two women with their small children.  

Looking back on our journey so far, we nearly had only very good experiences with the people in the different countries we visited. Especially in the countries where we didn't expect it, like the cordiality of the people in Ukraine and Russia and the great hospitality in Turkey and Syria. But unfortunately, we had many bad experiences in Egypt. We talked much about this to each other and to many other travelers to find any reason. Many of the travelers condemn the whole nation, but for us it was not so easy. Although I use the plural, of course I do not mean every Egyptian. We were always impressed from the nearly childlike openess and curiosity we found nearly everywhere. We also wondered about the talent of the Egyptians, to solve their sometimes really hard verbal discussions without any violence, and that they seem to be happy with their life. But on the other hand, they try to cheat at any opportunity. Especially if you try to buy something, they lie a lot. We know, that bargaining is a part of the Arabic culture, but in no other Arabic country we visited so far, the bargaining was so hard as in Egypt. Sometimes it seemed to be more like a fight with words than a game. Unfortunately we also made the experience, that many people are not just friendly. Accept only a few times a friendly started small talk ended, that they tried to sell something to us or tried to offer us a hotel or a tour. Very often we had the feeling, that they didn't see us as people, but just as Euros with two legs. For us it was really interesting, that the tourists from the other Arabic countries were ripped off sometimes even harder than us. We were really sad about our impression, that the Egyptians don't really try to improve their economical situation. Instead of trying to give their children a good education, it seems to bee enough for them to make profit out of the achievement of others. The two main sources for earning money are the tourists (but the tourists come to visit the sights of a great culture which doesn't exist any more since a long time) und the Suez Canal which was built from the French an the British. But this seems to be not enough to support the fast growing population. We hope that our experiences on our last day in Egypt are not symptomatic for the self confidence, self worthiness, and the future of the country. The banks didn't want to change their currency and the Egyptians push each other nearly to death to leave the ferry/country as fast as possible...



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