Luxor and Aswan

27 November – 10 December 2012

After a few weeks of hotel living we decided it was high time we started behaving like overlanders again and headed for the renowned overlanders camp in Luxor, Rezeiky. Here we were greeted by the many dogs, puppies and chickens that would keep us awake for the next two nights! Despite this and the fairly unpleasant bathroom (and this one was an upgrade from the public one apparently!), it was a very useful place to stay and it was nice to be sleeping in Charlie again. The owners have been running the camp for years and it’s been the place to stay for those doing similar trips ever since. This was the first time since we arrived in Egypt that we’d met any other overlanders and chatting with them really helped us to feel like the African part of our adventure had kicked in. It was also very helpful that three of the four other cars camped there were travelling North from Sudan and passed on many useful tips and stories for our journey ahead.

We were only staying two nights in Luxor as we were conscious of getting to Aswan and trying to organise the ferry to Sudan. So after a tea with the owner and setting up camp we headed over to the Karnac temple as we’d heard the sound and light show was not to be missed. After 20 minutes of cheesy booming voices and lighting that seemed to do more to mask rather than illuminate the temple, we begged to differ. Such a shame as it’s an amazing site to see in the daytime … although perhaps we’re just cynical and hard to please!

The following day we got up early and headed over to the West Bank and the Valley of the Kings. We succumbed to the charms of a taxi driver on the ferry across the Nile and were soon flicking through his photo album as he whisked us towards the tombs. It seemed he was quite the cad in his earlier days, European girlfriends seemingly a bit of a prize!

We took in four tombs at the Valley of the Kings, including the tomb of Ramses II and then headed over to the Temple of Hatsheptsut. Each had a colourful array of pictures and hieroglyphics displaying gifts to the various gods, the book of life and death and many other things we could only guess without the help of a guide.

After this, having missed breakfast, our stomachs were seriously rumbling so we asked the driver to take us to a local spot for lunch. We started to wonder where on earth he was taking us as we walked down into what looked like someone’s garage and through to a room at the back. However we were soon served up a delicious lunch of soup, rice and very tasty roast chicken. A real find and definitely not one we could have come across by ourselves. It was then time to make our way back across the Nile. Before heading back to camp we had a wander around the Luxor temple, which we were able to enjoy with very few other people around. And with a small baksheesh, a quick look behind the scenes as well.

Despite there being many other things we could have seen in Luxor, it was time to hit the road again. Although the road itself wasn’t too bad, we made very slow progress due to the countless road bumps along the way. Knowing the speed at which Egyptians tend to drive, we can understand the need for them though! Luckily we still made it to the Sudanese consulate in time to apply for our visas ($50 compared to $100 in Cairo) – although seeing as we were given our passports back we suspected that the forms would just sit in a drawer for the three days we were told it would take (we did hear of others getting theirs back the next day).

From here we crossed over to the Nubian side of the river and to Adam Home, another infamous overlanders’ camping spot. We were told to pick a spot outside the front of the mud-brick house and make ourselves at home. A bit different to what we were expecting and at first we felt a bit “exposed” by the side of the road. However, we soon adjusted to the relaxed way of life there and you couldn’t beat the broad welcoming smiles from Sammy and Amir whose family owns the place.

After a few hours we were joined at the camp by a Dutch couple we’d met in Luxor (Annika and Floris), another English/South African couple (Laura and Dale) and two lads from the Czech Republic (Alesh and Yari). The latter two had been in Aswan for four or five days already having just missed the previous ferry. They also introduced us to Mohammed (Mo) who had helped them out with various things and assured us he was the man to know (how right they were).

We were assured that the man in charge of the vehicle barge would be coming out to fill us in on this week’s ferry that evening, but apparently something came up, so we went to bed none the wiser. The following morning, Mo took us into town to get our police clearance, confirming that we hadn’t had any accidents or speeding tickets etc. We were very glad to have him along with us as I’m not sure we would have found the place otherwise: it just looked like a normal rundown building from the outside. A few forms and 5 Egyptian Pounds later we were done and, until we got news of the barge, there was nothing more we could do at this stage.

The following night, after organising tickets to Abu Simbel, shopping and tea in the souq and then enjoying a few beers and a braai, the “man with the list” arrived along with a couple of the fixers. We were told that the two cars that had been waiting were definitely on the barge but, as there was a barge that only fits five cars sailing this week, we were unlikely to be going until next week. Nevertheless, we were told to come along on Saturday (loading day) anyway “insha’Allah” (God willing).

On Friday we were up at 2.30am to get the tourist bus to Abu Simbel: all vehicles have to go in convoy there and back and the first convoy is at 4am. After around three and a half hours we were there. The two temples, and particularly the huge Ramses statues standing guard outside the main temple, are imposing and very impressive, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. On entering the temples the images adorning the walls are quite different to those in the Valley of the Kings. They’re much larger and, whilst more detailed in a lot of ways, somehow simpler and more impactful. Definitely worth the early start and long journey. The frustrating thing about being there however was the fact that we were only around 45km from the Sudanese border and yet we were having to wait with a smile on our face for the once-a-week ferry. That’s the thing about Egypt for overlanders – it seems they don’t want you to get in, but once you’re there, they don’t want you to leave!

Saturday came and we all drove down to the port. Laura, Dale, Alesh and Yarin were ushered inside while we took our places outside. Several hours later we were told there was no chance of us getting on the barge and, in fact, one of the cars that had gone inside and paid (one of a pair) also hadn’t made it on. However we were told that there was a cargo ferry being loaded the next day, so to come back and hopefully there would be space for us on that.

Sunday arrived and Marcello went back to the port while Karen went to collect the Sudanese visas with Mo. Another few hours of waiting later and we were told we may as well go as there were still several lorries’ worth of cargo to load before they would know if there was space for us. Come back tomorrow and “insha’Allah” we could load and board the passenger ferry all on the same day. At this point, although hope was still flickering that we would leave this week, it was a very dim flicker.

On Monday morning, just as we were about to leave for the port again, the phone rang. There was only one thing this could mean and, low and behold, we got confirmation that the cargo ferry was full and we would be in Aswan for another week. As some consolation we were assured that we were top of the list for the upcoming barge. At least now it had been confirmed we could get on with making the most of the week to come even if it wasn’t what we’d hoped for. It was mainly disappointing as we’d been looking forward to bush camping with the others and helping Dale celebrate his birthday in the desert. However we really felt sorry for the South African couple who were now a week behind their friends and travelling companions.

The next few days were mainly spent relaxing at Adam Home – our home away from home. Daniel and Maud, the South African couple mentioned above arrived at the camp having got their car back out of the port and we were joined by an English couple (Anna and James), so we enjoyed chatting with them over a few beers around the braai and a campfire in the evenings. We also made use of the vegetable garden, enjoying the onions, rocket, parsley and sweet potatoes. In fact, on our last night Sammy, Mo and Amir were digging us out some sweet potatoes for us to take with us and came across the mammoth specimen seen in the photos: now known as Mr Potato Head.

Mo also made sure we were happy for the week and took us around in his car and made sure we got everything we needed at the local prices. On what we hoped would be our last day before finally loading Charlie onto the barge, we all went out with him on his motorboat for a trip along the Nile and enjoyed lunch on one of the small islands. A very relaxing way to spend an afternoon.

And then it was Saturday again and the familiar drive out to the port. However, this time we made it inside the gates: result! As well as us, Daniel and Maud and the Dutch couple, there were two German and two English lads who’d arrived at Adam Home a couple of nights before, two big overland tour trucks, and a Dutch guy called Louis (who has made the trip about eight times before) loading with us. Unfortunately Anna and James were waiting outside, in the same position we’d been in the week previously.

Having paid an extra 20 Egyptian Pounds, the security check was a cursory glance inside the car. We were then taken to a building where we were to pay and get the paperwork that would guarantee our passenger ferry tickets. This is where the fun started as in no time there was shouting and gesturing coming from inside the office, with people storming in and out and us not having a clue what was going on, hoping it wasn’t anything concerning us. Eventually it all calmed down and we were ushered to the next building, relieved no one was telling us we were to wait yet another week.

After handing in the Egyptian driver’s licence and number plates, we were heading down to the barge. Finally we believed it was actually happening. Marcello guided Charlie in-between two Land Cruisers and then wondered how much he was going to have to breathe in to be able to get himself out. They certainly make use of the space as there was barely an inch to spare: it’s a good job 4x4s are made for being climbed over! We then waved goodbye to Charlie, hoping to see him again in a few days’ time and headed back into town to find a hotel and wait for our turn on the lake.

The time passed quickly and before we knew it, we were on our way back to the port again. To say it was chaos is an understatement, with people trying to load themselves and all their worldly goods onto the ferry. We were onboard by around lunchtime and claimed our spot alongside Daniel and Maud in front of the captain’s wheelhouse. Now it was just a question of waiting until 5/6pm when the ferry was actually due to leave! Taking a peek behind us, we were very glad for this relatively uncrowded area – we can only imagine how rammed it was below deck in the warm.

The crossing itself was very smooth, albeit slow (it took about 13 hours to reach Abu Simbel, a journey that had taken less than four hours by road). Soon after we left port the sun set and in no time we were lying on deck looking up at the countless stars. It’s always incredible how many more you can see without any light pollution and seeing shooting star after shooting star almost made us forget how cold it got. We owe a lot to Daniel and Maud who kindly gave up one of their sleeping bags for us, otherwise we would have half frozen during the night! We’ll cover the arrival in Wadi Halfa in the next update…

This post doesn’t even come close to covering everything we’ve done or the fantastic people we’ve met over the last couple of weeks. Hopefully the photos cover some of what we can’t without this turning into an essay.

To finish on the Egypt chapter of our journey: despite a fair amount of hassle encountered along the way, we’ve met some fantastic people and we’ve definitely enjoyed our time here, albeit a lot longer than planned. In particular the Bedouin and Nubian people really stand out as warm and hospitable and I’m sure we’ll be back to visit them in the not too distant future.

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