Friday, 30 November 2012

Customs stole my Mars bars...

We thought we had left the byzantines behind in Istanbul, but it turns out they have been re-incarnated in Egypt. Our first week or so in Egypt mainly consisted of mountains of bureaucracy - whether it be the 4 days we waited for our car to clear customs in Damietta, or the pointless 2 hour wait at the British Embassy for a letter telling the Sudanese Embassy that we didn’t need a letter, we’ve suffered from our fair share.

Still, it gave us a good opportunity to develop our waiting skills in various seedy, fly filled offices and cafes.  We could have even set up a business if we’d been feeling a bit more entrepreneurial.  Whilst sitting in the cafe at customs in Damietta, we were approached by Yassim, a very enterprising man who wanted to know why two foreigners were waiting in the port (it wasn’t tourist friendly!) and whether he could start any business with us. We were a bit lacking in Turkish business contacts so couldn't really help him, but if you are interested in Egyptian retail opportunities / getting items into Egypt 'no questions', we have his email...

Other highlights of trying to get the car to Egypt included finally getting the car back only to find customs had searched everything in the car, from top to toe and just thrown it back into the car when they were done. Annoying enough, until you find out they’ve half inched a ratchet strap, a pair of sunnies, and worst of all, most of a pack of mini mars bars!  On the more positive side, one of the policemen managed to split his trousers at the crotch whilst hand making us the most amateurish pair of Egyptian numberplates you’ve ever seen – people have been laughing at them all the rest of our travels.

Rather blurry photo of our arrival in Egypt

After a lot of frustration, we were back on the road, the crazy-cars-driving-anywhere-they-like, skimming-through-traffic, driving-in-the-wrong-direction-roads of Egypt.  Since then our trip has been fantastic. We drove down past the Suez canal to see the ships sailing through the desert, before camping within sight of the Pyramids in Cairo.  There, our wonderful hosts, Helal and Sue, arranged for us to pony trek through the desert to approach the pyramids from the quiet far side. They really are just amazing – I was totally prepared to be underwhelmed but you just can’t be unimpressed!. Epic in scale (you can see them from all over the city), and still so striking compared to all of the surrounding buildings, 5,000 years on.

Our guide had a good line in cheesy photos...

That said, there, and at other sites around the city, there really aren’t many tourists.  It felt like we saw the same four Americans, six Japanese and a party of Indians everywhere we went, and that was about it (apart from wildly overexcited Egyptian school trips). They’ve all been scared off by the latest news of protests. As ever, the media is massively overplaying the impact. We drove right up to the barriers at Tahrir square, where the local boys are making blockades to stop the police entering, and didn’t feel unsafe.  We think it’s probably a bit like when we had the riots in London – bad if you’re in the spot where the trouble is, but absolutely fine on the other 99% of streets. The huge tourist industry here just hasn’t been the same since the revolution though and a lot of people seem pretty despondent.  You can see that every hotel or restaurant you walk into is built for about ten times as many people as are actually there.  Everyone here is very forthright with their views on politics and the riots, which surprised us a bit.  When we were in Tunisia last year, people were pretty reserved about anything like that but in Egypt everyone has an opinion on the revolution, Morsi, the protests etc.

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