Saturday, 22 December 2012

South along the Nile

We finished our Western Desert tour with a final leg into Luxor, followed by a rather lacklustre police escort who gave up after about half an hour.  The days of proper police escorts around Egypt seem to be over, fortunately.  Suddenly emerging out of the desert to find so many trees, flowers and farmland gives you a real sense of how the Nile transforms the land here – and how dependent most of Egypt is upon it.

Luxor is tomb / temple / tourist central due to the City of the Dead on the West Bank with the Valley of the Kings, Queens, Colossi etc and the temples on the East Bank.  We spent a day enjoying (me) / enduring (James by the end of the day) all of the sights, dodging the tourist tat touts and picking up a cheeky bit of black market diesel.  The standard next stop on the route is to head down to Aswan to get the ferry to Sudan but we decided to make a bit of a detour across the mountains to the Red Sea for some diving at Port Safaga.  A couple of days of relaxing on a boat and diving amongst coral gardens with the odd turtle and shoal of tuna were a good change from desert driving.  Sadly, it did mean that James had to lose his moustache to stop his mask from leaking – he’d been enjoying the compliments from fellow moustachioed Egyptian men.

The road down to Aswan along the Nile is very picturesque – farms, mud villages, clouds of brightly coloured flowers, the odd donkey to dodge.

However, massive queues of tractors and trucks for fuel are also key features.  We never did entirely find out why exactly there were such bad shortages.  The incredibly low, subsidised price (10p per litre!) seems to be something to do with it, with potential explanations including ‘we smuggle it all out to more expensive countries to sell at a margin’, ‘the government is trying to distract people from politics to create shortages’, ‘the political/economic troubles have changed the government’s credit rating so it’s more expensive for them to buy fuel and the subsidy is unsustainable’.  Whatever the reason, most drivers could barely believe what fuel costs in Europe – “how does anybody run a taxi?”.  It seemed to get most people a lot more exercised than the referendum on the constitution, which mainly provoked grunts or sighs.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Driving on the Moon

We left the insane traffic of Cairo behind last Monday morning, and headed out on the Western Desert Road, where we hopped from oasis to oasis, making a long loop around to Luxor. The instructions we were given about the route sounded a bit Lord of the Rings - "go across the Black Desert to the Crystal Mountain and then into the White Desert" - and it was a rather like visiting another planet.  Some of the most stunning scenery of our trip so far and totally deserted most of the time.  I'd describe the White Desert as the most amazing place I’ve been, but never heard of before I got there! The photos we’ve attached below don’t do it the slightest bit of justice.

This was our first chance to try out some off road driving - with mixed success.  In the White and Black deserts the sand is compacted hard (with the odd squidgy bit to keep things interesting), so the Landcrusier could handle it all pretty easily.  We spent a couple of days bashing around in the dunes and discovering some incredible places, seen by very few. It also allowed us to do our first proper night of wild camping (some practise for Sudan), where we just had to pick a spot in the desert and pitch our tent. The silence was like a sound of its own, especially after Cairo (and its 5 am calls to prayer).

Unfortunately all this off roading made us a little over confident, and we managed to get stuck in deep sand the next morning, turning off to take a cool photo. Cue half an hour of digging, and gradually reversing out using our sand ladders. Very impressed with how it all worked in anger though. James and Anna 2 : Sinky Sand 1!

One issue out here through is the fuel shortages (which seem more or less constant) with huge tailbacks of farm trucks waiting overnight sometimes to get some fuel. Thankfully, as tourists we’ve been allowed to skip the queues, but it must be a massive pain for anyone living here.  We were really surprised how kind everyone in the queue has been about letting us in - but I guess we're only filling up a car rather than two tractors and six jerry cans.  Plus, we probably add to the general entertainment of fights and barricades by taxi drivers.

Our first night wild camping in the Western Desert. We just drove 20 mins off the road and picked our spot!

Stunning vistas in the White Desert 

Anna digs us out after some over adventurous off roading. We'd spent much of the previous day off road,  on hard packed sand having loads of fun, but got over confident an got stuck in some soft stuff. Shovels and sand ladders to the ready!