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.

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