A Travellerspoint blog

Day 227 – "Cairo Baby!" (Embassies Galore)

6th May 2012

sunny 37 °C

‘Cairo Baby!’ we intermittently exclaimed to one another, we had arrived in the city of endless nights, the largest city in Northern Africa and a city that brimmed with an indefatigable energy. Our Cape to Cairo mission was complete. Though that mission had been a major accomplishment it still remained part of a larger objective. We wanted to traverse Africa from bottom to top. We’d been to Cape Aghulas, on Africa’s southernmost tip; the northern most tip was in Tunisia; the land of carpets, souks and Star Wars film sets. In our way stood Libya; the infamous home of Colonel Muamar Gadaffi, the theatrical podium for a European and American staged tragedy and the desert landscape now ruled by an interim government and various rebel sects who controlled its borders. We needed to cross it in order to see North Africa and find our way home.

It was our first day in the city, and so we indulged ourselves in a taxi. The Cairenes, in one morning, stole the hard fought ‘Africa’s Worst Drivers’ accolade with consummate ease. They didn’t just win, they were an education to any who strive to undertake, cut in, break speed limits and defy one way systems at eighty kilometres per hour. In fact any given road and any given side of that road was a drivable lane, it really didn’t matter which direction you were heading in as long as you had a horn. Not one car was without the injuries of battle that take place on the streets every day. A taxi driver can eat a kebab, ask where we’re going, beep his horn and swerve in and out of traffic with inches to spare all whilst using his mobile phone. The view through the windscreen was exactly the same as the one on a computer screen when you’re racing Bugatti’s and Aston Martin’s through city-scapes at a hundred kilometres an hour on your Playstation. Exhilarating and petrifying at once, our hearts as well as our bodies were racing; and all we wanted was to get into town.

After overcoming the language barrier we found our way to the Libyan Embassy. In our heads an orchestra was playing in a minor key and the drums were building to a terrifying crescendo. This was the Libyan Embassy, for our entire lives we’ve been taught that Libyans are dangerous, they blow up planes, they support terrorism, they’re wild cards run by a dictator vilified, quite rightly, by ‘the west.’ But in their defence, they have nice Roman and Greek ruins and a rather convenient road that we’d like to use. The conductor brought the orchestra to a dramatic finale and we stepped up to the counter. “We’d like a transit visa please.” Oh how easy it would have been for him to fold through a whole handful of shiny stickers and hand two over. But this was a bureaucracy; our ideal world was not the same as the one we lived in. Naturally we were at the wrong ‘window in the wall on the street’ and we were instructed to walk around the corner and make the noise ‘sabri’ at whoever confronted us. Around that corner we did indeed find another window in a wall, but this time with an adjoining door. The door was ajar and we stepped through with a crowd of ten of fifteen others. Once in we were confronted by a guard come registrar who stood in the second doorway; he was the human barrier facing a room only two metres square and crammed with people just itching to get permission slips for their holidays. We asked for a ‘sabri’ and were told to wait at another window. We did wait and after a while we had the opportunity to ask another man for a ‘sabri.’ This new guy had a face you wouldn’t miss. He had that masculine, handsome face of an Arabic secret agent, slick dark hair, a suit that hung impeccably from his shoulders and a four inch scar that ran down his right cheek and silently declared, ‘I understand pain.’ He was at once polite, friendly and entirely in control and he introduced himself, ‘Good morning, I’m Sabri, how can I be of assistance.’ His English was excellent, as would be expected from any secret agent. We glossed over the fact we’d told him that we needed a Sabri and he explained that a transit visa could only begin to be processed if we had a Tunisian visa to prove we could leave Libya. We countered that British nationals do not require a visa for Tunisia and he apologised but stated coldly and firmly that they were the rules. We were fools. A Libyan visa had never had the slightest chance of being easy.

Fortunately, Laura had spotted the Tunisian Embassy on the way into town. We stopped for a coffee and a cake and then, fortified, renewed and full of sugar, we made for the next impenetrable ivory tower. Next to that tower was a door with a queue that led to another imperceptibly small hole in a wall, at the end of which, there intermittently appeared a bureaucrat in their natural environment. We spent a while obtaining forms, filling them in, attaching photos and chatting to people in the queue and slowly, without ever getting to speak to an official, realised that applying for a visa when we didn’t need one would not work. With that in mind we found a way in to the main office, (followed an official looking guy through a security door,) and there we politely coerced a man into assisting us. Tunisia would not issue a visa to a British Nationals. Tunisia would not write a letter on behalf of British Nationals. Tunisia would only offer to receive a phone call from the Libyan Embassy in order to state that British Nationals do not require a visa for entry. We couldn’t really argue, they were happy for us to enter they just didn’t want to go another mile. Empty handed, we left the embassy and returned to Libya.

“You need to give me something.” Sabri said. “A letter from your embassy and a letter from Tunisia will help.” Bewildered, we about turned and set march for the British Embassy, it was one thirty and all embassies close by two, they obviously have hectic ‘late lunch’ schedules and all important golf games and drinks parties to attend. We stopped back at Tunisia along the way, they were closed. We had a small disagreement with the stubborn security official when he wouldn’t tell us their opening hours and then we continued to the British Embassy; British citizens in need of help in a city with such strong connections to the Empire of old, surely there we’d find a friend? They were closed; they reopened at nine o’clock tomorrow. We thanked our lucky stars that we didn’t need them to stop our execution or negotiate a prolonged prison sentence. Great Britain has bigger things in mind than its citizens. We would return the following day.

We retired to our camp opting for the metro at just one Egyptian pound per fare, flat rate. Superb. We needed to reformulate our plans.

Posted by ibeamish 09:52 Archived in Egypt

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