A Travellerspoint blog

May 2012

Day 246 – Destination Libya

25th May 2012

The time had come. We remounted the lip that took us from the dirt beside the road to the tar that would accelerate us towards the border. We had advised our Libyan guide that we would be with him between nine and ten o’clock. It was seven o’clock and we had an hour’s drive ahead of us.

Two nights previous we’d spoken to Laura’s parents singing the praises of the vehicle that has crossed rivers, swamps and deserts to get us the length and breadth of Africa. We’d literally flown across Sudan and done a lot of driving in Egypt; we were due a hiccup and for once it came with Laura in the driver’s seat.

A slight lurch and sudden loss of power followed closely by the sweet smell of mechanical burning. We came to an abrupt halt as Laura pulled over. Beneath the car we could see that the seal on the rear diff was leaking, it was red hot to the touch and that seemed to be where the clanking was coming from; we’d localised the problem. We let the diff cool and refilled it with a litre and a half of oil hoping it would get us far enough into Libya to find a solution. With our temporary measure in place it was time to get to the border again. As we drove it was clear that the fluid had helped but an uncomfortable clunk each time we changed gear signalled that we needed help.

Nearing the border we were stopped at a fairly intimidating road block. Four or five tanks were parked and another was driving around on in the sand on the road side. The officer, armed, asked for our passports and asked where we were going. Our passports, he found, were in order and he granted us passage. He had been the custodian of the entrance to the border town of Soloum. Driving away from the check point we passed another four or five tanks, driving in a line along the sand at the road side leaving monstrous clouds of dust in their wake. Soloum was where our sea side road was forced to climb into the hills as it turned for the border. As we drove it was impossible to ignore the long line of trucks we were passing all parked at the roads edge, their drivers busy peeling potatoes, making tea, or relaxing with an attitude that suggested they would not be moving anytime soon. We were still eight or nine kilometres from the Egyptian border post. Surely they weren’t queuing? As our climb continued so did the line of trucks. The mountain gave a clear view back over Soloum and the dust clouds took our eye to the now toy sized tanks playing in the dust.

The trucks were queuing; all the way to the border post. We were able to drive past them with a couple of cars but repeatedly got caught up in the queues formed by contra-flowing traffic in the one available lane. After an age we arrived at the police post and began the uneasy task of leaving Egypt. Their English was as good as our Arabic; it was time for charades. Once again they searched for a chassis number in a place it didn’t exist. There was simply no possibility that Redvers’ chassis might not be stamped in the same place that a Toyotas is. Our chassis number, riveted onto the seat was too easy. Failing to convince the police that we hadn’t stolen or tampered with the car, we left them. We’d sort customs first and then return. The Egyptians were still on the take, we had to pay for a photo copy of our passport, our own copies weren’t good enough. We paid for car parking at the border, we paid for a stamp for our carnet, we paid again for stamps for our departure cards, we were so sick of Egypt its hard to explain in words. Day to day existence had been hard work; endless tiresome hours of avoiding overcharging, of wriggling around tour guides who, if we were polite, took our gentle attitude a s a come on building us to the point of again standing square and announcing ‘Khalas.’ (Enough!) It took two and a half hours to negotiate the idle bureaucracy of the border. There no queues, only masses of people pushing each other aside to get to the window, the strongest men won as once more old ladies were swept aside and cursed. During our time in Egypt we’d actually seen too some despicable behaviour. Cars pushing in front of ambulances as sirens and the need for swift medical treatment proved less important than a fat Egyptian mans need to get home. At nearly every opportunity someone had tried to rip us off; every step had been through littered streets, deserts and waterways; we’d been harassed and cajouled to within an inch of our frayed temper’s limit and only the kind actions of a few had kept us from declaring an all out contempt for the nation. But that was the beauty of the border crossing. It was a clean slate, a new start, an open mind. We didn’t just want Libya, we needed Libya.

As we crawled across no-mans land, our thoughts were not on the excitement ahead, nor of the kilometres to cover. Our minds were on the horrific banging coming from beneath Redvers back end, and uncomfortable clanking sound during gear changes. We decided that we needed to take the rear prop shaft off and see if it made a difference.

At the gate to Libya stood a well presented gentleman his short clean hair brushed back into a spike, his moustache and goatee clean and freshly clipped, blue shirt, suit trousers and polished shoes, he was our guide, his name was Adris. He took our passports and disappeared towards on office as I disappeared beneath Redvers. Adris was done first and a shirt while later a re-emerged, propshaft in hand. It would be two wheel driving from there. Adris had arranged our stamps within ten minutes, we drove on to find another office where we could stamp Redvers into Libya.

The office had a small and old paint flecked desk against a wall and beneath a four pane window whose bottom left glass had been smashed. On top of the desk were piles of ill-organised carnet slips, some yellowing with age. The young guard, one of the victorious revolutionaries now coming to terms with the mundane duties of a soldier in a country no longer at war, stamped our carnet in the ‘exit’ section and decided his desk was full enough already. He stamped, but didn’t bother removing our carnet page. It didn’t matter, they were hardly going to come chasing us for unpaid duties. The tax rate in Libya was 2%.

The sound from below Redvers was much better after our temporary fix but still there was noise enough that we needed to fix it sooner rather than later. We’d just have to find a decent Land Rover mechanic.

We drove into Libya, we were on our way home. Our first stop was at the Tobruk war memorial where we discovered the gate keeper was in absentia. The wall was low enough for us to peer over and again we saw another yard filled with head stones. The bell on the gate was from the HMS Liverpool; it was a heart warming sight in a land far away from home.

The road continued through absolutely stunning scenery. We were following an unspoilt Mediterranean coast line, far removed from the one hundred kilometres of litter festooned high rise holiday homes we’d seen blotting Egypt’s coast. Deep blue gave way to turquoise; yellow sand and white rock caressed by the water at the shores edge. The hills around us were dry but the golden grass and green trees and scrub reminded us of a Greek landscape, one that would flourish in a second given a day’s rain.

Adris had a friend near to the border and suggested a spot of lunch. We pulled off the road and met a family who invited us in. This was to be our first real experience of Muslim living. I went into the lounge, a carpeted room with long cushions at its edges providing a ground level seat or lounging area which was extremely comfortable. Laura meanwhile was shown to the female lounge where she met the wife and her daughters. Whilst reclined I spoke to Adris and the father who regaled me with stories of sunken World War Two ships and concealing Australian troops from the Italians.

The food was served in a huge bowl and three of us, sat on the floor, ate from it. Cous-cous, salsa, potataoes and tripe all flavoured superbly and washed down with 7-Up and tea; scrum-diddly-umptious. We took photos for posterity and Adris announced it was time to leave. We’d not been in the country long but we felt that the hospitality was already shining through.

There were several road blocks on our way, manned by the members of the new army/police force. Most were happy to let us pass. The benefit of having Adris with us was that he was ahead of us, and in possession of our passports. He would clear our passage whilst we sat patiently in Redvers surveying the scene before us. It was a pleasant way of acclimatising but even then we were already craving the freedom of travelling without a guide. Occasionally, there would be someone at the police stop who seemed to take exception to our presence. One young man in particular was most disgruntled and even though Adris had cleared it with the more senior officer; the youngster insisted on pulling us over.

Our policy had largely been one of compliance. If an officer requests that we pull over, then we do. Most of the time authorities just want to chat, they also need to feel in control and even if the intent contains malice the collective and its seniors will normally make an appropriate decision regardless of what the individual rogue wants. Guns have become somewhat impotent. Like jack boots, berets and epaulettes an automatic rifle is just another item of clothing. One can’t help but become conditioned. The guns are there, they’re loaded and most have them have probably ended at least one human life, but they’re not being pointed at us and we offer them no reason to; and just like that, they become decorative. Libya upped the ante though in both its number of guns and their size. Toyota Hilux’s had seated machine guns bolted onto the load bay; the type of guns that have bullets like carrots and can shoot planes from the sky. They had tanks too.

As it was we pulled over and explained that our passports where with the man in the car in front. Fifteen seconds into this discussion the youngster’s officer appeared and took him by the arm and led him away. He had undermined his senior’s decision and was unceremoniously being placed back in his box. With the other arm the polite officer waved us on our way.

The road continued. And what a road it was; it was the stuff of movies. As the sun set and its orange fire dipped into the azure sea, cars were parked amongst the bushes on either side of the road; people were barbequing and enjoying a warm Mediterranean evening.

Our original plan had been to get to Tobruk, but that had changed when we realised we had enough time to cover another hundred and fifty kilometres to the town of Sosa. It was twilight when we pulled into the hotel and took a room. The hotel manager seemed under the impression that we would be paying for a room for our guide also, an assumption that was delicately rectified. Adris had been organised at considerable expense for the border only and we told him that we would part ways that evening. He insisted on giving us his sim-card and asked us to call him when we reached Benghazi. It had been a hundred kilometre an hour entrance to a country that held so much expectation. We had made it to our first overnight stop; sat-phone calls to our parents were due to reassure them that we were in good form and then a good night’s sleep. As we walked into the hotel, we marvelled at what a beautiful place Libya was, our expectations had been overwhelmed and our hearts had been lifted by the hospitality of its people. Our melancholy sense of achievement was suddenly focused as somewhere nearby there was a burst of gunfire and a loud explosion.

Posted by ibeamish 12:21 Archived in Libya Comments (1)

Day 245 – The War Graves

24th May 2012

Alexandria had a lot more to offer, but we had little time to take in and that morning we ate a last breakfast in our hotel before filling Redvers’ tank and setting off for El Alamein. North Africa was a crucial battle ground during the Second World War. l once said of Alamein, “Before it we never had a victory, after it we never had a defeat.” Whoever controlled North Africa held an awful lot of Mediterranean coastline, but also, and more importantly, they held the Suez Canal. That canal was essential to the supply lines of the declining British Empire. The canal lay in Egypt, a British Protectorate; to the west lay Libya, held by the Italians since they pinched it from the Ottomans in 1911. Beyond was French Morocco and Algeria, ceded to the Germans once they’d taken France.

Erwin Rommel and his tanks had been outnumbered by my grandad and a succession of British Commanders from Wavell through Auchinleck to Montgomery. The Italians began the attack when they crossed the Libyan-Egyptian border in 1940 in an attempt to march on Alexandria and the Suez Canal. A series of back and forth attacks across northern Africa ended in the allies chasing Rommel back to Tripoli. With the Americans having landed in Morocco and Algeria the Germans retreat stopped in Tunis where 140,000 men surrendered in April 1943.

In amongst the chasing back and forth, there had been hard fought battles with the inevitable casualties that result from war. Tens of thousands lay dead by the war’s end. With the end of the war those who had fallen were collected by the British Commonwealth War Graves Commission and reburied at various sites across Northern Africa. At the war graveyard in El Alamein, 7600 soldiers lie in their final resting place, a tranquil setting in a walled and deliberately architected enclosure that is meticulously maintained and irrigated. To be stood amongst so many head stones was a saddening moment. British, Irish, Polish, Kiwi, Australian, Greek and African names revealed the extent from which the British drew their manpower and also just how world encompassing the war really was. It was difficult to feel anything but saddened, even amongst the beautifully manicured setting. The birds twittered as the wind blew across the sand. A peaceful and relaxing resting place for seven thousand twenty-something year old men.

During the war a total of over seventeen million mines had been laid by both the Allies and the Axis powers. The existence of those land mines seventy years later meant that visiting the battle fields was an idea that bordered on stupidity and therefore one we did not need a second thought to consider. Our trip would be of graves and museums. The German war grave a few kilometres away, was also a solemn place constructed more like a temple than a graveyard and the view from the roof gave a quite spectacular panorama of desert and Mediterranean. We had a lot further to travel to be near to the Libyan border and so we declined the groundskeeper’s offer of a place to camp and continued on our advance west.

Shortly before dusk, we found a mound of excavated earth and we pulled off the road and partially concealed ourselves behind it; thirty minutes after we’d stopped a tractor trundled up to us with a farmer and his three sons who asked about our lives and wondered if we needed anything. We politely declined and sank back into our chairs; this was the calm before the storm. Tomorrow we would enter Libya and continue our drive west.

Posted by ibeamish 12:20 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Day 244 – Another Wonder of the Ancient World

23rd May 2012

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The news of our visas filled us with relief and excitement. Finally we could wash Egypt from our skin and our hair; we would be free and adventuring again. With such good news we immediately set about organising our ferry out of Africa. The ferry to Marseille appeared to be no longer in service though the website had neglected to tell us this. Repeatedly we tried to book, only to fall at the final hurdle involving credit card security checks. We phoned the bank in England and they removed the ‘block’ freeing the card for use in Egypt, but it was still no good. We called again and they insisted that all should be OK and that our transaction would now run smoothly but still our computer insisted on saying no. A third phone call to the folks at the bank brought news that it was the ferry company that was failing to take payment rather than the bank declining the funds.

After some further research we discovered that the ferry was no more, and so, Plan G part 3 section iv came into action and we reverted to a ferry that would cross from Tunis to Genoa in Italy. It was only a hundred kilometres more and we could traverse the Alps in doing so and stop-over in Chantilly at my new workplace. With the ferry booked, we found a place to stay near the port for the night of our arrival in Genoa and booked a room.

After six hours we set off for a sensational sightseeing adventure around Alexandria. Ancient Alexandria’s lighthouse was called Pharos and was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was originally built in 283BC under the direction of a Greek chap named Sostratus. It stood around 125 metres high with a huge statue of Zeus at its top. Having seen the Pyramids we were on a roll, if only it hadn’t been for the fact that the lighthouse had collapsed in 700AD and its rebuilt structure then been re-razed by an earthquake in 1303. With this in mind there was little left to see; this was especially so given the fact that in the 1480’s a Sultan called Qaitbey built a fortress on top of the lighthouse’s foundations. The fortress was an easily spotted landmark in Alexandria and would be even more so if the British hadn’t blown up its minaret in 1882. Inside we did get to see one or two foundation stones of the lighthouse and in doing so we ticked number two on our seven wonders list; the third may take a while.

From the lighthouse, ice creams in hand we took a taxi to the catacombs. A funery complex discovered when a donkey being used in nearby excavations fell through the ground and into the tomb. We had left our camera at the entrance and were alone two stories underground and wandering amongst coffin sized culverts hewn into the rock. One particular tomb had been elaborately sculpted with a blend of Egyptian and Roman artwork. The Egyptian God of the afterlife, Anubis, wore Roman body armour as he anointed the dead; Roman statues flanked the tombs entrance and nearby was a triclinium, a three couched room for relatives to recline and toast to the deceased.

Back upstairs and in the glare of the daylight again we walked back through town and went for another evening tea in Delices. The sun set as we stood on our balcony and the streets filled with night time traffic and the shops enjoyed their busiest hours. With a fixed exit date, we began to plan our itinerary across over three thousand kilometres of Mediterranean coast line. Not since Montgomery began chasing Rommel would the British have advanced so quickly across North Africa.

Posted by ibeamish 12:20 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Day 243- Alexandria and the Upside Down Woman

22nd May 2012

Finally we said our farewell to Salma Campsite and to Cairo; a city modern in its desires and offerings but beset by an attitude to litter that is as disgusting as it is thoughtless. The city wallows in its own decay, the streets are filled with litter and rot; even Samer had thrown her plastic ice cream carton on the floor once finished. Bins are of no use as every piece of litter is discarded directly into the street. The canal system that diverts the water that would otherwise flood much of Giza is banked by rotten rubbish, in our time there they even built a wall to hide it. The water itself is surfaced by a layer of scum which mosquitoes call home. Little Egrets wade through the fly ridden cans, cartons and plastic bags and the stench persists, foul and mean in its offense. The Cairenes spend a lot of their time fighting one another, be it on the road amongst the bump marked cars or in the ‘queues’ that invariably involve small barred windows and a mad every-man-for-himself push towards it.

We’d enjoyed our stay but we were glad it was behind us. The hold-up had set us back considerably; we would now only arrive home in June. But that we would arrive was success in itself. The drive to Alexandria took two and a half hours and was of little note. We found our way to the Hotel Cecil, a beautiful building now part of a huge chain, were once British Officers of the Second World War plotted the battle of El Alamein, Montgomery versus Rommel, for control of northern Africa and the arterial vessel to the British Empire, the Suez Canal. Somewhere amongst the throngs of the Eighth Army, my Grandad had stood. The war graves at El Alamein and the other graves of the Second World War were high on our list of sights to see.

Our budget didn’t extend to Officer Class accommodation and so we booked into the very nice NCO accommodation of the New Cabry. We had an eighth floor room with a balcony that afforded views of the fortress where once the ancient Lighthouse of Alexandria had stood and a view that also looked out onto the square below and the Mediterranean beyond.

We decided to go for a paddle in the sea, but first headed out to find something to drink. That something to drink came from, at Somers request, McDonalds and in the form of huge one litre cups of Sprite. Nobody sells lemonade anymore. From there we turned for the promenade and, no sooner had we sat ourselves on the sea wall, and seen the litter filled beach, than we heard the screeching of tires.

That the screeching was so prolonged told us firstly that whoever was driving had been going very fast and secondly that they very much wanted to stop. As we looked up we followed the final five metres as the Mitsubishi’s bumper struck first the ladies’ legs which were swept from beneath her as if she were a porcelain statue on a table cloth. Her legs moved sideways with the car, her head and upper body moved sideways towards the car and her head made its impact upon the bonnet. The lady then completed a full flip gaining a height of around nine or ten feet. Her body, a rigid marionette with legs, back and neck all straight flipped surreally like a high diver slowed in motion. The car continued past, still braking, and the marionette came down behind it with a thud, onto a two foot high wall, before bouncing back into the road.

That the screech of tires had lasted so long and still the impact came made us wonder what exactly the woman had been looking at. I didn’t stop to think and immediately ran across the road wondering what exactly I knew about emergency critical care and if the recovery position would help the broken necked cadaver I was sure to find. She was neither broken necked nor dead, but she was wailing, seemingly incoherent Arabic. The cut on her head was beginning to pour and she was clutching her leg. The crowd soon swelled, eager to help and was adopting an approach that involved getting her back on her feet and dusting her off. There was little I could do and since she hadn’t stopped wailing and had already started asking for her hand bag I assumed she as at least partly cogniscent. I was about to explain that in my world, broken legs are tricky to deal with and depending on the configuration she may never be an athlete again; therefore without a sizeable financial outlay to attempt repair, combined with the risk of complications post surgery, it may be sensible to euthanase her and... and then I thought better of it. I handed over her handbag and one deodorant, I assume the latter was hers, and left her to the twenty strong crowd that had begun to lift her to her feet.

The episode had sapped our desire for a swim and so we wandered back across the square to a cafe called Delices where we had salad and cakes and fruit juices and ogled the amazing selection of delicacies which our bellies weren’t big enough to handle. In our hotel we discovered that Laura had an e-mail and it was from Temehu. Our visas had been processed, when would we like to cross?

Posted by ibeamish 12:19 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Day 242 – Tour Companies and Visa Extensions

21st May 2012

Our plans really didn’t extend to a route that did not involve Libya’s Mediterranean coastline. The ferry from Egypt’s Port Said to Turkey was expensive and according to reports, the inclusion of overlanders was at great conflict with the desire of the captain. It was a cargo ship whose route was from Turkey to Egypt and then travelling back as an empty vessel. The captain didn’t speak English and didn’t know what to do with those on board. The route from Israel was equally painful. It was reported to cost up to two thousand Euros and involve a prolonged and complete emptying , searching and x-raying of the vehicle. That would be far too much trouble and expense for a vehicle carrying animal related products of vaguely dubious morality and a hippo of questionable content and sensitive demeanour.

So Libya it was, come hell or high water, or revolutionary aftermath. Two or three vehicles had now reported their traverse across the country and no one had offered a bad word. The embassy remained closed until further notice. Our taxi drove by and we went once more to our friend at the internet cafe.

We had news. Temehu were on the ball, they needed seven days for visas but would try and arrange them sooner. Seven days presented a problem, our visas would expire. Given that it would cost more in time than the paltry one English pound we would pay for a three month resident’s visa we found our way to the passports and immigration building in Tahrir Square and underwent two and a half hours of pushing, barging, frustration and confusion before finally emerging successful. It was too late to drive to Alexandria and we went back to the campsite for one last evening.

Posted by ibeamish 12:18 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Day 241 – Closed Embassies

20th May 2012

The Libyan Embassy was to prove to offer nothing other than dreams and disappointment. It was closed and offered a familiar déjà-vu which we did not care much to prolong. We turned tail and returned to our internet cafe where we sent a message to a tourism company named Temehu and asked them to organise two tourist visas for entry at the end of the week. The embassy would have a last chance whilst we awaited a response from Temehu.

Posted by ibeamish 12:17 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Day 240 – An Egyptian Supper

19th May 2012

Samer, one of the pretty young ladies we’d met at the Opera gardens five days previous had been keeping in touch with Laura via text message and had asked would we like to visit for dinner with her family. We had again accepted but finding a suitable evening had been troublesome based around our colonic shenanigans.

The nineteenth of May was the day. The first half of it was spent doing precious little. The second half was spent finding an internet cafe and an appropriate gift to take with us to Samer’s home. We chose an assortment of handmade chocolate biscuits as our gift and made our way to the tube station formerly known as Mubarak, now known as Ramses.

Samer met us at the station and we walked for ten minutes to her home; a fancily furnished top floor apartment of moderate size with a spacious balcony and a view onto the surrounding buildings. Inside we were introduced to her mother, and two sisters, her two pet cats, and shortly after to her father. Dinner consisted of roast chicken, from which we were offered the breasts, hollowed out courgettes filled with rice, a mint and yoghurt dip not unlike Tsatziki, pickled vegetables, bread rice pudding. It was quite a spread despite the pickled vegetables and we ate until we were full and then were force fed until we were fit to burst. Drinks came in the form of a malted non-alcoholic soda and water.

The gift had been a very good idea as shortly after dinner Laura was presented with gifts from Samer; a bejewelled ring and an equally bejewelled and quite tight fitting orange top. Laura positively beamed as she pulled her ‘Oh Dear God/Thank you So Much’ face. We were invited to Samer’s sister Nora’ s wedding celebrations on the following Thursday, an invitation we had to turn down as we hoped to be a little closer to Libya by then. The evening drifted by as I was schooled at dominoes first by the uncle, then by Samer and then by the little sister. Laura fared no better at cards and we laughed inopportunely at ‘Arabias Got Talent’ on the LCD television in front of us. The evening came to a close as we were escorted back to the tube station and our tickets were paid for. Egypt truly had a dichotomy of individuals, the painful and the absolutely lovely. We had enjoyed the latter’s’ company and it had been another very enjoyable evening.

Posted by ibeamish 12:16 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Day 239 – Recouping our Intestines

18th May 2012

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With recovering but fatigued gastro intestinal tracts we spent the day reading and then watching an entire box set that we’d acquired on DVD back in Malawi; a country who that very day had announced it was legalising homosexuality.

Posted by ibeamish 12:14 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Day 238 – The Falafel Fandango

17th May 2012

The second of our two days with Ammr went much as the first, in just a few hours we, or rather, Ammr and his team, treated over seventy horses, placated at least three growling owners, one of whom was in his vest and boxer shorts; and we’d like to think, educated one or two of those men who turned up, steed in hand.

The downside was that the previous day’s falafels had reared their ugly heads, Laura was descending into a mildly feverish, heavily gut grumbling, nausea as the day went by. A very nice owner offered us both tea and pepsi but neither would help. I wasn’t feeling tip top, but for me the best was yet to come.

It had been a fascinating two days, and whilst we were of no real use to Ammr, he was of immense interest to us. We exchanged numbers and wished him well before leaving.

Back at the campsite we upgraded out ‘tented accomodation’ to a room where we were able to shuffle back and forth from the toilet, self medicating and, in between, praying for an end to the falafel fandango we were performing in our compact and ensuite room.

Posted by ibeamish 12:14 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Day 237 – The Brooke Hospital for Horses

16th May 2012

Saving lives; that was what we had planned for the day, saving lives. Our taxi pulled into a Gizan back street beneath the Pyramids. We were at the Ahmed Foula Stables. Mr Foula was a gentleman who owned forty horses, all working in the pyramids area. He had offered his stables as a place from which the Brooke Horse vets could work. It was at these stables we met a gentleman named Ammr, Dr Ammr Mahmoud to be precise. Dr Mahmoud is the Cairo Region Veterinary Officer and runs biweekly clinics from the back of his Toyota Hilux; we were lucky to be able to join him. With the doctor was a three strong support team; a scribe to note the case details, diagnosis and treatments and two veterinary technicians who could draw up and administer medicines as well as preparing the horses for the doctor and completing more time consuming tasks such as dressing changes.

A miscommunication meant that, by the time we had arrived, the doctor had begun and completed his work for the day at that particular site. We sat for an hour discussing the problems he faces, common diseases and ailments and received an insight into how the horse industry works near the pyramids and the effects that have been felt post revolution.

It appeared to be a quite sad state of affairs. The word on most Egyptian lips was ‘tourists,’ everyone wants more of them. Our airplane pilot campsite owner wants to fly them in and out, the hotels want to house them again, the boats want to sail them, the restaurateurs want to feed them, the taxis and horse carriages want to transport them and the suppliers to all these industries want to keep supplying them. The rest of the country just wants to benefit from the all important currency that is left behind. The people are expectant, they worry that the new president will not meet the required mark; but mostly they just hope that the new president will be ‘a good man; a man who does what is right.’ Everyone worries that Mubarak was too rich and too corrupt and it seems to be known that he was ‘not good and one of the richest men in the world’ but people still hanker for the stability they had when he was in power. Just one week before Egypt’s first democratic election in sixty years the election fever seems more like a subdued ‘let’s get on with it.’ The billboards of Cairo are festooned with the noble and skyward looking middle aged and greying faces of the would be statesmen. Every square inch of the city has been papered and repapered with those same faces; the rhetoric is apparently flowing nightly, though given the language barrier and lack of a television set this is lost on us. The 23rd May may or may not change things in Egypt, and that’s what Ammr seemed to infer. He had only just ceased the emergency food supply campaign that aimed at preventing the out of work equine population starving to death as owners battled to make ends meet in an industry brought to its knees.

Brooke Hospital had been getting through ten tonnes of fodder per week trying to supplement the diets of around one thousand nine hundred horses and donkeys. The food had been essential but looking around us there were great discrepancies in the condition and health of the horses around us. This, Ammr told us, was down to individual owners, some fed there stock well, others didn’t. Some owners drove fancy cars and others didn’t, but personal wealth had no correlation to condition of horses.

We travelled with Ammr to his second site and watched and discussed cases whilst chatting to owners. As western faces Ammr told us that we were seen as people of great knowledge and that when we spoke it was held as the truth. We however, limited our ‘advice’ to such statements as ‘feed this one more’ and ‘get his feet trimmed.’ Medical cases were discussed with Ammr and he maintained his authority, it would neither have been appropriate or desirable to question Ammr publicly or to offer advice directly to owners. And besides, Ammr was a very competent veterinarian, well experienced in the local problems his clients faced, chronic Babesia, Habronema infestations, scabies transmitted by the camels that most horses live alongside, and various wounds induced by improper harnessing.

It was a spectacular setting, and though we took no photos, it is not hard to imagine a Dr Somers crouched over aside her patient, the stethoscope placed to a belligerent asses chest, the logo emblazoned Brooke Hilux at her other side and the Great Pyramid of Cheops appearing as a theatrical backdrop.

We left Ammr and went for another bite to eat. Falafels were again the meal of choice; they would be our downfall.

Posted by ibeamish 12:13 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Day 236 – Got Any Work?

15th May 2012

We journeyed again through the metro only to find a Libyan Embassy closed to the world. We’d return on Sunday, let sleeping dogs lie, for a while at least. We found an internet cafe and began to make plans for our extended stay in Cairo.

We had still to do any voluntary work in the whole of Africa, largely because the southern African countries wanted to plan our assistance six months in advance and charge us for it. There are plenty of vets, it would seem, who will pay for their travel to work for a month at a charity and pay a thousand pounds for the privilege. That had meant that we would find no good use for ourselves. It had played on our minds though and we’d missed a good equine charity in Luxor as we’d raced through in an effort to free some time for acquiring our visas. It had been a wise decision but now time was in our hands.

On the internet we found a charity called Brooke. It was an equine hospital that ran free out-clinics for the horses of Egypt. We took the address and headed across town to find it.

Ahmed was the public relations officer and showed us around the hospital; patients receive free treatment at the expense of little old grannies, mostly in the UK. The injuries were mostly traffic or harness related and some were pretty nasty. As always the horses seemed fairly stoic despite having gaping wounds in their necks or expansive facial injuries. Our time was never going to be enough to be entirely useful but Ahmed appeared very pleased for us to be there and arranged two days at an out clinic beneath the Pyramids with a vet named Ammr. We could meet him the following day.

We left the hospital building with a charity booklet under one arm and a sense of satisfaction tucked neatly under the other. We found a falafel cafe and ate fantastically well. The hospital wasn’t far from Old Cairo and the citadel built by Salah al Din back in the day when defences were needed against marauding crusaders (1180ish.) His son turned it into a royal residence and since then Mohammed Ali built a rather imposing, but dirty looking mosque between 1824 and 1848. The imposing and spectacularly high walls of the enclosure were an impassable barrier to most and the citadel must have been quite the fortress in its day.

Posted by ibeamish 12:12 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Day 235 – “The Park Is Closed”

14th May 2012

The previous night’s dinner had been relaxing; whilst the stars twinkled and the mosquitoes hummed a relentless ode to war we sat and drank with new friends. Laura slowly came to reveal her lapse of concentration with the most symbolic of objects and, for her at least, the rest of the evening was beset with worry.

For the first time in some time, we had a new priority; something to occupy our minds other than the embassy. The embassy could come second, first we had a park to visit. The park was guarded by an old man, dressed in his galabiyya; his paunch pressing the cotton tight around his middle. He spoke no English but it was clear that he had no interest in allowing us through. And so there we stood for ten minutes trying to explain our predicament. A passer by sought to help with our communication but our guard was insistent that no man should cross his threshold until the appointed hour. Frustration was taking hold when I took an opportune moment and slipped past him; which failed to make him smile. The stakes were too high and as he shouted after us we shouted back that we only needed a few minutes in his litter filled park.

The litter was a blessing. With a lawn bejewelled by ring pulls and drinks cans the little engagement ring had been sat expectantly from whence it had been placed. We showed the old man as we left but he remained in a sulk that the ring could not extricate him from.

Sunday had been disappointing, but not so much that we didn’t remain expectant the following morning. For one year or more, a path through Libya had been on our minds. A will we-won’t we question that had been answered with resignation in our early stages. Every day on the road had increased our chances of gaining entry and transiting safely, and here we were, outside the Embassy for the seventh or eighth time amongst a crowd of annoyed Egyptians. The police, still armed, guarding the doors to our passage home.

Again our high hearts had become heavy; we slumped to a sit against the wall of the Argentine Embassy across from our hole in the wall and contemplated what to do. Had Madam Hannah known of the strike when she suggested a return the following week? She had certainly appeared genuine. We had two options; the first was to sit it out and wait for the embassy to open, we guessed they wouldn’t strike more than one week, the second was to arrange our visas through a private tour company at a princely sum that was twenty times the cost of the embassy. For the whole morning we sat waiting. We spoke with a chap named Wang, a Chinese chap who had been trying to organise a diplomatic visa but was effectively in the same position as us. We met an Italian reporter who told us he’d visited Libya four times in the past year and this was the hardest he’d found it to actually get in. A Libyan chap gave the game away when he explained why the embassy workers were striking. The embassy was responsible for paying the hospital fees of the Libyan rebels receiving treatment in Cairo. The embassy had run completely out of money. Its staff had elected to holiday rather than work for free and the police were in position in an attempt to intimidate any would be retaliation from the hospitalised militia. What excellent timing they had.

We elected to give them a week, or rather six days, we’d return each day and if nothing had happened by the following Sunday we’d instruct our agency and begin travelling again.

That afternoon we found ourselves back in the park that had heralded our day’s beginning. We sat and read and watched a young boy trying desperately to impress the young girls he was with by rapping along with the tune on his mobile phone. In retaliation, one of the girls put a Michael Buble song on hers and gave us a prolonged glance to see if the foreigners were approving. We were acting middle aged and just couldn’t focus on our novels with all that racket in the background. Eventually the group came to leave, but on their way three of the young ladies stopped by and introduced themselves, Samer, Sheren and Yasmine. Their obvious beauty was of no discomfort to Somers or I and when they asked us would we like to go out for a bite to eat, we accepted. As we walked across the bridge from Zamalek towards Tahrir Square I was heckled with shouts of ‘Casanova’ as I appeared to escorting four beauties across Cairo, jealous looks and second takes abounded from the disgruntled, slim framed, skinny jeaned and slick haired male youth of Cairo. I grinned back and winked at anyone who looked unhappy with my fortune.

Dinner was to be Kosherry; a dish of noodles, pasta, fired onion and tomato salsa, washed down with water. Afterwards we went for ice cream and the evening came to an end in Sedat tube station where we garnered more numbers for our phone book and said farewell.

Posted by ibeamish 12:11 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Day 234 – Tomorrow, Inshallah

13th May 2012

sunny

And so, with the arrival of Sunday 13th came hope and excitement and a keen start. We had been delayed, but today was it. By now our journey into Cairo was routine. We knew the guys at the bakery where we bought our first snack of the day, we knew where to find the taxis and how much to pay them, we even had a regular guy that we bought breakfast from at the station. As for the embassy, we’d been there so many times in such a short space of time it was all too familiar. We took a taxi from Opera Station to 26th July Street where we alighted and walked, faster than our taxi, the remaining short distance to the embassy.

As we approached the embassy all was not right. Three trucks were parked alongside the building in and around the trucks stood the pubescent stick wielding navy blue army of teenage boys so familiar to the Egyptian Police Force. Amongst them, stood the white officers with their holstered pistols and their large shiny black sunglasses completing an air of arrogance that hung around each like the cheap aftershave they wore. This was not normal; and we sp desperately craved normal. Outside of our ‘hole in the wall’ a crowd of displeased Egyptians slouched amongst the trees and along the wall, each looking sullen and resigned. Madam Hanna had said our visas would be issued ‘Inshallah,’ God bloody willing. We hung around until one o’clock.

No one could offer us any advice. And eventually a face appeared in the hole in the wall and told us “Tomorrow, Inshallah.”

With yet another day placed in the hands of God we chose to spend the afternoon in one of Cairo’s parks, we bought wine and beer, neither of which we could drink in public, and we indulged in the local bookshop and we settled down in some very nice gardens opposite to the Opera House. There, because her fingers were sore, Laura took her engagement ring off and placed it on the grass.

Posted by ibeamish 04:31 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Day 233 – Twiddling Thumbs

12th May 2012

sunny

Day two hundred and thirty three was spent drearily and painfully wasting time waiting for the embassy to open the following day. Every day that ticked by stole a day of our lives.

Posted by ibeamish 04:30 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Day 232 – ‘Bombing’ The Pyramids

11th May 2012

sunny

We’d been casually delaying our trip to the pyramids given that every day we were able to see them from afar anyway. But no trip to Egypt would be complete without a visit to the famous tombs. We arrived early as we didn’t want to lose out on a ticket that allowed us to enter the mighty Pyramid of Cheops.

Up close the pyramids were a spectacle. They were immense, their silhouette outlined in a billion minds and it would seem everyone from Napoleon through the British Army and two million tourists a year (pre-revolution) had visited these huge stone tombs. Up close they’re too big to appear three dimensional; walls of rugged sand blown stone blocks, each four or five foot high, disappear towards the sky as your mind tells your body not to try and climb them. (Napoleon climbed them.) These huge organised piles of stone have financed an entire world that lives around them; drinks and snacks sellers, tissue sellers, postcards, head scarves, statues, guides, horse and camel owners providing transport and photo opportunities who offer ever decreasing ‘best prices’ as tourists walk by.

The latter was sad to see. So many animals were without work and whilst some looked the healthier for it; others looked less so. We’d decided to walk and take our time and so carriages would have to wait. Our eagerness had been masked with a feigned nonchalance which had made Somers’ victory of being first in the queue all the sweeter. The Indian tour guide with a hundred and thirty-five thousand followers; each woman with a digital SLR camera and each man with HD video recorder (for us it was vice versa) would have to wait. I’d parked Redvers in the first car park I’d come across whilst Laura was acquiring tickets. Since we were the first through the gates we headed straight for the pyramids of Cheops and went inside. The first narrow tunnel led to a second that climbed upwards, it was a very narrow tunnel at that; as we crouched, our backs rubbed along the wall above and our heads were lowered towards our knees. We were the first in and much to our entertainment found that there was a nine or ten second echo. The pyramid was empty bar for the remains of the stone sarcophagus and an air conditioning unit that’s been smashed into place next to one of the original air shafts. Apparently there was another chamber in which they have found a secret door. Archaeologists have passed fibre optic cameras through the door to reveal an even more secret door and behind that well they won’t tell us, but the guidebook said the discovery would be very exciting. For now we were alone, in a small and narrow tunnel inside a big and empty pyramid.

Once inside the pyramids compound we’d realised that actually, lots of cars were allowed in and tourists were driving all over the site. Accordingly I ran back to get Redvers so that we could get him in and get some close up pictures in front of the Sphinx and the Pyramids. What we hadn’t reckoned on was the security. I pulled over to have Redvers searched and the security guard told me that the diesel in the roof top jerry cans could be used to make a bomb. My smile turned to a grimace when I realised he was serious and I told him to sit down and have a cup of tea whilst I poured the fuel into Redvers’ tank. But he had a look in his eye that would find a reason to say no and he asked to see what was in the back. The beaten up gas cylinder was of course another bomb. Three and half kilograms of butane was just about enough to give two people a third degree burn. I offered to make his tea on the stove to prove it was a standard cylinder. But he didn’t look like he wanted tea much so I asked why he didn’t arrest me for possession of two bombs. He smiled and told me that they weren’t real bombs. He finished with a flourish by telling me I’d been parked illegally and would have to park outside the gates if I wanted to go back in.

We found the Sphinx on foot; the nose less, chinless, human headed lion who has endured bullets from the target practice of the Mamlukes and Napoleons soldiers as well as four and a half thousand years of sand blasting from the desert winds. It has been a show of power for the pharaohs that commissioned it, a symbol of British Military pride after their victories in Egypt, (the soldiers that fell at the defeat at Isandlwana in Kwa Zulu Natal in South Africa wore golden sphinxes on their lapels.) It was also the British that took the Sphinx’s chin for the British Museum. We like everyone else spent around an hour posing and ‘kissing’ the sphinx, cuddling it, riding it, making it ‘wear’ our sunglasses and generally doing all we could to look stupid before it. We were bloody good at it too.

Posted by ibeamish 04:29 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

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