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July 3rd, 2010 | Africa

Getting out of Egypt…!!

Early morning on my last day in Egypt, an open and deserted highway, and a hand heavy on the throttle...

By 5.00am I was on the road… I had 240 kms to ride to get to the Libyan border and wanted to be there as early as possible, to start the 5 hour long process that I had been told it would take to get me onto Libyan soil…

The road to El Saloum was deserted this early in the morning, and I cranked on the power once it was light enough to see properly. Prior to that I was straining my eyes in the darkness, hoping that I would not come across a camel or some other obstacle in my path…

I passed the tiny settlement of Bakbak just after 7.00am, where not a soul was in sight, and arrived at the El Saloum checkpoint a few minutes later. The soldiers there were taken aback that a foreigner had arrived at their post at such an un-godly hour, and were thrown into a flat spin as I roared up, changing down through the gears and making as loud an entrance as I could…

The last thing I needed was some trigger happy, half asleep soldier thinking that someone had sneaked up on them… They took a long time thumbing through my passport before allowing me to proceed.

Almost there ! Silly buggers can't even spell their nationality...!! Egypt ! You gotta wonder...!

El Saloum is a pretty little town, nestled in the bay where an Egyptian Navy vessel was anchored, and a flotilla of small fishing boats were pulled up onto the beach, or sat bobbing in the calm waters just offshore. The Libyan border lies on a plateau to the west of this little town, and for the first time in weeks, I climbed the winding road just outside of it, up to the dizzying altitude of 185 metres above sea level…!! Egypt is as flat as the proverbial pancake, and any mound higher than 50 metres will have a name and be classified as a hill or a mountain…

The pretty border town of El Saloum, taken from up on the plateau just above it...

Up on the plateau, I passed through two checkpoints, where truckers had pulled up in a massive convoy and spent the night… As I rolled past them, dozens of them waved me down and invited me to share their breakfast with them… The further I got from the tourist traps of Cairo and Alexandria, the more I like Egyptians… The guys at the checkpoints out here were friendly and joked around with me in halting English, which was a massive change from their brethren further to the East.

By 7.05 am, I had already covered 200 km! It was the first milestone of a long and hard day's riding...

I rolled into the border at 7.30am, waking the guy at the Traffic Office, who was fast asleep on a carpet behind the counter…  With his hair touseled and sleep coating the corners of his eyes, he blearily staggered out to the bike, took a brief look at the chassis number, asked for my carnet, and then pointed me to a building a few hundred metres away, and muttered something about “Five Egyptian pounds”… I assumed that I had to go and buy or pay for something over there, and discovered that it was the same kind of cardboard folder that we had to buy in Aswan when we cleared our vehicles there… Back at Traffic, I collected another form, and was told to take the carnet across to another building in the opposite direction, and just as far away. This time I rode the bike there, filled in another form, paid a cashier five pounds for a form which clearly stated it was 2 pounds, and received no change from him, just a blank look and a little wave of the hand to indicate that I could go… Then it was back to the traffic office to show this little piece of paper, remove the Egyptian number plates and receive another form to achknowlegde this, and I was sent back to another far off office to get the Carnet stamped…

This took about ten minutes to scrutinize, including reading through all the previous stamps and mumbling the names of the countries as the official went through each one. Carnet stamped, it was back to the traffic office again, where the guy there had a cup of sweet tea waiting for me…!! I nearly fainted…!!

“Come,” he said, “Last cup of tea on Egyptian land…!”

I walked behind the counter, and sat down on his carpet with him, sipping the tea while explaining that I was in a bit of a hurry, and did not know how much more I still had to do at the border…

“No, no, you are finished with motorcycle now, only passport to stamp…” he replied. I had been there less than an hour, and was delighted by this piece of news… My mood was only slightly dented when he then said,

“But now you must pay 20 pounds for closing of the file…”, which lay on the carpet between us.

“But it is already closed,” I said, pointing the cover and smiling… He looked down at it with a small frown, and then flipped the cover open with a long fingernail, saying with a huge grin on his face,,

“Now it is open again!! Ha-ha!!”. We both laughed at the same time, and I opened my wallet and gave him the money, which went straight into his pocket… True to form until the very end are our Egyptian friends…

Just before the passport office, I was stopped at another gate by the customs clowns… After a few questions, I was told to take all the bags off the bike and put them through the x-ray machine… My good mood evaporated at this silly instruction, but with only a few hundred yards between myself and Libya, I decided this was not the time to argue… Once everything had passed through, I began loading the kit back onto the bike. The officials crowded around, demanding I open the panniers and top-box and show them the contents.

“Where is the hashish?” one asked…

“No hashish,” I said…

The last photo I took in Egypt... My joy knew no bounds...!!!

“Where is the Leatherman?” another asked. I handed my Leather-man to him, wondering if I would ever see it again… He walked off to his officer in charge who was leaning against the building watching us with a curious expression… The officer opened all the various attachments on the leather man, and then took a tape measure from his pocket and measured the blade… After a while, he handed it back to his colleague who brought it over to where I was standing….

“You can go now!” he said, handing the Leatherman to me and watching while I pushed it back into the back under my top-box…

I rode a further few hundred metres, (this is a huge border post, and covers almost a kilometer in length) and stopped at the massive Immigration Hall, where soldiers and other officials were lounging around in plastic chairs, wondering what the hell they were going to do with themselves on this hot day…

“Ah, Rooney!! Manchester United!!” the official cried when he opened my passport and began typing my name into his computer…

“Yes,” I said, tired of the many times I had been asked the question…

I got back on the bike and rode the last few hundred metres to a large gate, where a thick rope lay on the ground. On the other side of the rope lay Libya… The guard at the gate asked to check my passport, which I dug out of my jacket pocket and handed to him… He thumbed through it for a while, and then asked the dumbest question I had heard for a long while…

“Where are you going?”

My front wheel was over the rope, in Libya, and this fool was asking where I was going…

Barry Hilton, the South African comedian, did a sketch once where he suggested that all people of limited intelligence, should where a sign around their necks saying “STUPID”… That way, when you had to deal with one of these people, you could read the sign and know not to expect any intelligent form of conversation from the individual… I think it’s a great idea…

“To Argentina!” I replied, “Where’s your sign?”

I roared down the short stretch of concrete to the Libyan Border post, delighted to be out of Egypt at last, and amazed that it had taken barely an hour to accomplish what could have taken hours…

©GBWT 2010

3 comments to Getting out of Egypt…!!

  • Charmz

    Un-bloody-believable……..bribery and corruption till the last minute you spent in that sandpit. Yippee, thank goodness you out of there; Yippee, Here’s praying that Libya will be a breeze. God speed boet, Mom, Dad and Charmz

    P.S. We miss you more than all that sand you rode through in Sudan and Egypt. Love you xx

  • Swazi Charl

    Am sure that you are delighted to be shot of those dreadful Egyptian Arabs – have been there myself they are the worst creeps. Be safe in Libya.

  • Åke

    I’m happy that you are describing the bordercrossings so well , because when my time is coming – when , I don’t know – I remember this !

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