And so at 5.30am we dutifully began eating our cinnamon breadsticks with creamed feta as our hosts grinned at us waiting for our response. Put on the goat pastrami they gesture next… YUM, that I can tell you, is JUST what I felt like after 1 hour of sleep.
What was going on?! WELL. Having picked up the car at 4pm on Saturday we quickly realised something was very wrong. Thankfully we happened to be in the mechanic district of Alexandria. It only took us 5 minutes to find someone to help us, he became my new best friend. Mohammed. Mohammed the Mechanic. This is where our 12 hour game of charades began.
Mulungu clearly had had an accident between getting off the ship and being delivered to Fathy the Fixer’s office. What actually happened we won’t know, and probably don’t really want to either! However what we saw was this; the wheel was pushed 30cm out of alignment, there was a totally bent and squashed brand new shock absorber, a bent wheel rim and a broken tyre wall.
We were told Land Rovers are like a mechano set, you can just take it apart and put it back together. Well this is exactly what Mohammed and his team did over the next 7 hours. They welded, replaced and put back together the bits, under the watchful eyes of helpful neighbours. Whilst I kept a watchful eye on the Land Rover, Tristan went on a wild goose chase with another Mohammed to find a replacement tyre (difficult as ours are huge!) and get the rim sorted. When he returned 2 hours later everything was sorted. All for the HUGE cost of 80 Pounds. Although we initially felt a little nervous, many people throughout the night assured us Mohamed was the best man for the job. How lucky we were to find ourselves in his hands! With our car fixed we just needed a bed to get some sleep before driving on to Cairo.
Mohammed insisted that we must stay with him. This all seemed like a great idea until the moment when we were sitting, still playing small talk charades as no one speaks English, at 4.30am. Did you know people in Egypt don’t sleep? Like ever. Tristan stopped being polite at the moment we were invited to go to the beach in the dark, at 4.35am, with the whole family, to buy an ice cream. Queue lots of sleep motions. Eventually we were allowed to sleep for an hour, this we did on the children’s bed with everyone practically staring at us. We drifted in and out of sleep between the call to prayer and the strong smell of Mohammed smoking something that was definitely not a cigarette… They woke us at 5.30 and then promptly decided it was time to eat. We managed a few mouthfuls and said our thank yous and goodbyes. It was time to go before the traffic got too busy.
3 hours to Cairo, through the desert. After taking the ring road the wrong way (have a look on the GAPTRAC, which is now working), we arrived at Heliopolis War Cemetry where my Great Grandfather is buried. What a beautiful, beautiful place. A manicured spot in what felt like a very stressful city. Run by the most lovely men, it is kept in pristine condition, a place we would all love to be buried! Excitingly we were invited in to go to the loo, have some cold water and stand in the air conditioning, which having not slept, washed or eaten and driven through 3 hours of dust in 40 degrees was exciting! It’s the little things that count. Having grabbed an extra 20 minutes sleep under the trees and then cooked some pasta quickly on the street (yep on the street, it’s amazing what you will do when you are starving) we were ready to drive again.
We got lost, we went round and round, up and down, coming to the decision that Cairo is not easy to drive around. Finally getting on the right road we began the longest drive in the history of ever. 18 hours to Beni Suef. Those last few hours of driving in the dark consist of lots of horn hooting, light flashing, trucks on the wrong side of the road, vehicles with no lights, pot holes and speed bumps. Having arrived, we slept for 5 hours in a dirty truckers’ hotel…. delightful. Up at 6 we began to drive to Aswan, we were told would take 12 hours. The first police check point we came to at 8am, we were stopped and given an escort. We didn’t know why, so we just bumbled on with sirens blaring in front of us. At the next check point the same thing happened, we were stopped, asked where we were going and following the gestures we realised they wanted us to go in convoy behind a 6 gun wielding, police pick-up truck. Well that was the first 2 of a following 16 escorts over 12 hours.
We went through towns, and like when Moses parted the Red Sea, the police parted the crowds. Unlucky for you if you got in the way, lots of Arabic shouting would come your way, much to our embarrassment. Tristan charged through one city feeling like he was in a car chase, being shouted at because they said he was too slow. Next we screamed our way through another town following a group of boys setting off fireworks on top of their moving tuk-tuk. Other towns we would pass old men on donkeys arms and legs flapping rushing off somewhere important.
Apart from the check points, we were not allowed to stop. So we ate what we had in the car – 6 bananas, 2 packets of Egyptian Oreo’s, originally named Borrio’s, and a packet of Percy Pigs and tried not to need the loo. I did work out that they thought it was quite a privilege for me to go to the loo in their check points so luckily there was plenty of those of which I took advantage!
We drove further and further down the impressive Nile, boggled by its size, and how quickly it turned from lush, date laden palm trees to arid, harsh, high sided valleys. It is incredibly over populated in the north, slowly becoming less so as you get further south, there isn’t less rubbish though. The banks of the river are literally like a rubbish tip and the smell of burning is horrendous. The sun began to set and it was clear that we were definitely not going to take 12 hours to get to Aswan with all the stopping at check points we were doing.
By the time it got dark they got fed up of coming with us instead they held us a little longer at each check point. Amazingly not once were we asked for a bribe of any kind, just lots of hand shaking and smiling instead! Having now arrived we have asked opinions on why the police journeyed with us, and the answer seems to be that since the Revolution they are wary of foreigners travelling on some roads on their own. Who knows?!
In the last 48 hours we have had 6 hours sleep, driven 36 hours, 1 meal, 16 escorts, 45 check points, 24 litres of water and this, we are hoping is Purgatory before we head on into Sudanese Heaven.
Touch base next in Khartoum.