The Good, The Bad & The Dubious

From here on, the Husky and I will have no technical support the full stretch down to Joburg. It’s just us, my tools and a few spare parts. Before moving on, I will visit the local Husqvarna Dealer in Amman. I want to meet these fellows, exchange a few thoughts and get some local input.

Not yet having finished my short introduction, the Husky is already standing in the workshop, ready to be taken care of. She has the team’s full attention. I ask the lads to check the chain tension, have a look at the air filter and replace the cooling fluid. Abdullah (mechanic) is Jordan Enduro champion, stunt rider and future Dakar participant. I deem the Husky in good hands.

The KTM / Husqvarna team in Amman has given me a great welcome and appreciates that I’ve dropped by. We discuss about the Husky, Tamer (GM) gives me some valuable contacts and Michel (KTM Adventure Tour Planner) helps me on planning a curvy route through Jordan. I pack an additional reserve bottle of 10W60 oil to keep the Husky feisty and head off w/o being charged a cent. In the evening Tamer shows me around Amman and gives me some more information. Exceptional support by the Amman branch of the KTM / Husqvarna family.

Tamer the GM of Darwazeh Motors in Amman
Getting some route advice from Michel
Fantastic support received from the Husqvarna team in Amman

We hit the road South. A swim in the Dead Sea cannot be left out and the Mövenpick Hotel seems like the right place to take a break, have a nice lunch and take a swim. Enjoying all the amenities, I relax and float. The hotels I crash in don’t come close to this standard, but they’re local and much more affordable. That’s what I repeat in my mind every time I check-in.

The roads past Wadi Finan are good fun, but it’s turning dark and I ride a windy road through the desert in the dark. Not much of a view of the desert. The stars however are bright and sharp and more than compensate the strains of this stretch to Petra.

Long curves along the Dead Sea
Looking over Jordan
Sun is setting over Israel and we’re only halfway to Petra

I visit Petra at 06:30 a.m. and am rewarded with an incredible scenery. A unique place and I could spend hours, if not days, here. I will definitely be back to Jordan. A beautiful country with ever so likeable people.

It is time to tackle one of the big challenges of my journey. Entering Egypt. I’ve heard so many stories about this venture and none of them had anything positive about them. In fact, I was in touch with some shipping companies back home and most of them refused to ship vehicles to Egypt, albeit their global service network. Bureaucracy and corruption are the terms most often heard in this context. I dread it but there is no way of bypassing this hurdle.

I target the ferry from Aqaba to Nuweiba in the late evening. It’s going to be a short trip of 2.5h which allows circumnavigating Israel (no re-entry) and apparently more insecure territory on Sinai. The port is a mess and the process fairly lengthy. What takes the longest is paying exit tax for me and the Husky. Not only foreigners have to pay this tax, but every Jordanian every time he/she leaves the country. There is one booth and the queue is accordingly long.

I spend the waiting time talking to truckers on the same route. They cook up tea while waiting and it’s a rather relaxed atmosphere. They’re used to this and cannot be stressed. When going through numerous security checks towards the ferry, a concert of truck horns across the port greets the husky and myself as we navigate through a convoy of 18-wheelers.

It’s Thursday, the last day of the working week and the week of the begin of Ramadan. All Egyptian migrant workers are being sent home from Jordan as it is low season now. I hadn’t thought of that and the ferry is fully booked. This is not the tourist ferry; I get the local experience. I’m offered food and drinks and learn about these people’s lives. A unique insight into how these hardworking people overcome hardship in an everyday.

Transferring to Egypt

While boarding I had had to deposit my passport and my visa at an office on the ferry and it is unclear when, how and where I will get it back. The booth is now not occupied anymore. There are random people relaxing and charging their phones in it. My Egyptian colleagues apologize for the way these things are handled in Egypt. They seem ashamed, although there is nothing they could do about it. I remain relaxed and optimistic that I will get my passport back at the given time. One of my golden rules is to always stay relaxed and maintain a smile.

The ship has docked at the port. A door next to the booth opens and a man walks out with two plastic bags stuffed with passports. There is a lot of shouting, paying and handing over of documents and passports. Mine is not among these.

It’s shortly before 01:00 a.m. and from the other side of the cabin an officer shouts that I shall follow him. I am to leave the ship with the foot passengers. It’s quite hectic and I don’t quite understand what the rush is about. We are to receive our passports in the terminal. I grab the Husky and, following the crowd, push her down the steel ramp towards Egyptian ground.

It’s dark, though still very humid. The moment I touch Egyptian soil, I’m approached by a man in a black leather jacket. He asks many questions and two fellows in Adidas sweat suits, wearing headsets, circle me and communicate with some other unit. The officer, who had requested me to join the foot passengers, comes to help. They discuss and with some hesitation let me move on.

I am to park the Husky and go through security and immigration. Border police is overwhelmed by the number of people and piles of passports are handed to passengers for distribution. Random people walking around shouting names to find the right passport holder. Mine is not among these. +1h.

Mine has been kept for last. The familiar officer helps me get it back and hands me a folded piece of paper, twitching his eye and saying “important paper!”. I had launched a few leads to streamline the process of entry in a legally correct way. I am unsure if one of my leads is kicking in. However, it is now clear that this man is not only an officer but also a fixer. I shall call him “the Offixer”.

The real challenge is about to commence. Temporarily importing the Husky to Egypt. I head back to the port yard and customs are busy inspecting vehicles and searching through the belongings of passengers. A customs officer approaches me; we shake hands.
Customs Officer: “How fast is the motorcycle?”
Response: “I don’t know; I’ve never tried and I don’t intend to do so”
(We both laugh; high five)
Customs Officer: “Let’s look at the KM-Clock. Let’s say 100 kilo?” (wording: kilo / pound)

Response: “Kilo what?”
Customs Officer: “Ahmm, Average speed 100 km/h”
Response: “Nooo, much slower! In fact, we often stand still!”

We both laugh, shake hands and he moves on. I’m left to be checked last. +1h.

The Offixer returns. We cross the port to a remote area in which there are a few booths, still open around 03:00 a.m.. Both clients and officials are tired and the atmosphere is tense. In one of the booths two blokes in sweat suits are handing out forms and copying all kinds of documents, creating piles of files. I fight my way through this process, pay some fees and receive several papers. +1h.

I believe we are now approaching the last stop; getting my CdP stamped. I’m called into the office. The officer looks at my file and puts it aside. Sitting at his desk, he lets me watch him work through 15 files. He then looks at mine again and says “No! Not today, tomorrow weekend; come Saturday”.

Apparently, I’m missing a paper. A certification of authenticity of my CdP by the Automobile & Touring Club of Egypt. I had heard of this issue and have in advance clarified this point with the Touring Club Suisse. I have an e-mail stating that I don’t need this document and a contact at the Automobile & Touring Club of Egypt. The officer couldn’t care less and says I should call my contact. Not a great solution after 04:00 a.m. on a weekend day. +1h.

There is no way around leaving the Husky back until the day after tomorrow. My smile has turned into a straight face now. I let the Offixer know, that I am angry, won’t rely on his services and get in touch with some of my own contacts in parallel. I am handed three files of documents and that’s that for today.

The Offixer walks and I follow him on the Husky through a dark and deserted port. Passing by the exit gate, some of my Egyptian buddies are just leaving with plenty of luggage after hours of bureaucracy. They see me and exclaim “you’ve made it my friend!”. I tell them that I must leave the Husky back. I can see the disappointment in their eyes. They seem more disappointed than I am. I knew it was going to be a challenge. They apologize, shake my hand and say “god bless you” repeatedly. Today I have met the good and those who make their lives much harder living.

After stripping all the luggage off the Husky, I leave her back on an empty compound. A 50 year old Peugeot Taxi takes me to my hotel after 5 a.m., following a fight among taxi drivers about who may take me there. What I have experienced this early morning seems like one long fever dream. After jolting the hotel clerk awake, I throw my gear into the hotel room, grab a beer from the mini bar and head down to the sea to watch the sun rise. Every day does somehow come to a good end.

Sunrise over Saudi Arabia on the other side of the Gulf of Aqaba

I had agreed with the Offixer that I would be back at the port on Saturday at 09:00 a.m. and meet his accomplice. I shall call him Offixer Jr.. At 08:00 a.m. I receive a message from Offixer Jr. that they are waiting for me and I mustn’t worry. I arrive at the port and the guards won’t let me in, so I wait among soldiers and watch the bomb squad check entering vehicles. It is now that I receive a message from Offixer Jr. listing all fees to be paid.

To my surprise Offixer Sr. is also at the office. He has come directly from a night shift and doesn’t look too cheery, to say the least. Offixer Jr. let’s me know: “you make us very, very tired!”. I reply: “Not me my friend; the Egyptian system makes you very tired…”

We must now fax my documents to Cairo and receive the certification by fax. The challenge is, however, that there is no fax in the terminal. We go on the lookout for a telecom office with a fax and find a small shop. I haven’t seen this type of fax machine since the 90’s and it doesn’t work properly. We manage to fax the documents and wait for an hour in a fly infested shop w/o AC.

Offixer Sr. is on the phone when one of my leads sends me a message. He suddenly seems baffled. I believe he has been informed that the certification has been initiated through a second channel and the payment settled directly in the office in Cairo. My lead has kicked-in. Offixer Sr. now knows I wasn’t bluffing. He is very curious about who I’m texting and whom I know in Egypt. I have been given a day of beach time and have used it to do my homework. Moreover, a good soul of an Egyptian overlander has used his contacts to help me get out of this mess.

We are now playing on a level playing field. I now know the 101 of this game. Processing times and requested fees shrink considerably or even vanish. Offixer Jr. & Sr. are now riding ahead on a motorcycle to accelerate the process. We get insurance, all the needed papers, the vehicle license and license plates. The Offixers emphasize that my payment towards them is absolutely voluntary. I give them a cut of the initial amount. After all I don’t think I would have found my way through this 10h process by myself.

At the gate an officer hesitates to let me out. Apparently, I’m still missing a paper. There is a heated discussion and he is finally overruled by the Offixers. The guard at the gate throws his AK47 behind his back and opens the steel gate. The Husky and I roar out of the port. Seldomly have I felt so liberated.

We’re now disguised as Egyptians

Swisscare Hotel in Nuweiba has more than 100 rooms. It seems I am the only guest. This place is deserted and all neighboring hotels have been shut down. I have the beach to myself. The hotel is left to three youngsters in their twenties. The infrastructure is desolate and I won’t mention the food. Nonetheless, I appreciate that they are doing their best, they’re good lads and it is quite nice to have a hotel to myself.

Pool to myself at 02:00 p.m.
Hotel California
Saudi Arabian mountain coast line
The party has stopped at this beach bar
My only company at the beach; the occasional Arabic Camel (Dromedary) passing by

The Husky and I blast down towards Sharm El-Sheikh at 38 degrees Celsius, passing 4 check-points. Some want to see my passport, some just wave me through, and some take my passport, disappear and let me wait for 30min. I’ve become accustomed to waiting and there is always a less senior officer apologizing for the wait. It seems to be a standard here that people apologize for things they can’t help. I value this custom.

Heading South towards Sharm El-Sheikh

In Sharm El-Sheikh I find out that the ferry to Hurghada is not operating. It will be an 800km detour up to Suez and back down to Hurghada. We tackle the 350km to Suez at 40 degrees Celsius on a very monotone desert road. The sea to the left and the desert to the right. This time we are jumping from one check-point to the next. At each check-point the full procedure. The procedure is called “security check”. The chief of police always sits in little hut or at least under a sun umbrella and I am usually offered a seat in the shade. In one case the chief of police gives me his seat to make the wait more bearable.

At one of the last check-points I am not returned my passport and receive a police escort for the final 30km to Suez. Apparently, I am passing close to “coded red” territory. I very much dislike this regular practice of withholding my passport, but the escort has the advantage of easily passing the last check-points.

I receive my passport back. The Husky and I cross the Suez channel and set foot on the African continent. So, “TIA”. This is Africa.

4 thoughts on “The Good, The Bad & The Dubious

  1. I almost can feel the sweat under the helmet ;)! Keep the spirit up Rico!

    But wait…. via WhatsApp!… damn 😮 😉

    Cheers,
    Stephan

    Like

    1. Yeah, getting thougher & tougher with the heat…😅 Of cours, absolutely everything is done via WhatsApp around here; no exceptions…😉 Thx Schtöffel & cheers!

      Like

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