EGYPT: Amazing. Great. A must. But...

Click on images to enlarge them.

In Cairo, a professional blesser used an incense bowl on a chain,
extensively blessing Black Bike in Arabic.
We'd stopped for air in tires, life insurance was thrown in.


Easy Libya departure: We drove in from Libya – leaving which, different from another blog we read, was a pleasant, professional, courteous 1-hour waltz.

Getting about 100 bucks back for Black Bike's Libyan license plate, meant a guard and I had to hitch a ride back a few km into the previous town, while Thao and Black Bike stayed at the border. No problems, got my money thanks to Mr. Guard walking me through the process; slipped him a tenner because he earned it.

And off to Egypt we went. End of the border waltz.


Egyptian border crossing hell: Crossing at Musaid [map link] is reputably horrid, working diligently at maintaining its rap – warning you about what lies ahead, as first impression often do.

First, you do need a visa, it takes about a day at any Egyptian Embassy. We would not recommend trying to get one at the border which is bad enough when you are flawlessly papered. Our papers were 100% in order, Carnet, visas, the works.

But the Carnet the Passage official simply appointed my 'guide-expediter', didn't ask, just appointed; the latter took us scurrying from office to office, back-forth, between various unmarked buildings a hundred meters apart, for 3 damned hours.

Conspiratorial hushed demands for cash, more cash, more cash – I kept refusing, starting out nicely, saying I will 'pay the right officials and get official receipts.' Regardless, somehow, border-experienced Wheezy got taken for about $300 and only a third of that was with receipts, in spite of defeated best efforts. Insurance; license plate for bike (gotta have one); special Egypt driving permit; customs charges; carnet charges; oh and bakshish to make one gag. How much my guide ripped off, versus what was slipped to officials, versus what was real – ultimately I dunno.

Tourism is down 13% from its previous 10.5 million a year in Egypt [tourism ranking link] a national economic staple that employs 10% of the labor force. They are so close to Europe yet get half as many travelers as Malaysia, Greece or Mexico – you'd think they would encourage the big foreign money they badly need, with a half-efficient and semi-fair welcome. Perhaps the airport does.

It's easy to organize and costs peanuts when you do it right: All they have to do is bring in a Jordanian official from next door to show them how. Or a Tunisian, or even a Libyan. Those places all do it well and honestly.

Egypt knows full well its existing way stinks, has for a long time; so do other road travelers, read up on it. But Egypt doesn't fix it, perpetuates the rip-off, because you see, confused tourist victims help keep border palms greased. Official corruption is the only obvious explanation.

You need a guide to walk you through, I expected to tip him, but in the end I was seething, wanted to strangle the slippery SOB – who had the gall to ask me for a pair of gloves at the end; he didn't enjoy my answer. Oh, and your officially-appointed expediter is also an under-table money changer who tests, in case you fall for it, the '1 Libyan Lire = 1 Egyptian Pound' trick; I didn't, it's 25% of the correct exchange, or a 75% rip-off attempt. The border's Egyptian Bank amazingly does not change Libyan Lire, nor Amex T-cheques, no ATM – but you need a ton of Egyptian Pounds to get across, so you better have some Euro or Dollar cash, lest you sleep there ...

Altogether a b-a-a-d Welcome to Egypt.

But we made it late in the day, somewhat poorer than that morning. I drove away bloody angry, not even trying to be a friendly biker-foreigner.
(And a PostScript: It was almost as dumb at the exit, hopping the ferry Nuweiba Sinai –> Aquaba Jordan although not as expensive. This time, a nice Tourist Policeman guided us, but without receipts he needed cash for this, and that... We haggled a bit because we only had small Egyptian cash left, being told by the official ticket seller we needed none. I think it only cost $50 or so, do not recall. Again we were pissed, and unfortunately we didn't get to keep either of the Egyptian license plates as a trophy.)

Travels: What started as an intended night ended up as two, in a nice beachfront hotel in Marsa Matruh [map link], a resort town a couple hours, and culturally somewhat different from the vile border. We liked it very much, especially since there were almost no tourists, and most of the many hotels were closed for the season; the town even had a closed KFC on the beach. Hotel Negresco [link] has great ocean view balcony, nice airy bright rooms, internet in lobby, reasonable C$50 although in-season almost doubles.

Veiled women sunbathing, sorta,
and the view from our Matruh hotel balcony.
How do veiled women go swimming? Veiled of course.
The town has some very upscale places on a great long beach; a big Egyptian resort and destination fly-in – one of several fine resort-holiday centers we encountered in Egypt. Murah totally beats Jerba, Tunisia for beach resort town purposes. A cool old town is there too, mainly for locals, where we ate well and enjoyed ourselves nightly.

Nice mosque near our hotel.


Next night was in 4 million population Alexandria [map] en route along Hwy 01 on the largely undeveloped Med Coast. Hitting Alexandria is urban madness that revealed a bit of the nation's less-privileged side. Driving in from the west I made a mistake at a fork, should have taken the 'Desert Road' it's called, but instead drove a couple hours of coastal slums and some of the worst potholed, rutted urban roads I can recall. An eye-opening dose of a different reality, but a pretty bad reality. People were very helpful in giving directions which were often needed.

It's a big city when suburbs are included, a long exhausting ride, the route we took ... but finally found an ocean-side 2-star $40 hotel Nobel Hotel [link] which, key among virtues, provides two bed sheets, top and bottom ones, so you do not spend the night in contact with many other people's coodies, a now-decisive travel factor; that, plus there was a guarded underground garage nearby. But it is not recommended, seek better digs.

Alexandria is an optional miss to us, we bikers being no longer into more Roman ruins, and they do evidently have some. They also have the great-looking Ancient Library of Alexandria of historical/intellectual importance [link]. And a stunning, major-security Four Seasons, where we looked for maps and guide books in vain.


The coastal route Alexandria –> Cairo – is about 2 hours of driving, OMG! The beach condo disease has run rampant, it's spreading fast! Delighted to witness that many thousands of Egyptians have the money to buy recreation homes, it shows some in Egypt are happening fiscally and are doing western-type things with their money. But the developers have taken great beach, miles upon many miles of it – and built, built, way over the top. B-a-a-d zoning. Countless houses, duplexes, apartment developments running inwards from the beach, for most owners it's a long walk/drive through dense suburban streets to see any water – and probably not much female skin. Many look expensive. But they are doing it.


Finally we hit Cairo [map]. It smokes – both figuratively and literally. You can (not) see it as you drive in, the second smokiest city in the world.

Dirty? Not to dwell, because we really liked Cairo, but fact is, it's #2 in world urban air pollution. New Delhi, India wins first prize [facts link.]
- Numbers (micrograms of particulate per cubic meter of air) in 2002 were: New Delhi 177; Cairo 159 ... etc. World city average is 60; Los Angeles 36; New York 22; Paris 12.
- So Cairo folks breathe in 7 times more vile crap than New Yorkers.
- For a short visit it won't hurt you; living here has to be something else. A big costly fix for Egypt.
It takes a few days, but once you wrap your head around the hyper-commotion, noise, crowds – Cairo is an amazing and wonderful place; a great urban experience, unlike any of our prior ones. Love it – the air and traffic aside.

With lots of visa and other stuff to get done, we spent a couple weeks. Found a good, quiet 100-room hotel, we highly endorse the Grand Hotel [link], right downtown, very spacious rooms, excellent housekeeping (new bedding daily), 24-hour serious security, some English TV, wi-fi in room, safe bike parking, huge buffet breakfast western-style (a rare find). Not as cheap as other 3-stars at about US$60/day, but dinner is no-choice included and a no-haggling price even for a 15-night stay. Dinner is bad quasi-European instead of good Egyptian, the latter would be far preferable. But we liked the place, also its original-equipment gate elevators.

The hotel is in the midst of real-world Cairo hyper-action, versus tourist paradise isolation. Streets out your window are action-packed to the wee hours; fine ice cream (50¢) a block away; excellent shwarma/kebab places on the corner; several good liquor stores; fresh fruit juice bars (50¢) of pure fresh fruits and sugar cane are fantastic; the very good Metro subway a block away; all the Egyptian shoe/clothes stores you could ever want; a famous bakery on the corner; an authentic glimpse of Egyptians going about their hectic daily lives ... what more could one ask for? It's great here.


Driving in Cairo. Don't. Strong suggestion: Park, then use the abundant $2-$3 taxis, the fine Metro, and walk.

Black Bike made it to the hotel and back out of town causing me just sweaty palms and jangled nerves. But it was the most insane horn-honking anarchy, constant might-is-right game of chicken, 3-4 cars in 1-2 lanes with millimeters between them. Probably the worst city traffic I have experienced – even worse than Lagos, Nigeria, which as I recall as my previous nadir.

Oh, and Black Bike needed a major bath before we could even touch it on departure day, looked like it had been riding cross-country in a dust storm for a week, even though it was covered the whole time. The air is filthy thick.

The insufficient road signs are mostly in Arabic, roads are confusing as hell, many one-ways that are not parallel, signage and numbering awful. Even cab drivers needed to ask directions constantly.

The drivers are skilled and Olympic class aggressive-ballsy, I admire their skill and nerves. But not for me.

One word: Taxis.

The rest of Egypt, no big driving problem encountered. Alexandria is a bit of challenge but do-able.

Travels (cont'd):
Views from our Cairo hotel balcony.


The Egypt Museum: Jam-packed with mind-boggling 4,000-5,000 year-old greatness. Seeing it, alone justifies our coming here. The enormously broad collection is bursting the building's seams, but apparently they are in the process of building another they richly deserve. Every corner is piled with greatness. Technical/artistic quality I cannot express, the enormous Tutankhamun collection [link to some fine photos] is just a small part of it, but do look at his golden throne including some close-ups. To me, the latter is their pièce de resistance. The Tut collection is important partly because tomb raiders didn't get at it before Carter did. There's plenty more the raiders missed ...

We are approaching antiquities-saturation by now; having done a Med circle, no more mind-blowing Roman architecture for a while please. Plus in Turkey and Jordan (see blogs) what amazing and beautiful edifices they carved out of the cliffs thousands of years ago; insufficient superlatives in my arsenal.

But those astounding ancient Egyptians – way beyond. Monster incredible pyramids and such; housing cleverly preserved human remains alongside the teensiest pieces of faraway gems flawlessly micro-precision fit, imbedded into wood and gold and stone, without glue that would melt in the scorching heat ... and on, and on. And these magnificent works of beyond-mere-art have lasted in like-new condition for 5,000 years, will last another few millennia.

Five thousand years ago they made the biggest and the smallest, longest lasting and the best. What's left?

Photos were not allowed, but ... discreetly...
One stone sculpture among hundreds, off in a corner,
perfectly smooth, no visible flaws.
Wooden rowers in boat, complex pieces and colors still perfectly intact.
Enough here, but the Egypt Museum is too great. Go, and try to soak it in.


Cairo is one big 20-million city, 25% of Egypt's population, the biggest in Africa. A crammed human beehive. Same population as NYC, twice larger than Paris with its suburbs.

Taxis, we've made the point, but make your deal before you get in, and ask someone what it should cost in advance; most of the cab drivers will charge those who don't know better 50%-100% extra. Many guys here, not just the taxis, are about business. Know prices before you buy.

Fortunately it's not strictly dry like Libya. Local Egyptian wine is awful, barely drinkable, not cheap, but they sell the most blatant knock-off whiskies in completely identical bottles, except its called John Waler and fooled me until I drank it. And similar shameless brand piracy all over – I suppose it's not worth launching lawsuits here. But at $15 a liter for acceptable Scotch, there's no basis for consumer complaint. And they do not sell the real stuff that we've seen.

The silk Hugo Boos ties gave me a chuckle, identical logo/font, but for one letter. And the golf shirts with a camel looking a bit like a Polo player (bought one.)


How do completely veiled women eat the national, and excellent, dish kushari [link]? They lift the veil natch. And there are lots of completely-veiled women here like this one, lots of unveiled, but most are in degrees of coverage.

We ate kushari often because it's delicious, even though it's vegan and we're not. The best joint is universally agreed as Abu Tarek [link], 4 floors, at about $1 a person for darned good grub, they serve only the one dish – and that price includes table service.

Photo from Wikipedia.


The pyramids and sphinx at Giza are a long C$7 cab ride from downtown. The tourist thing to do is see it from camel or horse-back, partly because it's a long walk in sand and rock hills. Plus of course riding a camel is a fun thing to do.

The summer heat it must be killer, we did it in March and that was fine, plus it's not completely packed this time of year.

The touts however are too much, they take a 'no' eventually, but make it strong and clear. Get this as Arab chutzpah: A guy just jumped into the front seat of our cab without asking outside Giza, a smooth well-spoken con-man on commission from the camel guides, pretending he's a 'cook' hitching a ride. He hustled us (successfully.) No big deal, the 2-hour camel ride cost us about US$75 per couple after 10% haggling, including normally costly admission to the well-controlled pyramid grounds. Perhaps we overpaid, but who cares.

It is as expected, a magnificent sight. Of course one looks at the huge stones hauled from afar, somehow quarried, dragged, rolled, engineered and lifted into place; in 2500 BC, that's 4500 years ago; by perhaps 400,000 men over 20 years per pyramid – and there is evidently growing Egyptologist consensus they were not slaves but skilled tradesmen. Here's what seems an authoritative plain-talk piece on The Great Pyramid of Giza [link.]

And we had a nice camel ride, two hours of which is plenty.

Two happy faces. OK make that three.
A scene that could have been 4,000 years ago.
Sphinx is just over Wheezy's arm.


Getting out of Egypt by land or sea: After 15 days in Cairo, and best efforts, we gave up on:
..........(a) Obtaining Saudi transit visas – see the 'Getting to India' blog;
..........(b) Finding a scheduled boat to take us and the bike anywhere.

So we rode East to the Red Sea, hoping to get a face-to-face with some commercial boat captains, see if we can talk/buy our way onto a freighter going anywhere east.


Little things we take for granted at home, become high-five victories on the road. While leaving Cairo, Thao found an Apple Computer dealer (a rare find in this part of the world) about 20 km out of the center, called Tradeline [link] in the very fancy City Stars Mall that rivals the biggest new ones at home, western-style shopping and goods in a mall that's packed with non-whites.

The fine little Apple-only store carries the full line – I almost traded in mine for the latest model, even made a deal, but they only found one in Arabic.

They kindly brought a technician all the way across town to fix one missing key on my MacBook Pro keyboard; no way I was riding the 2 hours of confused madness. I gladly paid perhaps US$25 for this great service, and they even had the right parts. High five, working computer again.


Travels (cont'd): From Cairo to Suez isn't far, about 130 km due East. It takes a few hours due to traffic.

Suez is a not-much-happening place, but it does have a name and the world-important Canal [map]. We stayed at the Red Sea Hotel [link], wi-fi, nice breakfast omelette, secure parking lot, excellent panoramic view of the Suez Canal from dining area. It's not fab, but there are only three hotels in town, this is the best, so they get away with a contextually high US$85.

But there's no boat access in Suez for security reasons, no loading facilities for bikes/cars. Bad luck again. We met a few shipping agents, trying to get boat 'connections' for a try – I happen to know my way around both boats and their captains, just wanted one face-to-face with a skipper heading in the right direction. But it didn't happen.


A nervous-making bigotry story: From Cairo we had contacted Canal Tours' Modammed Moseilhy, as recommended by Lonely Planet. Canal Tours is a big freight/shipping/clearance company, but L.P. have it very wrong on this guy! We took him out for dinner at Khalifa Fish Center downtown, which is very overpriced, the fish is not fresh, gives bad service – don't go there. We were hoping to chat possibilities with someone who knows the turf and came recommended, but Thao and I were appalled by the scary-nuts person and the lazy, not-even-trying, boat-finder.

For a guy who has been lucky enough to have lived in USA thanks to relatives there (I gather he got booted out), he is as bigoted as they come and downright stoopud. Except he thinks he's smart.

Among his gems, verbatim: "The world's problems have always been caused by Jews" while he lectured us on WWII and '67. Dinner consisted of him preaching radical politics: "Palestinians need to work, study hard and make a nuclear bomb." Sheer genius. He emptied upon us his angry scapegoat-victimhood-martyrdom with several-factor incorrect numbers of 1967 Egyptian war dead. Thrice we heard "I'm not a terrorist," he doth protest too much. All without asking a single question of us – it didn't even occur to him that perhaps we might be Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, educated or just not totally stupid? All this in a shipping business meeting where he wants our money.

He's full of camel dung and aside from encountering this sample of Islamist-like mania, which he claims is 'representative' of most Egyptians, he's a waste of time. Business-wise, he brags he can hook one up with a yacht bound for India or wherever, but since everything else he uttered was fanciful radical nonsense ... next.

Fine, so we met a zealous bilingual nut-case Egyptian who had lived in USA and could not get back in although he wanted to. What most struck and concerned us was – how many Egyptians think this dangerous way? He regurgitates rubbish right out of the Al-Qaeda speech book and apparently believes it. Mohammed proudly claimed a few times most Egyptians think like him. Even if it's only, say, 25% of the population, it forebodes badly for neighborhood peace – which by the way, he stated several times, he and his friends simply do not want. (Even six months later, he remains in both our minds as the man-on-street encounter of greatest concern.)


We heard that due to the alarming growth of piracy attacks on the waters between Yemen and Somalia, plus terror fears, Suez ship traffic is down by half. Add to that a world recession with far lower shipping traffic. Whatever the correct lower numbers are, The Canal certainly was nothing like a maritime traffic jam, ships were spread miles apart, the Canal looked empty – this too has to be hurting Egypt where it counts. Here's a history of this very important-to-the-world Canal [link.]

Another Suez shipping agent we visited told us that loading of bikes/cars happens only in Port Said [map]. So there we went, had some meetings, spent a night at the 3-star but terribly noisy Panorama Hotel (US$60 but just forget it).

We door-knocked and learned from helpful people that yes, the bike shipping is no problem, but passengers on freighters are impossible these days – 'twas not always thus, but is nowadays. And no captain meetings or boat access, period.

Game over. We started driving across the Sinai [map], having finally dropped the whole boat concept.

Crossing a lovely Japanese-Egyptian built bridge over the Suez Canal
just south of Port Said. Desert and more desert.


Crossing the Sinai Peninsula is a great ride or drive [terrain link] [map link]. If in the area, rent wheels and take a couple days to explore, not just the landscape but also the remarkable history: The Ten Commandments were given by God to man here and are merely 'recognized as a moral foundation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam' [source link.] It is one thing the three faiths seem to largely agree upon.

At 2,300-meters = 7,500' Mount Sinai [map & article link] is where the Bedouins believe God gave his self-authored laws to the Israelites; early Christians believed this event took place at nearby Mount Serbal and built monasteries there; the Koran named a chapter after the mountain and there is a mosque near the top; and of course Judaism is based on the teachings of Moses. It is called 'Mount Sinai' in Exodus 19:23 and 'Horeb' in Deuteronomy 5:2. I climbed it years ago, taking 2-3 hours; a bleak but stunningly rugged mountain range that God chose, to reveal His key moral laws to mankind. The rest, as they say, is history.

Greek Orthodox chapel atop Mount Sinai.
(public domain photos from Wikipedia)

We rode across the 350-400 kilometers on good roads, in one day. Some good twisties, but mostly quite straight and fine scenery. Agriculture is happening in small doses, traffic was sparse, mostly it's empty but for nature. See below on Taba, Nuweiba and Sharm el Sheikh. Riding/driving and perhaps diving them, seeing the stunning Sinai mountains would be an unforgettable week's vacation for anyone.


Taba [map] was the next stop: A major Red Sea resort town where the Hilton Resort was bombed by terrorists in 2004, along with a Neweiba backpackers hostel [BBC article link.]

It is beautifully situated geographically, with four countries easily visible. You can see the splendid desert and mountains of Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia from the hotel room. It's almost next door to Eilat, has a border crossing, so many Israelis come for holidays, as do Russians and other eastern block types in the package deals you'll find in a Google search. The Hilton was reasonable at US$150 for an ultra-resort, but too resort-ish, not our thing; indeed that can be said of the whole tourist village – a dozen global chains are there. Manicured perfectly, lovely, mega-security, but not for us on this trip.

However 5 km out of town we found the nicest place, highly recommended for a beach holiday; your sliding door walks out to the Red Sea with such a view – for about US$60, with package deals available. Salah El-Deen Village [Phone: +2 069 3530340] is a string of comfortable attached bungalows all walk-out to a great pebble beach and splendid water, lovely grounds, stunning view, a casual paradise where Black Bike was parked right on our covered patio. Just the sunset, viewed from lawn chairs, is worth the price of admission.

View from Somewhere Sinai.


Nuweiba [map link] is more to our tastes however, both as a town and a resort – so if it's either Taba or Nuweiba ...

Since my last visit thirty years ago, Nuweiba has become a low key resort town and is the port for ferries to Aqaba, Jordan. Now, this was a great memory trip!
- When Israel had the Sinai some 30 years ago, I was camped for a week in my VW van, on almost exactly the same spot as our fine hotel today; recall it most fondly.
- Then, it was an 'optional nudist' beach, no rules, no buildings, free camping in a mountain-surrounded beach paradise. Why ever leave?
- It was/is flawless beach and aquamarine blue ocean with stunning desert mountains all around.
- Under Israel one got free outdoor showers and port-a-potties. Arabs would walk a daily route, offering fresh bread, fish, humus, water, fruits, veggies and hashish/pot. I think it cost perhaps $1-$2 a day to live/eat there and be buzzed, then swim dressed or naked, and be in a Red Sea paradise.
- That era is gone but not necessarily all to the worse. Nuweiba is still a very cool place, just different.
This time, no one offered us hashish, it's no longer free, nor is it nudist optional.

The road in and out, especially south, is great biking! Two-lane twisties through stunning rock formation.

Hotels have sprung up in a charming little town, not at all obnoxiously so. The hotel we stayed in is an ideal beach and diving vacation, far better/cheaper than anything we saw in Israel so close by. NakHil Inn [link] – go there. Our lovely room with balcony right on the ocean was about US$50, a good deal in a perfect little hotel resort. It's likely packed in season but gets highest marks for a charming, reasonably priced, friendly laid-back place.

Plus a scuba diving outfit operates right out of the hotel. For diving, Sharm el Sheikh [map] is only about 120 beautiful mountain driving kilometers away, right at the tip of the Sinai and is one of best scuba spots on earth, fa-bu-lous, dove it 30 years ago. You walk out in the water for a long distance, then suddenly the underwater cliff drops straight down forever, as deep as you dare go, amazing marine life to swim with. Now it has a swarm of 1-to-5-star hotels, organized scuba trips, the works [link]. But we had to catch a boat to Jordan next morning so no scuba this time. Perhaps we'll be back. Sinai is great!

The roads near Nuweiba Sinai. Click to enlarge.
Actually there are two camels and a man in the back of this
Isuzu pickup we passed. Plus 3 men in front.

The ferry leaves Nuweiba at 6 PM, it's scheduled arrival time in Jordan.
A 3-hr ride turned into 9 hrs, we were the only white or yellow aboard.


The ferry to Aqaba Jordan [map] turned into a horrendously long 9-hour ride – instead of 3 hrs as advertised. It was packed, hundreds sat and sleep on the decks, on the floors. We waited and watched for seven painful hours as they loaded transport trucks, ever-so-inefficiently.

Aboard the Moslem-packed boat we were sitting on hallway floors with a few of the men en route to Saudi Arabia for an Umra pilgimage, which is a Hajj out of season [link] and had some good conversations about life in general– even though these were clearly devout followers and we clearly weren't. We felt the well-educated business guys we met, truly enjoyed the candid, friendly encounter; we sensed they were genuinely interested in us and how we live, many probing questions.

Finally we docked. Totally zonked. Then the Jordan Customs procedure started at 3 AM ... followed by another half-hour bike ride into a new and totally dark town ... desperate for sleep ... ah, the joys of travel.
A little 'joys of travel' story: Around 4:30 AM, as the sun contemplated rising, a kind Aqaba Jordan policeman led us to the 3-star Crystal Hotel [link]. The night clerk assured he'd leave a note for the next shift to let us sleep until 1 PM; we hung the 'Do Not Disturb' sign out; showered, died completely gonzo'd at 5:30.

Shocked awake three hours later by the phone, a different front desk guy starts calling to (a) tell me move my legally-parked bike – which I simply refused to do, also read the note left by the night guy, we must sleep, leave us alone! (b) But no, he calls again in a few minutes, this time to say we must leave by 11:00 per hotel rules – even though he agreed the place was virtually empty, to which I replied simply, do NOT call again here before 1 PM. Alas, (c) the fool calls again, insisting about the bike because he might need my assigned parking spot. That was it. Reason and politesse didn't work on this retarded likely-nephew-of-the-owner's-wife, his manager wasn't around, we were awake and seething, not even slightly hidden in my voice. Unable to sleep by now, we loaded the bike and left, me descending alone ahead of Thao.

An amused janitor leaned on his broom in the lobby watching an obviously pissed-off white man in motorcycle jacket, raising his voice at the front desk suit. I informed the skinny 20-something clerk loud enough that the janitor could hear, that I had experienced major stupidity before him, idiots do not even surprise me any more, but he was so ultra-ultra-stupid, he did not have the right to share this planet with useful things like that chair where people put their asses (pointing to it and to his head.) He stood there nonplussed, wondering why I thought he was so stupid – that's how stupid he was.

Don't stay at the Crystal Hotel in Aqaba, the owner may have another nephew.

We rode north in Jordan, now with three hours sleep in two days, not in a good mood.


Overpopulation: Egypt is mainly desert, only 3.5% is cultivated or populated. The Nile Delta holds 99% of the 85 million population – it is the most populous Arab nation. The entire country is about the size of Texas and New Mexico combined, is big and mostly empty. Here's a few nice photos and facts [link.]

Overpopulation, parallel with slow job growth, would appear to be Egypt's biggest political-cultural-economic problem – same as the entire Middle East [factual source link.] Their Government is apparently not dealing with it. It has scarce resources and insufficient arable land to comfortably feed that many people, let alone more. Population growth far exceeds job growth, which is the region's biggest long-term problem.

. . . . .The Middle East has the fastest-growing labor force of any part of the world.
. . . . .To put this into perspective, the Middle East must create jobs at twice the pace
. . . . .of the United States, in an increasingly competitive international environment
. . . . .that is already accommodating the rise of India and China.


Economy: In absolute dollar terms, Egypt has the second lowest GDP per capita in the Middle East around $1700 [source link.]

Adjusted for Purchasing Power (PPP), Egypt's GDP per capita is $5,400 which is slightly better than Syria's $4,300 or Jordan's $4,700. But it produces half of the production of the average citizen of Lebanon, Khazakstan, South Africa or Brazil [source link.] Israel next door is at $29,000 – 540% of Egypt's per capita GDP.

Either way, it is a poor country, with large disparity between rich and poor, but evidence of what looks to us, like a very substantial middle class.

Lots and lots of people drive late model Kias, Toyotas and Peugeots; that's middle class stuff, and they seem to prevail on the roads. There are also S-Class Benzes. Plus lots of pedestrians, cart-pushers and guys carrying huge tables (literally) of pita on their heads. What the ratios of rich versus poor and in between are, others can research.

Still, to these two tourists it seems to be a happening nation, growing at about 4-5%, albeit one with serious problems. Gold and natural gas also seem to be happening.

Why these Middle East countries with their large, unemployed, cheap labor force and abundant empty land, do not follow the Asia Tigers' models by manufacturing more things the world wants to buy, is beyond this simple businessman. Made in Egypt stickers could/should be on many more things we own. Perhaps in time.


Travelers' Banking: Your credit card is useless unless perhaps in 5-star foreign chains, it's a cash-only society. From our Cairo hotel it was a 15 minute walk to the Ramses Hilton, (a confusing zoo to drive) where a 7-day bank changes American Express T-cheques and charges 1% – this is only place in Cairo that changes them. Also most ATMs in Egypt did not work for me, even phoned my bank to assure the card was OK, but the Hilton has a couple in the lobby that worked fine. I am regretting buying travelers cheques incidentally; from here on in, it's US$ and Euros in well-hidden cash. Plus a couple ATM cards with decent-sized withdrawal limits.

Stocking up on US$ or Euro cash, plus some ATM use, is probably the best way to go in Egypt.


Religion: Socio-political Islam is a big confusing factor to foreigners. We cannot speak to it, but will say this much: There sure are a lot of God Show Preacher types on TV, way more than in America or Israel constantly on TVs in many restaurants, lots of guys with beards/robes and women with eye-slits only.

But there are also abundant jean-clad guys and gals, plus business suits. It's a total mix.

It has militant elements a tiny sample of which we met, mild elements we also met – but which direction it is heading in the tension between religious fundamentalism versus liberalism, is to be seen.

A good evidently-objective religious and middle class analysis by OpenDemocracy [link] and Wikipedia has an economic summary [link].


Travel agent in Egypt and helpful English-speaking connection, call him first & last: Essem Wahed, South Sinai Travel 02-279-59024, Super-nice, helpful without his hand out at all (he refused a well-deserved tip), street smart service, honest as can be. Egypt is justly famous for rip-offs that exist in Nile trips etc. I won't bore you with details but he tried to help us with the Saudi visa situation, with nothing in it for him, except being Mr. Helpful Nice Guy.

Trust him, period. Any Egypt tickets I buy, it's through him – and you should too. The agency he works [link] for is old and large, Essam runs one office. Having one good honest guy, even in the big companies, makes all the difference.


Our trip there in perspective. We drove approximately 1,700 km from West to East, almost right across the top, spending some twenty-five memorable days there.

We had really wanted to ride south along the Nile; north along the Red Sea; explore the deep south as far as Aswan [map] close to Sudan. It's evidently gorgeous down there.
[Speaking of Sudan ... the racial war there is nothing new: In 1978 I had reached Ethiopia by road, planned to drive Sudan –> Egypt. Sudan was deemed simply impassable in '78 due to the ongoing war that evidently made the also-ongoing Eritrea war look like a picnic. Plus ça change ...]
Unfortunately for our Aswan plans, we were delayed/frustrated by the !@#$-ing Saudi visa rejection that took way too much time, we needed to change routes dramatically, do much unexpected extra driving. Added to distance was the fear of riding Pakistan, India and SE Asia in the summer, we had to hurry. The southern Nile trip will have to wait for another day.

Meanwhile, Egypt is an interesting, inexpensive and fun country to visit. One of the best of our trip.

The desert, beaches, fine resorts, mountainous Sinai, scuba diving, driving. Insane Cairo. Friendly intelligent people. With a few exceptions.

The antiquities are simply astounding.

Very, very happy we finally got there. It has been on the to-do list for decades.

Hope we get back to tour the southern Nile, and one more soaking in of the great Egypt Museum.

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