Somehow we did not read or pick up on the announced demonstration on the 30th of June in Egypt before we arrived in Aswan. As we talked with people in town, we realized quickly that something was going on.
The whole process of crossing the border from Sudan to Egypt took us two weeks, but we will write more about that process in another blog. When we entered Egypt on the 19th of June we got a 30 days tourist visa, but by the time we got the Patrol through customs, on the 27th of June, we had already used up 9 of our visa days on waiting.
From overlanders that drove through Egypt two-three months ago we had heard about the fuel and diesel shortage. We tried to fill up before leaving Wadi Halfa in Sudan, but they had a shortage too and could only sell us 25 liters per day. In Aswan the owner of the hotel where we stayed said he had been in line from 03.00 at night and it had taken him 11 hours to get fuel. We had enough fuel to get us to Cairo, but our plan was to do a loop west and drive though the White Desert and Black Desert, and for that we needed more fuel. Leaving Aswan the gas stations we passed was out of fuel and closed. As we pulled of the road to check one of them out, a truck that we had just overtaken saw us and understood we were looking for fuel. He transported diesel and told us to follow him to the place he was going to fill up 15 km further up the road. It was not a gas station, but a transport / truck place. Some trucks had lined up outside waiting for diesel to arrive, and as we followed the diesel truck into the gated compound they all smiled, waved and gave us the thumbs up. We found this quite incredible as we were kind of passing them while they were waiting in line. We got 83 liters of diesel and had now a full tank and four jerry cans with a total of 220 liters. Before filling up, Espen had negotiated a price, but when we were going to pay, it was less than they had agreed on. I think we paid less than normal pump price. Espen tried to tip the truck driver, but he would not accept it. One of the other guys thought he deserved it too, and took it for him and put it in his pocket.
As we drove to Luxor we passed several petrol stations. If they were not totally closed, there were long lines of motorbikes, tuk-tuks, cars, and trucks, depending on the kind of fuel being sold. I can just imagine the hours they have to wait to get fuel, and we were really thankful for meeting the fuel truck driver.
In Luxor we had a power cut one evening for about 1-2 hours. Not long compared to what we got used to in Tanzania, Kenya, and Ethiopia, where there are power cuts every day for hours. But in Egypt they were apparently not used to this, and complained about the mismanagement of their country.
Half way between Aswan and Luxor we stopped in Edfu to visit Temple of Horus. We got there at 2 o’clock, and we were the only ones there. The temple was incredible, and it was even more amazing to have it all to ourselves. Just before leaving, a group of 10-12 other tourists arrived. In Luxor, we visited the Valley of the Kings, Temple of Hatshepsut, and Karnak. A few other tourists were around, but the huge parking lots that must have been full before the revolution (the first one..), was now more or less empty.
On the Nile in Aswan and Luxor, we must have seen 100 -150 of the Nile cruise ships that must be able to take at least 200 tourists each, just being docked. Walking around in the streets in Aswan and Luxor we hardly saw any other Western or Asian tourists. As one other traveller described it, “Tourism has left Egypt”. On Wikipedia it says that “12.8 million tourists visited Egypt in 2008, providing revenues of nearly $ 11 billion. The tourism sector employs about 12 % of Egypt’s workforce”. We hope they can get this right or it will have a huge impact on the country.
Locals we meet and talk to are really quick to talk about politics. They say that Egypt has got a lot worse since the revolution on the 25th of January 2011. There are problems getting fuel, more power cuts, more garbage is left in the streets, tourists have left, and many people working in the tourist industry have lost their jobs. In Luxor we were also told that the police /government was not as powerful as it used to be, and people were building houses on government land without permits. People felt that the population in Egypt had been split, and some were worried that Egypt would end up as Syria (with their civil war). We also heard that some even missed the time during the Mubarak regime, because then at least they had jobs and fuel.
Most of the people we talked to were not happy with the job that President Mursi had done since he got to power one year ago. They tell us that he hasn’t fulfilled any of the promises from the election. Well, not sure if we know a democracy that does… It seems to us as that the people in Egypt are not used to democracy, and it has only been one year since their first election. They are not used to all the “lies” or half-truths that are being told by politicians during the elections. We in the west are used to this and know what to expect after growing up in a democracy. Intentions are established during the elections, and then we work towards it during the time in government. Some goals are reached, others not. At least, this is how I think we see it. Reaching half of the promises would be incredible, and it would definitely take more than a year. Maybe the Egyptians have too high expectations to democracy?? But it is good to hear that so many people are interested and concerned about what is happening to their country.
It has been incredible to see the amount of people out in the streets, even if we have mostly seen it on TV. We feel it is better for us to keep a distance to the demonstrations and avoid crowded places. On Sunday in Luxor, as we came back to our campsite after a day of sightseeing, we saw the start of a small crowd of children, women, and men gathering with flags on the west bank of Luxor. In the evening we could hear and see a crowd on the east bank of Luxor, across the Nile from where we stayed, when they marched through the streets. However, according to our camp host, the demonstrations in Luxor were peaceful.
The last few days we have been in Hurghada, a charter tourist destination, and here we have not seen anything like the demonstrations on TV from elsewhere in the country. Wednesday night after the army had taken over and Mursi was no longer president, we could hear a lot of honking horns from motorbikes and cars in the street. Beside that, life looks like normal in our tourist resort. More than half of the people staying here are Egyptians, and it is good to see them relaxing and enjoying life in times like this.
Originally, we had planned to stay one night in Hurghada, but as we were about to leave, we heard a noise form the engine. After Espen spent some time checking it out, he figured out what was wrong. The alternator is broken. Or, according to Espen, the clutch on the pulley on the alternator is broken. This is the first time that we have had a mechanical problem with the Patrol that has stopped us from keeping driving, and actually have had to wait for parts or repairs. Perfect timing with a revolution happening in the country we are visiting… Norwegian Foreign Ministry says that tourist destinations as Hurghada are relatively safe, so it is probably good to stay here a few days anyway and see what will happen next in Egypt.