Usually we post the border crossing info only on our unurban.no website, but this one was kind of different. It also turned out that we have a new record in time to get the car into a country. USA with 7 days is now down to second place… The Sudan – Egypt crossing over Lake Nasser is famous for most of the wrong reasons, and the Egyptian customs is also well known for its bureaucracy and corruption. And yes, we found out for ourselves.
Firstly, keep in mind that you’re not allowed to drive across the border between Sudan and Egypt. At least, this is what we’ve heard from all overlanders we’ve met. It is not entirely correct, but for practical reasons, this has been the only option for a normal size 4x4 overland vehicle for years and years. There are roads, and local trucks drive this from time to time. It is also possible to get a permit if you have a truck that is too big for the barge, say a large MAN 4x4 or 6x6 truck camper. However, this is both time consuming and very expensive. A while back there was some talk about opening the border also for tourists. For the last months we’ve heard that this will be any day now, but when we came to Wadi Halfa in Sudan the border was still closed. We could of course pay our way, but it would still be at least three weeks waiting for the permit from the Egyptian military to drive the road from the border to Aswan. And the price would have been double from what it costs to put the car on a barge and ourselves on the ferry.
So we decided for the ferry. The ferry leaves every Tuesday from Wadi Halfa. In June the ferry runs twice a week due to local holidays. This is a passenger ferry only, so the car has to go separately on a barge. The barge leaves when it is full, or when the captain thinks he has enough cargo to make a decent profit. This will of course also depend on the price you’re willing to pay. We called a recommended fixer a few hours before arriving in Wadi Halfa, and four days before the passenger ferry should leave on the next Tuesday. We agreed to meet at 0800 the next morning in town. The fixer showed up, two hours after we had agreed to meet. I’ll be honest anough to say that the first impression wasn’t the best. For some reason the fixers seem to think it is important to brag about how many overlanders they know and have helped. They do also like to tell us that they know many Norwegian overlanders, which we know for a fact is a lie. Eventually getting down to business he gave us correct prices and seemed to know what he was doing. We agreed on prices and how he would proceed with the paperwork. He got copies of all the necessary papers, and we went back into the desert and camped for a couple of days. Tuesday morning we were told to meet him back in town.
During these couple of days, a British overlander also came to Wadi Halfa. We’d met him a couple of times along the way from Ethiopia, and he had called ahead to another fixer and booked shipping for this date about a month in advance. Make a mental note of this.
Tuesday morning we met our fixer outside the local police station in the center of town. We filled in a form, and he took our passports and went inside. We waited in the car. The British guy was also there, and his fixer did the same thing for him. Worth mentioning is that the two most known fixers in Wadi Halfa, Magdi and Masar, are uncle and nephew, and they work together in the same company. Anyway! Our fixer came back with our passports and we drove to the ferry. The port is a couple of kilometers north of town, and there is a checkpoint a few hundred meters before the terminal building. Our fixer had our tickets and the papers for the port, and we drove in. The cars were parked inside a fenced area “behind” the passenger terminal. We were told to leave all our stuff there, and walk around to the front where we would begin the process of checking out of Sudan. After an hour waiting we finally had our exit stamp, and we were back in the fenced compound behind the terminal building where we parked the cars. We packed some clothes, sleeping mats, sleeping bags, water and some snacks, and waited for the bus that would take us to the pier where the ferry was docked. Around three o’clock we were on the ferry. Our Patrol and the British Land Rover Discovery were left in the hands of our fixers, with the promise of being loaded on the next barge, probably later that same day. Docked next to the ferry was a barge with a big American pick-up truck with a massive camper. We later learned from the owner that they had to pay quite a bit extra because, “this truck was so big that they couldn’t fit other cars on the barge”. Well, it was quite big, and we didn’t think more about it. The passenger ferry left around five in the afternoon, and we installed ourselves as best as we could together with all the other passengers. The capacity was pushed to the limit, and I’m not talking about the limit that the ship builder had in mind when they built it, but more like the physical limit of keeping the boat floating. It was packed with people.
It is baking hot, and staying inside is not very comfortable. There is of course no air conditioning. Most people stay on deck, and so did we. We had a tarp and some rope and made it as comfortable as possible. The trip takes close to two days (15-20 hours), and a meal is included.
The ferry trip was relatively uneventful, but not unpleasant. We arrived safely in Aswan the next day, and the ferry across Lake Nasser is somehow a part of the eastern overland route through Africa. That said, now I’ve done it, and I don’t think I’ll be doing it again anytime soon. Coming into port at Aswan, we saw a fully loaded barge anchored up next to where the ferry docked. On a closer look we noticed a Landcruiser under all the boxes. Not good. In Wadi Halfa we met a South African couple coming south disembarking from the ferry we were leaving on. They told us that they were expecting their car, a Landcruiser, in, probably the same day. Our fixer in Wadi Halfa confirmed this and told us that our Patrol and the Land Rover were going on this barge back to Aswan. Great…
Can you spot the Toyota?
The fixer that met us in Aswan took us through customs. It was mayhem going through with all the people and cargo from the ferry, but an hour later we were officially in Egypt. This fixer told us the same thing, that the barge in the port was the one going to Wadi Halfa to pick up our car. It would of course leave almost right away and be back here in a couple of days. Not much we could do about it, so we went to a hotel and checked in for a few nights. Little did we know that we would be staying in this hotel for more than a week.
Two days later we get a phone call from our Aswan fixer. Our car is now on a barge at the port. They did manage to put a second car on the same barge as the big American truck camper. Instantly we assumed it couldn’t be the Patrol. After all, the British overlander in his Land Rover Discovery had booked his shipping almost a month before us, and we assumed that he would have the space on the first available barge. We went to the port and on the barge was the Patrol. Yes! We don’t know what happened, but we found out from the Swiss couple who owned the camper that they were using the same fixer as us. It could be that simple. But the two fixers work for the same company, so it still doesn’t make sense. Another thing we learned was that our fixer was getting married a few days after we left on the ferry. We were speculating if this was the uncle’s favor, giving away his client’s space on the barge so that our fixer could leave Wadi Halfa for Khartoum to get married. Or we simply got lucky. Who knows?
least we felt lucky for about the 15 minutes it took to drive the cars off the
barge and up to the customs office. As we’ve pointed out in earlier border
crossing blogs, we like to have all our papers sorted out and in order. And so
it was this time. We have been travelling for a long time, and when we flew
back to Norway for work, we made sure to extend our Carnet de Passage so it
would be valid for the time it would take us to drive back to Europe. We used
the extended Carnet for Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Sudan, but of course,
Egypt has to come up with some rules of their own. We were told by the Customs
Officer that this Carnet would not be accepted without a stamp from the
Egyptian Automobil Association in addition to our Norwegian extension stamp.
The problem it turned out, was that the extension stamp was only on the front
page of the Carnet, not on the individual pages inside. A junior officer
suggested that they could take a copy of the front page and attach it to file,
but the officer in charge had made up his mind.
Driving up the ramp from the barge. To drive out, you have to go through the gate and up to the building you see on the right side of the pic. This is the customs and immigration offices. Walking up from the ferry you go through the blue gate to the right.
Under: parked outside the customs and immigrations building
We called the Egyptian Automobil Association and asked what this was all about, and a very helpful lady told me that this was not a problem, and as soon as she got a confirmation from the Automobil Association in Norway, she would send a fax to the customs in Aswan stating that my Carnet was valid. Excellent! Unfortunately this was on a Saturday afternoon, and in Norway everything is closed during the weekend. Monday morning I was on the phone with Oslo, and it took them only a few minutes to send the confirmation to Egypt. They also explicitly explained that the extension stamp goes only on the front page, not inside.
I called back to the helpful lady, and she told me she would check her fax right away and get back to me. Nothing happens. I call back, and this time she tells me she is sorry, but that I would have to talk to her manager. He explains that this is not possible at all, and that I have to pay 2500 EL, about 350 USD, so that one of his men can come to Aswan from Cairo to stamp my Carnet, or I have to come to Cairo to have the Carnet stamped at the Automobil Club office for a fee of 300 EL, about 43 USD. To do this I would need to book an overnight train ticket or plane ticket, a hotel in Cairo, and then a ticket back south to Aswan the next day. After being told that this should be no problem, I’m getting pretty angry about the whole thing. Something isn’t right here, and I call the fixer and start asking questions. Eventually I learn that the guy in charge of the Carnet de Passage in the Automobil Club in Cairo used to work in Aswan, and is a friend of the Customs officer. If this is true, the organization behind the Carnets, TIA in France, should really take a look at this. On the other hand, Egypt is probably one of the last countries in the world that actually requires this document from travellers. According to Egyptians we’ve talked to, visiting vehicles from the neighboring countries are issued temporary import permits as everywhere else in the world. Looking at TIA’s website, the newest information I could find was from 2004. Personally I don’t think the Carnet de Passage will be around for much longer.
I get back on the phone with the Norwegian Automobil Association, and they promise to write me a new Carnet and send it by DHL the same day. I don’t have to pay for the new Carnet, and the DHL fee is a lot less than what it would have cost me to go to Cairo or have the guy bring the stamps to Aswan. Issuing a new Carnet and have it sent from Norway to Aswan also takes about the same time as it would take me to go to Cairo or to wait for the guy from the Egyptian Automobil Association. I guess this is why Europe is Europe and Egypt is still Africa…
Thursday at noon I have the new Carnet in my hands in Aswan. I call the fixer and we all go to the port. The senior officer is nowhere to be seen, and the younger officer processes the Carnet, we pay the port fees, parking fee, and insurance, and three hours later we put on our temporary Egyptian license plates and drive out from the port. It is a good feeling, but it has taken nine days of our 30 day tourist visa, and the whole thing just because of a corrupt and incompetent customs officer. Egypt deserves better.
Fixer in Wadi Halfa, Sudan: Mazar, telephone: +249 122380740, email: email@example.com
Fixer in Aswan, Egypt: Kamal, telephone: +20 (0) 10 053 22669
We booked the sailing from Wadi Halfa to Aswan. The prices we got from Mazar are as follows:
* Car on the barge: 220 USD
* Customs fees: 30 USD (we’re not exactly sure about the price for the barge and custom fee. We have heard different prices, and we agreed on a total price. We paid about two-thirds in Sudanese pounds and the rest in USD (6,5 Sudanese Pounds to 1 USD))
* Per person on the ferry: 40 USD
* Fee to fixer: 30 USD
costs in Sudan: 360 USD
Costs in Aswan:
* Tourist Visas for Egypt: 15 USD per person (Note: The passports are collected in a box when you board the ferry in Wadi Halfa, and you get them back in Aswan)
* Custom in Aswan DOES NOT accept extended Carnets unless it is extended in Egypt!
* Custom fee: 520 EL
* Insurance, license plates, and driver license: 250 EL (we heard 230 from other travelers)
* Parking at the port (as we were delayed): 190 EL (it is about 30-35 EL per day, and you pay about half to the police and half to customs).
* Fee to fixer: 40 USD or 300 LE
to port: 10 EL per person to the police