The drivers of four camper vans and two trucks with their partners plus me, consuming all the chairs and couches, even some had to stand and listen, crammed through the door of Mr Salah’s office on Saturday morning, listening to the news we all dreaded.
‘I’m sorry, but the barge isn’t going this week, its still in Wadi Halfa with a bulldozer stuck on it. Our other barge is under repair and the third one would be too dangerous to try and load your vehicles on to it with the lake level too low.’
Everyone was silent, taking in these terrible words, working out what this means if they have to stay in Egypt for another week or more.
Wim was the first to recover. ‘So, if the ferry arrives, what guarantee can you give us that we will be put on the first barge and not someone else who might come along in the mean time?’ .
Pulling out a piece of paper, Mr Salah recommended we write our names down and the length of our vehicles. All hell broke loose, it was amazing to see naturally calm, chilled out travellers show their true colours, diving in for the tiny piece of paper, arguing who was first to arrive into Aswan and who contacted Mr Salah first via phone or email. Eventually a list came together but it was still missing my name on it.
As I sidled up to Mr Salah’s desk, I heard one twin brother from a Red Bull truck yelling, trying to get Mr Salah to confirm next week’s barge. I felt like saying to the guy ‘chill out, this is Africa, why do you expect it to run like clockwork as it does at home?’ but I just smiled at Mr Salah and asked if it was possible for me to put my bike on the passenger boat.
The brother looked at me, annoyed that I had interrupted but I could see in Mr Salahs eyes he was glad of the change in topic.
‘No, but you can put it on the luggage boat. Come back here tomorrow at 9:30am and you will purchase the ticket from me and do all the paper work from there.’ Mr Salah replied.
‘Will I be loading the motorcycle tomorrow too?’ I asked in case I have to pack tonight.
‘Come fully packed and ready as the port might want to load tonight’ .
The Red bull brother was pissed off. Even though I envy everyone in this room forbeing able to carry more gear, have a nice kitchen and carry lots of food and beer, this was definitely one good reason to be on a motorcycle.
Everyone stood outside Mr Salah’s office trying to work out what to do for the week they have up their sleeve. Some had to extend their Egyptian visa and Carnet De Passage and some had to extend their Sudan visa as well. It was a nightmare for them but at least they are all in the same boat and can do the paper work together. While we stood around in the sun a round faced man with a pot belly approached me and demanded my passport and Carnet De Passage,
‘I’m sorry but who are you?’ I asked
‘You’re on the motorcycle aren’t you?’ he asked
‘Yes, but I don’t know why you want my documents?’
‘I am Mr Kamal, the fixer’ .
So now at least I knew who this guy was but I didn’t like how he approached me and demanded my documents off me, so I causally asked ‘ how much do you charge?’
I laughed, and said ‘No, for that price I will do it myself’.
I still had to get my Sudan visa and I had decided to do it here as in Cario, where most people obtain it, the embassy asks for a letter of introduction from your embassy which costs $60USD and on top of that the visa costs $100USD. Here in Aswan, I just needed $50 US and three hours of my life. I cannot believe how many people do it in Cairo. I guess that’s what a little research on the internet can do for you.
The next day I arrived late at Mr Salah’s office, and I quickly brought my passenger ticket and jumped on my bike, following Mr Salah’s directions to the police court where they confirm and sign off that I do not have any outstanding traffic offences. Next stop was the traffic police to hand in my Egyptian plate and licence (which I had been told on entry was actually my insurance!). The guy behind the desk asked me how I was getting back into town after dropping my motorcycle off at the port. I guess a taxi? I replied. So, he ordered a taxi for us, since apparently he had to come down too. Guess who shows up a few minutes later but Mr Kamal. Boy, it seems like he has fingers in everything in this town. As I desperately needed to fill up my tank with gas, I asked Kamal since I was paying for his service now to take me to a petrol station but he was refused and said we have to go to the port as it was closing soon. Eventually he let me go off and find petrol, but all the petrol stations nearby had no petrol so I had to return back to the traffic police station and listen to Kamal say ‘ I told you so’. I grimaced at the words as I knew he hadn’t actually told me that there was no fuel.
Riding behind Kamal the 20 kilometres to the port, I found myself stewing, they were driving so slowly and I hated the fact I was paying for this annoying guy who just kept rubbing me up the wrong way! Eventually we arrived and I put on a sweet face despite what I was feeling inside. When we walked into the huge empty warehouse we found everyone had gone home, it was quarter past two. I was 15 minutes late. How ridiculous! These guys only have one boat a week and they work a few hours a day! On the other hand I was happy to have my motorcycle with me for the night, instead of leaving it at the port unattended with my entire luggage on it.
Early the next morning, I arrived back at the traffic police, dropped off the plates I had to get back and drove out to the port. After waiting for an eternity for the customs guy to arrive he stamped my carnet de passage, demanded 100 EYP and I was able to ride over to the luggage boat. The port officer took Wim and myself down to the ‘so called’ luggage boat. Walking over built up and well compacted rubbish, ropes and bits of engine, he points to a cargo barge pushing its way in between two empty boats. ‘Where were you yesterday, we were waiting for you’ the port office asked. ‘I’m so sorry but the customs guy had gone home for the day’
‘You have to take your bike over to that barge thats coming in now’.
I look down and see no way to cross even to the first boat but then people started to pull bits of wood out from around the junk yard and construct a gangplank for my motorcycle to cross. Boy this was going to be scary! Wim took over and rode my bike down the gangplank, then all the guys came together yelling commands that neither of us could understand. Because Wim was being brave and helping with the motorcycle I was able to stand back and take photographs or close my eyes! It didn’t take long for the bike to cross the empty barge and be placed next to a concrete mixer on the overloaded barge. Tying it to the concrete mixer I say good bye and hope to see it tomorrow in Wadi Halfa.
Wim is riding my bike over the piles of rubbish, while I stand back booking scared.
Dragging it around the corner onto the narrow ledge of the first boat.
Now they are taking it along the narrow edge – you can see my cargo boat in the background!