Caring Cairo 6563miles
Next day I toddled down to the Embassy as advised at 8am for it opening. I had variously heard that you couldn't get a Sudanese visa outside of Cairo, and then that you might get one in 24 hours, maybe a week, a month or never with lots of promises along the way. Some joking and daftness with the armed guards (fixed bayonets!? but sheathed) ensured they'd look after the bike while I was inside. I sat down and waited. The place was full of those whom I assumed, because of dress or skin colour, to be locals or Sudanese. A smallish lassie came in looking gey peely-wally to be wearing all that black. Maybe she was a European Muslim, or in old-fashioned mourning dress. Two blokes came in, one really tall, the other with a t-shirt saying something about a motorbike challenge from the Cotswolds to Cape Town. Nothing happened until 10.30, just as I'd introduced myself to them. Then everything went a bit funny. Some people appeared behind the desks and lots of quite desperate shouting and pushing started. Papers were waved around and the heads behind the desks shook a lot. The two English bikers 'had a man' to sort things out and his knowledge was gratefully received by me. They actually had visas but they hadn't been produced by the Sudanese Embassy in London until after they had left home! The wee lassie in black piped up in her New Zealand accent that she'd been waiting seven days for her visa, her mistake had been to say that she was a volunteer. The Sudanese don't have a visa for volunteers. She got sooked into the queue for a while and then disappeared completely. She must have been refused. It wasn't looking good.
We three bikers handed over papers and lots of American dollars and were told to return later. The English at 2pm, me at 1pm. Little made much sense. I decided to try and get in with these two, who were riding to Cape Town for charity, having received support from none other than Ewen MacGregor himself! The route on their t-shirt was similar to mine, and I thought there could be safety in numbers, at least through Sudan and Ethiopia. We arranged to meet back there at 2pm.
I arrived early to find the Kiwi girl back and an Italian who had been shouting previously at the officials. Rachel, the Kiwi, had had to go back to her Consulate to get yet further paperwork detailing her intentions in Sudan. She only wanted to go and Teach English as a Foreign Language in Khartoum for $100US per month. I wished I had that sort of grit. She had recently invented a 'husband' to help things out. Very useful for single ladies dealing with officialdom here. The Italian (he never told us his name) wanted to get to the Yemen. I wondered about the wisdom of being seen talking and joking with this belligerent gent. I saw the English guys' passports lying in a drawer. Their visas were ready. No sign of mine! Then my name was called! Ha - success, and after only three hours! I felt quite guilty getting mine after Rachel had been waiting seven days, just to get to do something far more useful than me! So I tried not to rejoice overly. While I waited for the other two to return, she explained that she'd been in Egypt for six weeks and the 'get up' meant she got far less hassle from the overly-attentive local males. Then the Italian's name was called and then Rachel's and we were all congratulations and smiles and relief. Rachel had a book, 'Africa on A Shoestring' which I decided I'd better buy and the Italian wanted to photocopy. When they arrived I arranged to meet the two English guys (both called Nick) at their digs - the Cairo Rugby Club, no less - that night and we three headed off to the bookshop.
On the way into the American University bookshop the guard, who kept my passport, gestured at Rachel. "Is this yours?" He asked gruffly. I hoped it was more a poor command of English but he looked pretty stern so I acknowledged 'ownership' and 'this' was permitted entry. Weird! After buying a copy, I gave it to the Italian who went off to photocopy it, saying he'd be along for a coffee soon. Rachel and I had a bite to eat during which she told me she'd been travelling for eight years!! She certainly had a passport to rival Phileas Fogg's! She has a blogsite as well, which may be obtained upon application. But be warned, this is a well-travelled, ex-Burlesque dancing, ex-Edinburgh Ghost tour-leading, pierced, tattooed, 5'2" lapsed witch who also worked behind the bar at the Holyrood Tavern in Edinburgh before a hair-dyeing attempt went wrong and she had to shave her hied! And her spelling's very poor! You could NOT make this stuff up. She needs a lift to Khartoum, Sudan, where I'm going. She's wee, she travels light - all in; 80kg. The bike can take the extra weight. Where did I put that armour polish?
The Italian never re-appeared and I began to think very, very badly of him. After we'd eaten we looked. But not there. Not anywhere! I returned to the bookshop and bought yet another book, cursing my stupidity and naivete in trusting this stranger. Muttering madly to myself I wandered back to the bike alone, having exchanged details with Rachel for the next day when I'd know after consulting the Nicks when we'd leave. The bike was still there under fully-armed guard who gestured towards a solitary figure sitting opposite it. The Italian!! Guilt and sorrow rushed through me as we shook hands and laughed that he hadn't seen us in the cafe and had looked in another three before coming to wait here. I gave him a lift back to the shop, where we got the money back for one of the books, and then to his Hostel. We were even.
I rode back down to Maadi (aptly named for the driving!) through crazy but not aggressive traffic to find Lorenz and Hilary's house. Lorenz's directions were spot on and I found it with very little trouble. I told them about the adventures of the day and we laughed. Lorenz insisted we phone Rachel and get her down. They've a very comfortable two bedroom 'granny' flat on the top of their very comfortable house. He took the number from me and phoned her Hostel. "Can she ride? Because we could take the horses up to the Pyramids tomorrow morning," said Hilary. She said she could ride but had already paid for her digs so thanked L & H but would meet us in the morning in front of the Sphinx.
The riding in the morning really was awesome. Galloping across the desert and right up to these ancient Pyramids with Hilary and her pals was incredible. Blazing sun, as you might expect, but good horses and a patient hack-leader. Rachel and myself made a reasonable impression by not holding anyone up. Others were getting more advice from the leader, Hassiem. We were out for an hour and a half, then we went to look for ferry tickets.