28 October, 2006

Swanning around Aswan 7194miles

We made the 7am convoy to Aswan, then had to wait a while till it left. The Egyptian Authorities have imposed these convoys for travellers since an attack left some tourists dead and injured a few years ago. They are supposed to be protective but . . . ours just went far too fast on very poor roads, turning the whole thing into a 'Wacky Races' of daftness! Huge buses, minibuses, cars, and us competed for front spot - behind the lead Police pick-up (all bristling with scary firearms). The roads were NOT up to this, so I gave up the competition and happily slipped to the rear of the convoy. The last police car wasn't too happy about this and encouraged me to speed up. 80mph through wee villages strewn with bairns and dogs isn't sensible, so I signalled that the bike couldn't do it. They stayed behind us for a few more miles before getting bored and flying off ahead. We had no escort now but we were free and therefore able to do our own thing - i.e. dawdle!

I texted RedNick (they are RedNick and BlueNick according to their choice of BMW desert gear) from a cafe in Aswan and they appeared almost instantly. They'd only arrived the night before and had camped on the banks of the Nile, much to BlueNick's dismay. He went off to find a good hotel and returned soon after with the news he'd found an excellent one just around the corner. Hathor Hotel, small roof garden overlooking the Nile, tiny swimming pool, air conditioning and breakfast included for 3.50GBP per evening. Where do we sign and well done BlueNick!! Aswan MCC off to get the ferry for the Sudan. The Ferry had become ever more elusive. Eid/Ramadan always seemed to be "finishing the day after tomorrow and nothing will be open until then." So we wait and then lots of things are open anyway so we needn't have bothered panicking. The Nicks had had a look and the Nile Navigation Company's office was very, very closed with no indication of when it might re-open. They had heard many conflicting notions. There's a great tendency here to tell you what you want to hear. So, you ask a closed question; "will it be open tomorrow?" "Yes." But, "will it be open in the next few days?" "Yes." So then you ask an open question; "when will the ferry sail to Wadi Halfa?" Maybe tomorrow. "Maybe?" Then you make some closed suggestions - tomorrow? the next day? next week? The answer is always yes. Followed by "do you want a felucca/taxi?" This became ever more annoying and we sadly became ever more grateful for the roof-garden as a sanctuary. It was worst when we were asked while sitting on the bikes whether we wanted a taxi! Flummoxed for a response - was our response!

Next morning was a whirlwind as we went to the office on the off-chance and found it unexpectedly open. Naturally everything was about to close for the Eid celebrations (again) and we would have to hurry if we were to get all the papers in order. If we failed, we'd need to wait another week for the next boat! We had two hours. It was 11am. Dispatch riding experience came in useful as we scooted around the various offices at opposite ends of the town. Additionally for me, I had to go to the police and get a report saying I'd lost my Egyptian licence. Rachel employed charms unavailable to masculinity (smiles and fluttery eyelashes!) to keep the man at the office talking and therefore, open. At 1300.10seconds I got back and concluded the ticket-buying deal. It was Sunday, and the previously rumoured Saturday or maybe Monday boat would sail - this week only - on Wednesday. We should be there at 10am. But would the boat be?

Four days to hang around. Not to waste this time I learned to sail a felucca (and it is a serious consideration for retirement), they have only one sail but once set, there's little needing done and even when tacking, the boom is so high that all you need to do is turn the tiller. We found every word that rhymes with 'felucca', including verrucca, Stuka, Luka, bazooka . . ! We visited the Nubian museum which attempts to explain the lost culture under Lake Aswan. It does quite well, but it seemed to me to be a poor compensation for the loss of any culture. I 'drove' a pony and trap (interesting - they don't stop to poo and you get a full view! :-/) We sailed into the 1st cataract and went swimming off the back - fantastic! We had lunch with the (genuine) Chief in a Nubian village where the national dish is a kind of flavour-free dark green mucus called 'mulach' - nobody's favourite. We visited the Tomb of the Nobles and got mobbed by children (euch!). Almost every evening the sun was watched from the roof as it set over the desert across the Nile. Waiting, waiting. After four days the felucca captains and taxi drivers began to understand that we were not interested and the hassles lessened.

Of course I foolishly decided to check the bikes on the last day. Both Nicks' bikes and mine needed oil. However, mine also had a curious wobble at the front wheel. The new bearings maybe weren't fitted properly (?). I don't know but there's 'play' on the bearing which is not good. This play is moving the dust seal and will expose the inners of the bearings to any destructive grinding sand! Maybe they turned the spindle down too much! Funny how that chance encounter with those roadworks in the Czech Republic has dogged me all this way!! I resolved to fix the whole thing in Khartoum and can only hope to make it that far! A final evening to say goodbye to Aswan in our favourite restaurant - but I'm apprehensive about how things will hold together over this sand!!

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