Not leaving yet
26 May 2013- Port Said, Egypt
Our ferry was supposed to leave 23th or 24th then it went to 24th or 25th. Now we are not sure, 28th? In the meantime we are getting to know Port Said well!
We arrived a few days ago and found a hotel to stay at, from what we gather there is nowhere to camp here and landy had to go into customs anyway. Almost straight away we went across the road for a cuppa and met a Dutch couple who told us the cafe has free wifi (and very good too, the best we have had for ages) they saw us drive up in landy and we starting chatting to them. They had been in Port Said ten days waiting for the ferry and had now abandoned that idea and were shipping their car back to Europe and flying back themselves, he has to be back to work Monday. They brought their car to Africa ten years ago and leave it here in different places in between coming over on their holidays for a few weeks each year and carrying on with their travels. 🙂 Anyway we rang our fixer, Eslam who arrived later to meet us. We discussed the details of money and got that over with. He said to meet him the next morning at 9 or 9:30 ish and we would start the customs proceedings. Every other country we have been to the exit customs ‘proceedings’ has been to get the carnet stamped and once or twice they have opened the back of landy, after all most places don’t care what you are taking out of a country (with a few exceptions of course of diamonds and ivory etc). Anyway we wanted to limit the amount of time landy is in customs but Eslam strongly recommended we start the proceedings the next day, being a Thursday as the ferry was meant to leave Saturday and nothing happens on Friday so there may or may not be time Saturday to sort it all out.
We went to our room, shut the balcony door (which looks over the street and all its happenings) and settled into our room, which is very adequate (has water and a toilet AND cleanish sheet, my favourite) and crashed, the first time we have not been woken for each call to prayer. Sleeping in a building is so different to sleeping in landy! The next morning, Thursday we waited for Eslam for a while and his brother arrived and had us follow him. We put a few things in the room that we would need over coming days while landy was away and followed him a few places. First the shipping company’ s agent to get some documents done- truth be told most of the time we had no idea what we were doing as Eslam’s brother didn’t speak English and we just gave our passports when requested. It is so so worth having a fixer in Egypt, I can’t even begin to imagine doing this without one. You pay them and they sort all the rules, 20 pages of documents and plenty of back patting, buttering up and hand shaking with money goes on. We assured the shipping agent we have paid for our tickets with the ferry company but they had not received word of this yet so he just wanted us to wait until we had, with some nice talking we managed to get him to do what he needed to so we could leave and go to customs and assured him the company would send him word that we have paid. We then followed two of Eslam’s guys on motor bikes, as if they were our outriders clearing the way ahead to customs and met Eslam there. A bit of waiting later they scratched a copy of our VIN number onto a bit of paper with a pencil and customs came to check landy (all this who haw for customs!) who literally opened the back door, pulled back the curtain then closed the door. BUT landy has to stay in customs until we leave now. In case we steal a mummy and try to do a runner? Not sure. Then we took landy to customs storage and I waited there and watched wrestling with two blokes and drank tea while Olly had to go show his passport to someone else and sign a few things and drink tea. I’ve never watched wrestling before, its absurd. Anyway then we were done, a few easy hours. Now the waiting.
We have spent the last few days walking around, had a meal with the Dutch couple, watching videos on the computer at night (we have power!) and tracking the ferry online. I was feeling really positive about it all, you can never get a straight answer but we though if not Sat then surely it will leave Sunday? Then yesterday morning we looked at the website and found our ferry, Yipppeeee she left Turkey, but wait, the destination says Syros!? That doesn’t sound Egyptian, it sounds Greek! The ferry was supposed to be leaving Port Said that night and its on its way to Greece?! We rang the agent here who told us it is not leaving but maybe day after tomorrow. What does that mean? So my feisty side kicked in and I thought we are not waiting around for someone to tell us whats going on. I rang the shipping company in Turkey and was told the ferry has had engine troubles and is on the way to Greece to be fixed. Fair enough these things happen but I told her nicely but firmly they should be keeping us updated we shouldn’t find out the day we are meant to be leaving from looking online ourselves! Anyway she has assured me it will be a speedy repair and will be back in Turkey 28th to straight away come to Port Said. Mmmmmm…… we’ll see.
Anyway what to do? We don’t have landy and to get her out would be a pain as we have given our Egyptian driving permit and number plates back and we would have to get all that again plus then put her back into customs again. All of which would cost several hundred dollars. We also thought of going on the bus to Cairo or Alexandria or even flying to the Red Sea for some snorkelling (which I was heavily in favour of!!!). In the end we have decided to stay here and just have some cheap days. Going to the Red Sea would be the preferred option but it would cost a lot for only a few nights and as we are coming to the end of the trip we are coming to the end of our money so we ruled that out. Port Said is a pleasant place and we have a cheap reasonable place to stay. It’s not nearly as hot as we have been as it’s on the coast, for the first time in ages we have not been hot 24 hours a day, its refreshing!
No doubt we will be stalking the ship online in coming days. Its funny if you would have said a few more days in Egypt we would have said great but once we thought we were going we were getting ready mentally. And somehow having the choice taken means we want to go. 🙂 So we will potter around here more and see how it all goes. We have always known there could be things like this that happen on the trip and we have been so lucky so a few days delay here is all good. Besides as Nick (Olly’s brother) said, better to be there than floating around at sea with engine problems!
Certainly leaving Africa feels like the start of the end of the trip and we don’t know how we will feel about it all in coming weeks. Maybe Europe will be a buffer and ease us out of the trip and into the UK?
29th May- update
Ok, messy messy. Heard back from ferry company- good news, the boat in Greece is still broken and they have dissolved the contract with them but they will start another ship around 4th June. Uh…. that may be great news FOR THEM but not for us. Anyway spent yesterday afternoon thinking what to do? Landy is in customs storage (which we are paying for) but to get her out will cost several hundred dollars. So do we stay here for the 5th June ferry, assuming the date is not changed again. As pleasant as Port Said is we don’t want to stay here another 8 days, also that will be cutting it very close to our Egyptian visas expiring and we don’t even want to begin to imagine how you extend those! The other option is going to the Red Sea for some snorkelling and then come back, would be great but costly and still have same issue about dates etc. The other option is to cut our losses here, pay to get to landy out of customs and go to Israel to get a ferry (weekly service) to Italy, which is very expensive and takes about 5-7 days. So part of us just have itchy feet and think we should just make a run for the border and see how that goes. We sent a few emails regarding ferry stuff to get a sense of things so we can make a decision.
30th May update
Long story but basically we have the option of taking a different boat (the one the shipping company has stated a new contract with but they have another sailing before that contract starts) which is looking like what we will do, we just need to get confirmation. Problem is this boat leaves from a different port, 40 minutes down the road. Uggg…..After many phone calls, emails and much waiting we have been told it leaves in two days then told it leaves maybe after four days- that one annoyed me! Maybe after four days could also mean maybe not and five days is after four days but so is five months! Anyway we think it will leave around the 2nd June and takes 25-28 hours. But we need to get confirmation of there being space for us. We have also been told today it will cost around $500 to get landy out of customs and back in! CRAZY! So we have had a spirited conversation with the fixer here. Everyone here seems to use a lot of hand gestures and talk loudly and passionately when they communicate so when in Rome…. Both men sit and talk to Olly (they address everything to Olly) and I am the one answering them half the time. We laughed (with gritted teeth!) and said NO WAY would we pay that much, he said they have to cancel the customs paperwork. I did get annoyed at one point and say “Nowhere do you pay $500 to cancel paperwork, they can throw it in the bin!!” By the time we finished the conversation it had gone down to $150. (Let me see who I can talk to, what I can do for you, etc etc) Nothing is ever simple here and the price and process you start off with is never what it is, such hard work! We have sent the shipping company an email saying we expect they will pay these costs. We’ll see what they reply. The option of going to Israel is out- we have not heard back about the ferry leaving there this weekend and the area we would need to travel to is a no go zone according to the British Foreign Office- major problems with militants/military/kidnapping/border open and shut etc. We will leave this weekend, insha’Allah.