2 June 2013, Sunday- Port Said, Egypt
We are still here. And will be until Wednesday or Thursday. This morning was a shouting, gesturing confusing mess. The corruption and inefficiency in Egypt is really quiet amazing and also a bit disturbing. We had someone tell us today (this was a professional working in a management role in the shipping office) that the people at customs see their job to laugh, smoke, drink tea and eat and that we can put a form on someone’s desk and he most likely will refuse to sign it until he has been paid (a bribe) large enough to satisfy him. And the only way to change this is to have a nuclear bomb in Egypt and start over. Nice.
We have been stalking the bloody boat online and as always I was looking at it at 5 am and its on its way here!!!! And it is, it will arrive tomorrow morning and likely leave tomorrow afternoon BUT we wont be on it. As it sails from a different port (right up the road) we have to organise landy with customs, to get it out of this port and into that one, and we can’t get it done in time. Even though the agent and fixer have known about this since Thursday. Nothing was done on the Thursday or of course over the weekend (weekend here is Friday and Saturday). They didn’t tell us Thursday that given it was a weekend the next day it wouldn’t be possible, instead they said see you Sunday, we will sort it then. We spent three hours in loud discussions with them this morning. They think we should wait and take the next boat out of Port Said (where landy is currently in customs). It had been strongly suggested to us by the ferry company to get on this next one tomorrow (from the other port).
Our visas expire the day the next boat (from this port) leaves so if it is running a bit late (which lets face it seems likely) our visas will expire. The morning started by us going to the office at the arranged time, 10 am. The person we were to meet turned up at 11, no explanation. Then he told us it’s not possible to change the port because it will cost money (which we knew) and there is NO way the shipping company will pay. Somehow I ended up with the number of the owner of the shipping company in Turkey (I don’t know that’s who I have been speaking to all morning before Ahmed strolled in an hour late for our meeting). The owner of the shipping company has apologies repeatedly, is embarrassed and this morning offered to pay the costs associated with getting landy moved to the other port. Ahmed at the agent here couldn’t believe I was speaking to the owner, who spoke to him saying the company will pay. Then our fixer arrived (two hours late as usual) and said its impossible to get it done in such little time. We had met with him Thursday afternoon and he said it was possible as long as we knew we would have to pay. He knew when the boat was leaving! Anyway on and on and on and the story keeps changing, the amount keeps changing then they tell us the shipping company rang and said they wouldn’t pay so I rang them back and he got a bit annoyed saying I did not say that! What the hell?!!! Back and forth again and again.
Getting anything done here is like standing on quicksand, it moves and you are never on firm ground. It’s like a mirage, you keep walking towards it but it keeps moving! Anyway for some unknown reason customs needs two FULL days (they close at 2pm!!) to give us the necessary paperwork to move ports. They also need an insurance policy that we will leave the port here and go to the new port without doing a runner? We pointed out that is what a carnet is.
The Operations Manager at the shipping company in Turkey (who the owner had put us on to saying he would sort it) rang me and said “Listen I had the wife of the owner (I had no idea that was the women I have been speaking to, I assumed she was a receptionist) on the phone. She is very upset, she has spoken to you and told me to get you out of Egypt! I have told the agent in Port Said to do whatever it takes, pay baksheesh, do you know what that means? I don’t mean a tip I mean a bribe to whoever to get you to the other port.” He was pretty worked up. He then said he has lived in Egypt and works all the time with Egyptian customs (He is Turkish and lives in Turkey) and said you will get to the other port but there is 90% it wont be in time and if you miss that ferry customs WILL NOT allow you to transfer back, unless you pay thousands of US dollars. I told him I didn’t know what to think as the people here keep saying something different and he said they will say whatever you want to hear! He also told us the agent can sort our visas if need be. WHY didn’t they tell us that!
Anyway we decided to leave it and stay here, it’s too big of risk. If we miss the boat tomorrow we will be in major trouble here and who knows what would happen. We asked them about the visa thing, yep they can ‘sort it’ if need be. The thing is all the time it took for us to do this customs could have been doing our paperwork to transfer ports. BUT the X factor is the bribes required and who goes for lunch or is smoking and can’t be bothered to sign a paper etc. We had to take the word of the Turkish Operations Manager. He has offered to do whatever we need even a flight out of Turkey when we get there.
We know this is nothing a tiny tiny blip. We are safe, we are well and we will get there. It’s all part of the trip, part of travelling. Maybe its a lesson in letting go? BUT its is frustrating and maddening that the story, the costs and process change constantly. No one turns up on time, we are waiting for our fixer now who was supposed to be here 2 hours ago. And if one more person says “Don’t worry” (they say it all the time but don’t DO anything that needs to happen!) I will loose it. I said 5 times today “With all due respect I am worried!” They also said today its 100% going on Wed or Thursday now… Uh yeah we will see. We told them they cant guarantee that!
Big love hate relationship with Egypt right now. Love the warm passionate people and the extraordinary history and culture but hate the corruption, bureaucracy and trying to get anything done! Maddening.
We’ll get there.
5th June, Wednesday still here……
We are getting to know Port Said well, making friends with the staff at cafes, becoming regular sights wandering the streets. There are not many tourists here so I guess we stick out a bit. With Landy stuck in customs we have been staying in a cheap hotel, thankfully they have let us stay on and on, as we have often thought we will be on our way in a couple of days. We have wondered more than once what people think we are doing here for so long and wearing the same clothes!
The town is on the Mediterranean, right at the mouth of the Suez Canal, a couple of times we have looked up the street to see it blocked off at the end by a huge wall of containers gliding past, a ship heading on its way, but so close it could be part of the city. The place is like every other Egyptian city in that it looks like an earthquake has just hit, with some buildings falling down, others being built, piles of rubble strewn here and there and rubbish blowing about. There are some beautiful buildings still here though, especially some of the ornate wooden balconies.
Yesterday I was treated to a special day, heading over the road for our usual cuppa and chatting to friends and family on skype who wished me a happy birthday. It is so great to find a place with good enough internet to catch up with people properly. Lisa had been busy and managed to find from somewhere some decorations and a kite, and she suggested we walk down to the waterfront to watch the sunset and set my lovely pink kite free to soar above the busy beach. Lots of Egyptians seem to come here for holidays and along the sea there was a mass of families sitting around in groups, kids racing around, karts cooking and selling corn, nuts and candy floss. The kite was flying high and we handed it over to a little boy who was soon joined by his brother and sister. It was great to be out of the town and away from the cars, but the brown sea and dirty beach wasn’t quite enticing enough for us to go for a paddle or a swim. We walked back across the beach and past lots of outdoor projectors and music blaring out, getting ready to catch the families after dark. We found our way to a cafe we had been to before and had the best sea food soup ever. And finished our meal romantically in the dark as the power went out. 🙂
It will certainly be a birthday to remember, one in Africa, just. In a couple of days I think (and hope) we will be sailing north and away from Africa, this amazing continent that we have been lucky enough to get a taste of. So many amazing people who have been so kind to us and wished us well, so many fantastic places seen and so many unforgettable experiences, and yet we have just brushed the surface, just passed through.
6 June, Thursday Port Said…..
One more update. Well the 100% Wed or Thur has turned in to Sat or Sunday. We spoke to the agent yesterday who told us to bring our passports to the office today and speak to Farouk the passport guy. Our visas expire today. We arrived and were met by a rude and dismissive guy we have met before and things didn’t go well. More raised voices on all sides and Olly being pushed from an office when he asked when we could speak to someone. Anyway not handled well all around (including by us) a different guy came out and apologised to Olly that the guy pushed him and we sat and had a friendly productive conversation with him. He explained what we need to do next and we paid for our visa extensions and went on our way. We have let go, and we will leave when we leave. Its more the principle of the whole thing! We wandered back along some small side streets through the market area, fish, lots of veggies and dead cows hanging around. Interestingly the tails still have fur but the heads are skinned. We bought some fruit from our fruit guy and smiled at this place we have both enjoyed and felt stuck in. We know people now, the waiters at places we go, the old guy who sells cigarettes on the street with an incredibly gravely voice, the fruit man, the ladies at the stationery shop, the ladies who work where we are staying. There really isn’t much here so days are blending together- we read, we walk amongst the rubbish, cats and cars and smells (not relaxing but interesting). We even found one restaurant where you can buy beer. We ran into our fixer today who told us what we need to do with landy when it’s finally time to go. We are both excited to go to Europe and will be reflective over these next few weeks, the last of this amazing adventure.
L and O