Getting Out: Nearly As Hard As Getting Into Egypt

At least I had a good meal last night at my hotel. For my last night in Egypt and on the Sinai Peninsula I stayed at the north end of Nuweiba at Casa del Mare a beautiful and cozy seaside hotel called where I was the only guest and perhaps the only hotel in Nuweiba with wireless internet access. The owner told me that since the bombings business has been extremely slow. Used to be Israelis coming to Nuweiba, but now its nearly dead save a couple months during high season.

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My goal was simply to get aboard The Princes for Aqaba by 2pm that afternoon. But it didn’t work out for me.

But the comfort of my evening faded quickly as I melded into more madness and prepared to get Doc cleared out of Egypt and aboard The Princess the fast ferry boat bound for Aqaba in Jordan.

Part I: Getting Out of Egypt By Ferry & Motorcycle – Almost stella2.jpg
First I visited the same unfriendly, pouty man wearing the same shirt as last night sitting behind the window and ignoring everyone pressed against it at the ferry ticket office. With a dozen people cramming the space in front of the window, there was not sense of order. No line. No courtesy. Just pu shing, rude interruptions and the whole crowd pushing papers and passports toward the window while grumpy man somehow managed to ignore the chaos while banging on his analog typewriter slowly one finger at a time. When he finally took my passport and carnet for my bike I was told to come back in an hour. That’s when I ran into a Portuguese man and his wife. He was wearing a BMW riding jacket so the story telling commenced. Seems his bike was stuck in customs here in Egypt since arriving yesterday. The Egyptian customs wouldn’t let him bring the bike into the country because he didn’t have a carnet. Seems there was no way around not having a carnet. He was buying another ticket to return back to Aqaba and look at alternatives for heading back to Portugal. Sad.

I paid $70 for passage to Jordan and for Doc it cost me another $40 — using only US currency and none with small heads. Then I through myself into the ring.

I’ll try to do my best to keep this short, but you should know that getting cleared out of Egypt took me ten hours from the time I entered the ticket office to the time I boarded the ferry.

About six uniformed police, most with weapons watch the gate at the entrance to the port. There are several boats that use this port, some commercial and the fast ferries. I checked in at the gate and my details were logged into a large ledger book while in a small cubicle of an office a plain clothes security type made some scribbles on the back of my carnet de passage, then he told me to head to another building and look for Ahmed who would help guide me through the process.

In his late fifties with a crisp white uniform, polished shoes, a friendly face with the texture of fine sandpaper, soft eyes set in deep dark cups and a mop of thick black hair that seemed to flare at 45 degrees from under the weight of his hat, he directed me to a hut on the other side of the port where I got photo copies of my passport and carnet and was instructed to buy a file folder — all for 15 Egyptian pounds. Then he hijacked the vehicle of two Jordanian travelers in a station wagon, held the door open and pushed me inside advising me to go with them. Neither spoke English but somehow we managed to navigate the maze of the Nuweiba port. If all the running around here had to be done entirely by walking it’d add an hour or more to the ordeal.

Passing lines of people with strapped boxes, corrugated bags, push carts full of stuff, a group of Arabs with a large screen TV and people with baskets of food, sacks of sugar and rice. Everyone had just debarked The Princess and were angling to get into Egypt through customs and immigration. We’d driven to the wrong building. No fear, at another building where outside cars and trucks lined up in the parking lot while pedestrians pushed carts of stuff all trying to to get cleared so they could board the 2pm ferry to Aqaba — the one I was anxiously looking to get on. I still had two hours before departure.

We climbed some stairs and into another room where men were smoking, drinking tea and huddled around an ink pad and old typewriter. I had no idea why I was here, but the guy asked me for 15 Egyptian pounds and then handed me another flimsy tab-less file folder with a bad imprint of some Arabic form. Back in the car we drive some 300 meters back to an office adjacent to the photo copy hut where two men sitting at old metal desks. One reviews my folders and scribble my name on one, initials some papers before shoving into one of my new folders and hands t to the other guy. He reviews the folders and contents, scribbles something on the papers and hands it all back to me.

Okay. So now I’ve got my folders with lots of initials and a few papers — yet nothing was rubber stamped. Amazing. What do I do now?

I’m guided by my crisp uniformed assigned tourist cop to the building not far from where I had purchased my file folder. This time I had to walk. All the while my motorcycle is sitting in front of the photocopy hut and I’m schlepping my folder in this hot jacket and barely comfortable motorcycle boots. How I wish I was wearing a t-shirt, shorts and my Keen sandals. At this new building I pay 21 Egyptian Pounds for two receipts and a piece of carbon paper. I’m then told to remove the license plates from my bike and return them to another office in another building. When I do I’m given a small strip of coated blank paper and asked to pay another 1.50 Egyptian Pounds.

My jolly uniformed tourist copy tells me to bring the motorcycle to the parking lot where I’d seen all the other cars and trucks parked earlier. I’m asked to wait while every one of the dozen or so cars parked are awaiting inspection by the police and verification of chassis numbers by the engineer. After about 30 minutes of waiting the engineer grabs the blank coated paper and searches for my chassis number. I’ve been through this a month before at the High Dam in Aswan where an imprint of my VIN# was made. The first impression failed, so he tried again. The numbers were hard to read but eventually it was cleared and initialed.

Then in the chaos of getting the imprint something happened to the plastic laminated card that I originally received in Aswan and is mandatory to return prior to leaving Nuweiba. I had handed it with all my documents to my uniformed tourist copy. When I returned to go to yet another office he couldn’t find it and insisted I had it. No way. We run to three of the offices I’d been to previous looking for this document. I think he dropped it in the parking lot while aiding in an inspection of a Mercedes while I the engineer was getting the imprint. It’s about business card sized and was in one of the folders he was holding. We spent 30 minutes looking for the card.

That’s when my cop told me I wouldn’t make the 2pm boat. What? I’ve been running around here, there and everywhere in this port and I can’t make the boat. “No. Everything close now,” he says while several buddies in like uniforms congregate around my bike. “We go to Mosque,” explaining it was prayer time and that all activity in the port ceases for about an hour, “we finish later.” I’m confused. There’s nothing I can do as I watch the boat pull out of the port while they strip the ties from their uniforms, remove hats and head toward the tall minaret towering high above the port.

I’m hot, hungry and frustrated. So I head toward the exit of the port where just across the street outside I’d seen a few kebab eateries. They’ll pray. I go to lunch. But it’s not that easy. The first gatekeeper won’t let me out of the port. “But my passport hasn’t been stamped, I’m still in Egypt,” I explain the truth and that immigration hadn’t put the important exit stamp in my passport. This didn’t matter. I escalate to another cop. Then to a plainclothes version. All reject my desire to exit the port. “Not possible.” While I relentlessly plea and try to reason, I recognize the cop I’d seen the night before when I rolled into town. He walks over and like old friends we shake hands, shoulder hug and talk about the motorcycle. After some talking and explaining I agree to jet across the street and be back in the port in 15 minutes. They let me go. Friends matter, I guess, it’s who you know!

Nobody seemed to be working in the kebab places. One with rotisserie chicken and a television playing a broadcast of the prayer session with cheesy superimpositions of the mosque, town streets and prayer leader as he sang from the Koran had a few people seated. I bought some chicken, flat bread, rice, veggies and headed back to the port while prayers blared from the speakers.

Part II: Getting Out of Egypt By Playing Document Roulette.
My cop returns and asks about my plastic ID card. “You have it,” I explain. Defensive and resistant he denies every taking possession. I don’t need tarot cards to see where this is going. Innocently I suggest we retrace his steps. The parking lot where inspections and chassis number verification are handled is empty save my lone motorcycle.

Despair and now showing a bit of sweat on his brow, my tourist cop seems agitated as we head to the Port Office. Here I’m told to write a statement about the missing card. The tourist police then translates this into Arabic. We both sign it. Another copy is handed a large black ledger book filled with tattered and dog-eared pages which we take with the signed letter to the entrance of the port where at the gate a police officer jots more info into the ledger. It’s then taken to a “Major” who reviews the letter and the ledger book and signs both.

The pace of the tourist cop’s gait has quickened as we head back to the Port Office where I’m offered a plate of food and tea and wait until the group in the 10×10 room finish lunch. Without a chair I decided to sit behind the vacated desk close to the door. As I start to get comfortable fingers are aggressively waived at me “no, no, no.” I guess that was a bad idea.

We must return to the Traffic Police office where I returned my license plates and spend 2.50 Egyptian Pounds and receive in lieu a couple postage like adhesive stamps which we take back to the Port Office and the scene of my no, no, no desk seating incident. The stamps are then affixed to yet another handwritten document which now must be photocopies. We must interrupt a meeting where men in similar white uniforms but with more bars and metals affixed and get two of these officers to sign the new document. As he’s signing the man with the salt and pepper hair, modern wire framed eyeglasses and an angular face looks up at me with a friendly smile and finishes signing. We take this letter back upstairs to the same room where I tried to hijack the desk and chair and get one more signature. This is definitely a case of document roulette and I’m wondering when someone is going to refuse to sign. Or is this why all these cops are there? It’s the signature battalion.

We return to the Traffic Police office for yet another signature before walking back to the entrance of the Port where the customs officials read the letter, handwritten document and my carnet which they finally initial and stamp. I must take the signed carnet and my ferry ticket and get these stamped and signed. It’s funny because all of this business at the Traffic Police is design inside the office behind windows where dozens of Egyptians are angling to get documents signed, stamped and who knows what else. I can’t imagine the stuff these people must deal with on a daily basis living in Egypt with all this bureaucracy.

With the bike cleared I’ve got one more task. Or so I think. I head to the immigration office where nearly 100 people are fighting and crowding three lines to get passport exit stamps. It’s madness as these people who seemingly and frankly, obviously, have no manners, courtesy or decorum blatantly cut in front of elderly female tourists, their own neighbors and make a made dash that would make an Olympic coach happy. As two cut in front of me, I commented that I was here first. This was shrugged off but one very tall man pulled me into the line where my face was pressed against his chest from the weight of everyone pushing behind me. Ahhhh. This is the Egypt I remember from the LAST ferry I debarked in Aswan nearly a month earlier.

It took nearly 40 minutes but I got stamped. While everyone in that line had to wait for a dilapidated transit bus to take them toward the loading area next to the ferry, I simply rode Doc to the base of the loading ramp of the boat until I was asked to move. Made sense. Because after the ramp was lowered the stream of loaded up vehicles and busses exited. I couldn’t believe how many cars fit into the belly of this ship. While waiting another uniformed man asked me if I had my ticket stamped. “Of course,” I told him, “I’ve got a whole collection of stamps!”

Well, I was wrong. I still needed one more stamp and signature. So I had to ride to a tiny phone booth sized office a scant 100 meters away from the boat where a man in a different color uniform reviewed my ticket and inked up his rubber stamp and firmly planted on the ticket. Thank god.

At just a few minutes before 7pm I rode Doc onto the Ferry and headed across the Gulf of Aqaba to Jordan.

My plight wasn’t over yet. A larger ferry was docked in the proper slip where The Princess could lower her ramp and unload the vehicles in her belly. Instead, we docked with the starboard side of the boat to the dock and all pedestrians were unloaded. All of us with vehicles would have to wait. Even after the other ship left we weren’t able to dock The Princess where her ramp could be lowered. Why? The wind and the current in the Gulf made it impossible.

Three hours later the sea calmed and I was able to unload doc and start the Jordanian customs and immigrations procedure.

Things go a lot smoother in Jordan than Egypt. But I was challenged with something I hadn’t prepared for: money. To get Doc cleared for passage on the roads of Jordan I had to buy insurance. Plus, I had to pay a nominal customs fee. I had enough to pay for the insurance, but was surprised that I still needed to pay customs. No worries, I could possibly change money or use and ATM? Not quite. It was well past midnight by the time I started my clearing process. And all of the money changers in the port were closed. I was told to wait for one to return, but after 45 minutes I abandoned this effort and searched for someone willing to change money in the port.

This plot was foiled as my collection of currency at this point was less than desirable. I pleaded with the guy I bought the insurance from and he agreed to change the small amount of money I needed — about eight dollars worth of Jordanian Dinar. In the end I was short about fifty cents and the customs officers wouldn’t let me slide. Once again my insurance buddy helped and paid the difference.

It was pushing 2am and I asked for directions into town. Insurance man offered to go with me if I’d wait until he closed up. Great. So my documents were reviewed at the gate of the Port of Aqaba and I was free and now in Jordan. Insurance man walked behind and I wondered where he parked his car. Oooops. Not quite. When he said he’d go with me he meant he wanted a ride with me.

I pulled my Camelback pack off the seat and onto his back and we rode into Aqaba. I found an ATM and hotel. Head on the pillow: 3:30am local time.

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It was too much food but as the only guest at Casa del Mare in Nuweiba, Egypt Sinai I was treated fantastically and fed well. Highly recommended and very reasonable.

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The Ferry Ticket Office before the chaos.

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I was assigned a Tourist Police Officer to help guide me through the red tape and file folder madness of customs procedures at the Port of Nuweiba.

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The Port was crammed with people coming and going with lots of stuff.

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Everyone seemed to be running somewhere. People looking to enter others hoping to leave. All in a day’s activity at the Port of Nuweiba.

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I visited the Traffic Police Office a half-dozen times including once to return my Egyptian License Plates. I always got to go in the back door and avoid the lines.

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This office was responsible for reviewing documents that another office signed to verify that ….

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The engineer made an etching or imprint of my VIN# which would need to be presented elsewhere for verification. Other vehicles had to be emptied and inspected. They used a mirror on wheels to look underneath the vehicles. I guess they’re looking for explosives as well as contraband.

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I had to present a paper that the engineer had etched my VIN# in order to verify the vehicle on the carnet was the same I was leaving Egypt with.

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I should’ve been on this boat.
Unfortunately with all the chaos and the case of a missing registration card, I missed the 2pm departure to Aqaba in Jordan.

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It was disappointing for me to see this backpacker showing a bit of disrespect. I was called by the Port Police before I could tell him that he had sewn our flag on his back-pack upside down. Couldn’t find him on the boat either.

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The ferry seemed to discharge an infinite number of passengers and vehicles while I waited to board.

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Some people are very creative in their loading techniques.

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Loading and Locking Doc onto The Princess. Phew…..

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This Ferry is quite the contrast form the one I took from Sudan.

Welcome to Jordan.

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