When Your Ship Has Come And You Can’t Get Off – Welcome To Egypt

Another night with no sleep. My roommate slept soundly but I was sweating in my sleeping bag and only tucked my body in there because I just didn’t like what was crawling around the place. I eventually gave up and just lied on the thing until I heard screaming children. I got up to do the usual morning business in the scary bathroom opting against the shower, though I really wanted one.

When I got back to my room my roommate was praying. Wishing not to bother him doing the ritual that is required for devout Muslims, I left my gear with the owner and walked to the train station where a gathering of people were waiting for someone to open the door of the railway car. The first car was quickly loaded but no motorcycle. Hmmm. I was getting worried. Then the second car. After more than half the stuff was unloaded I saw dock sitting there, dusty, dirty and looking lonely. When it came time to unload the beast it was evident they’d done this before. They had a secure ramp and we quickly wheeled Doc down and I headed back to the hotel.


Rail yard in Wadi Half, Sudan. Upper left are cargo cars that sat locked all night.

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Doc managed okay but if you click the photo on the right you’ll note that the fibrous material in the sack you see on the left is much lighter than air and creates a neat effect.


Outside Mazar’s office waiting for news on my ferry ticket.


Sudanese beauty in the always colorful clothing.


Even in Wadi Halfa there are no shortage of smiles.


Sitting on the edge of the largest man made lake in the world. Lake Nassar which was created by the High Dam in Aswan Egypt.


The colorful Sudanese women walk with their thermos of hot water and tea.


Getting ready to ride the ramp to the Ferry that will take me and Doc to Aswan in Egypt.


All systems go.


Up the first ramp only to wait. This ferry never leaves on time.


On the boat but my bike isn’t.

If you’ve been following the details of my journey through Ethiopia and Sudan, you know that dealing with Sudan in terms of getting a Visa, the requirement and cost to register with the police and the push they gave me to get out of the country in a week or less. Egypt, I’ve been told, is the most bureaucratic country I’d likely deal with. While Libya has it’s uniqueness, nothing can match Egypt. I checked in with Moez’s brother Mazar whose office was a few hundred feet from the bed in which I slept last night. Moez had arranged with him nearly a week ago to secure me a reservation in a first class cabin and space for my motorcycle. And this ferry that leaves only once a week is the sole and only way to get into Egypt from northern Sudan. If you’re not on that ferry you’re relegated to a week in Wadi Halfa, and while it’s picturesque enough thanks to the colorful people to hold my attention a few hours while Mazar coordinates with immigration and customs, I can’t imagine staying here another day. It’s hot, dusty and there is nothing of interest other than the sweet people — and the donkeys, of course.

After some confusion and waiting in Mazar’s office, his assistant shows up and tells me that I should head to the ferry landing/port. I ride the short distance to the ship only to get shut out by the guards. Seems I have to have a ticket in order to bring the bike in. More confusion but I finally am admitted and that’s when Mazar tells me that there’s been a problem with my first class cabin. Seems that my ticket was unavailable. I expressed concern because I had many loose items on my bike that I wanted to secure behind locked doors. Only those cabins have this ability. Another rider who took this ship a year ago was ripped off. There was another option that a couple guys from the U.K. took advantage. You see this is a passenger ferry – there’s no room for vehicles. My bike would simply get loaded in through the main door and stored in a small space near the stares that lead to the 2nd level and then to the open air 3rd level.

The British chaps were traveling by Land Rover. All vehicles are loaded on an independent “barge” which leaves Wadi Halfa 8-12 hours later. The British guys decided to just stay with their vehicle and ride on the barge — which technically isn’t allowed but Mazar had made arrangements. I could’ve put my bike on the barge and set up camp there. But I was hoping to land in Aswan and start the laborious process of getting my bike legally imported (temporarily) into Egypt. The ferry is supposed to leave at 1pm on Wednesday and arrive sometime Thursday morning. In the Arabic world weekends are Friday and Saturday — everything shuts down. So I was idealistic in hoping that we’d land early, I’d get things sorted out and possibly have my bike ready to roll on Thursday afternoon.

So now it looks like I was relegated to 2nd class, which was simply the 2nd level sweat box with bench seats and little ventilation in close proximity to a highly aromatic head. It took an hour to clear the bike and clear my visa and get my passport stamped. Then I rode my bike onto the dock and parked it outside the ships door where I was told to wait. And i waited. 1pm came and went. And I was still sitting on the dock. After about another 5 carloads of passengers and very voluminous “stuff” I was given the okay to ride the bike onto the ferry and tuck it into a little cubby. I put it up on the center stand and secured it with some tie-downs. Mazar told me not to worry as when the ferry landed in Aswan, Egypt my bike would be the first thing unloaded. So maybe there’s some justice to all this waiting and cramped conditions. And I’d be able to start working on the Egyptian process of importation that much earlier.

Mazar feeling bad that my faded dream of a cabin with a bed and a lock on the door faded like the paint on the of this ferry walked me to the ships control tower to meet the captain and a few other notable “VIPs”. With some deliberation I was given authorization to store my bags in the captains quarters for the duration of the trip. Then I thought where would I sit? Where would I sleep? Hell. Sleep is overrated. I haven’t slept the past three nights, why start now?

Faces from the ferry and the last Sudan sunset.

I spotted my cabin mate friends from the train. They’d secured a small piece of the ships upper outside deck, so I plopped my backpack, sleeping bag and mattress. Checking on my bike I was a bit ruffled to find two elderly woman had set up a mini-mall around my bike. Someone had put something on the seat which I quickly liberated and returned to its owner. With the help of another English speaker, I asked the ladies to keep off and keep and eye on my motorcycle and bought a little snack for the favor. Soon others were trying to secure boxes and bulging sacks on and around the bike. I had to sit on the steps and watch for an hour or more as they were still loading the ship.


The deck looks pretty spacious a couple hours before departure. Things changed by nightfall.

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Prayer time on the upper deck.

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Starting to pack them in. Again, we’re smiling!

We didn’t set sail until after 3pm. Just around sunset over the loudspeakers of the ship they started the Muslim prayer session. Dozens of men on their hands and needs bowed in the direction of Mecca while the prayer leader sang over the ships speakers. The sunset over Lake Nassar was spectacular. At night every inch of space on the upper deck and in the filthy second class cabin below was taken. While hot during the day, the night on the water and curled up on that deck as the wind whipped ferociously and cold. I had a very decent backpacker air mattress and my warm sleeping bag. Others had only the clothes they wore or very light sarong type material. As the night lagged on the area around me shrunk as bodies were lying on top of each other often on top of me. I’d roll over. Then get pushed. So I pushed back. In the middle of the night one guy probably looking to take a piss stepped right on my stomach. He couldn’t see me, but that didn’t matter. I screamed a gurgling yelp to let him know my disappointment. Even so, I think I had the most comfortable sleep of what turned out to be a cold and windy night.

I woke up for sun rise and for the next several hours simply jotted in my journal while checking in on Doc. As the First Cataract at the High Dam of the Nile River appeared on the horizons my friends were gleeful and eager to show me the first signs of modern Egyptian civilization.

Lake Nassar, created by the construction of the High Dam at Aswan, and at about 300 miles long and nearly 10 miles wide at its widest point it’s the largest man made lake in the world, Built in the 1960’s under the direction of then Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nassar, creation of the lake displaced more than 100,000 Nubian inhabitants, most of whom lived there for multiple generations. Even more, it flooded a number of important ancient historical sites including Abu Simbel,a monument that competes in grandeur with the tombs of Valley of the Kings and even the Great Sphinx of Giza. The notion of losing such symbols spawned an unprecedented international rescue effort to save and relocate these legendary monuments.

As we approached the port at Aswan we idled on the lake until a boat carrying Egyptian immigration authorities could board the boat and begin the immigration process. Upon review of the passenger list the boat docked at a little before noon. But that’s all we did. Dock. About 45 minutes later I entered the galley and dining room where the Egyptian officials were set up in a temporary office. Then everyone on the boat crammed into the stairs, the landing pads and the deck lining up to get cleared into Egypt. When it appeared that everyone had cleared and a few officials debarked the ship, other officials blocked the exit door. Seems we were in a stale mate.

There was no communication, only a crammed stairway, hallway and hundreds of people pushing me and doc. I was tired of the physical contact. So I mounted the motorcycle and sat and watched. This gave me a birds eye view of the heads of people packed up against the exit door. An hour passed. Then two. I spotted a few new friends and asked for info but was answered with just shrugs. Then I thought, this is crazy. We sat on the lake for an hour now we’ve been sitting at the Doc for two hours. “Let’s Go!” I yelled capturing the attention of nearly everyone sharing our tight quarters including the three Egyptian officials, though I’m sure only a handful of them could understand me. I started clapping my hands and was acknowledged by the raising of a couple dozen hands clapping as well.

The mini-mall set up by these women around Doc. Later product and sacks and luggage would be packed all around the bike – and these women.
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We’re docked but we can’t get off.
This crowd in front of my bike and on the staris to the left crammed in this small space for three hours or more. I eventually was given the go ahead to wait outside while my bike waited for me inside.

There was no place to move. I sat on Doc while the women who’d set up their mini-mall were pressed up against the bike. Often someone would squeeze down the stairway trying to make it to the landing. But for what? I’m not sure. The crowd simply grew denser as the hours clicked by.

“Come on! Let’s go!!” I tried the tactic again. And to my chagrin my cabin mates were now in attendance and began mimicking me, “Let’s Go!” they’d repeat. Hearing this and catching eye contact Is simply raised the euphemistic question, “Atbara?” and was returned with much laughter and smiles. After creating enough noise and confusion amongst all in attendance the chief official with the most medals, pins and bars on his uniform motioned for me to come. Okay, I thought, now I’m going to Egyptian jail.

I squeezed myself through the mass of humanity stacked against the door until I go to the officer. He asked me to step outside then pointed to a bench just outside the ship. More guards stood by the opening of chain link fence. On the bench was a german backpacker I’d met the day before on the ships deck. The official said here, he speak English you talk. I guess this was the best way to shut me up and to stop shouting things in English: let me off the ship and next to another “gringo”. Though off the ship, it was clear no one could leave the custody of these Egyptian officials.

Another hour passed. It was 5:00pm we’d been docked for four hours and everyone was still standing and waiting. No one knew why. No one could tell us anything. One more faded dream for worldrider, too. There was no way my bike would be released today, tomorrow, the next day or even on Sunday or Monday as these were holidays in Egypt. Seems they have quite a bit of them, too.

Finally about 6pm the boat was released. No reason. No words. No comment. Half-hour later I rolled doc off the ship only to find the battery was dead. I enlisted a porter to watch my bags while some ship-hands to help me push start Doc. It took a couple attempts and got the bike started. It ran real rough and was vocalizing its discontent with a boat ride. Sadly I could only ride the bike into the customs office where it would need to sit for no less than four days until the insurance office opened, the traffic police office opened and the inspection facility opened.

I was in for more wasted days. I grabbed a mini-bus into town and found a place with a view of the Nile and the coldest beer in town. I’d worked hard for that beer. And though I needed a shower, shave and much more, the beer and a comfortable seat was my best medicine.

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Welcome to Egypt.

7 replies
  1. john cross
    john cross says:

    Hello Allan, @ long last re-found your amazing website.All I can say WELL DONE not only on your WORLD RIDE but in the detail & quality of the adventure presentations.I first met you @ the Funery Temple of Ramses 2 [1 of my heroes],you were so interested as I pointed out various features,we then had quite & discussion on you finding out this was my third visit to Egypt & I had also been to Syria Jordan. Low & behold when returning to our hotel @ El Ghazira – Luxor[The AMON]to sit & relax in that lovely garden you turned up, unknown we all lived in the same hotel!! I was a very envious man [old?]as you rode away that morning on your way to Cairo & beyond. Again well done on your safe completion & return to base – whats next??, as us mere mortals need people like you to do it for us. Regards john [braveheart45]
    PS. If I may – a mere detail in the scheme of things, the photo of you leaving the Amon Hotel – Ahmed is the boss – the one in the Galabiya,he is very proud of his hotel & his driving [past taxi owner]he will take one to some of the remote tombs in his car, but as you explain one has to suffer visiting the alabaster factory or other, his special friend thus one gets a ‘special deal’

  2. WorldRider
    WorldRider says:

    John Cross –
    Thank you for your note hear and apologies for not writing sooner. I very well remember you and your depth of knowledge and giving me greater understanding of many of those tombs and temples an architectural wonders in the Valleys of Queens, Kings and Pharohs… I remember the women with you and hope you had a great journey. I continued, as you know, and took your recommendations and must say my journey through Syria was impacted so much by your notes.
    Next? I’m writing a couple books, and then it’s onward, I hope to Iran, Pakistan and India…
    and you???

  3. WorldRider
    WorldRider says:

    Ferdi!!! And gang.
    Hey guys…
    so sorry for the delay in response to your post on my website. yes. you are absolutely correct. And I apologize and have make this correction via a copy of this email on my website. But do send me a couple photographs. As I will post as well with your permission… you obviously made it. and I’m curious as to the experience through the Nubian? For me, alone, as you know, it was a pending disaster. I wish I found north bounders whom I coulda rode behind and followed. Instead, I was stuck in that train. But what an experience that I’d never trade.
    And how are you guys?
    A good friend of mine is gearing up to head north from Joburg… his website: https://www.motogypsybiker.com my friend Ronnie whom I rode with in Botswana and Tanzania…
    What’s next for you guys?
    Do write and if you make it to the states, ring me!


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