Travelers Memories

Egypt : Crossing the Sinai, May 1997

The food was horrible! The movie - terrible!
And, my god, what a bumpy ride!!
Does this sound like a trip you've taken recently? Me too. But I was in a bus...

across the Egyptian desert!

Author: Jodi Berman

After almost 10 years living the Yuppie life in New York City, Jodi Berman chucked it all and fulfilled a dream. She spent 14 months traveling the world. She visited 26 countries over 4 continents. She now resides in New Jersey (after all that, this is where she chooses to live!) and writes about her journeys.

Travel essentials:-
based on secondary research collected from the internet
by Andrea.


Egypt Links on the Internet:
Lonely Planet:
http://www.lonelyplanet.com
Check out Thorntree section Middle East for latest info from travellers.
Egypt links:
Tour Egypt
http://interoz.com/egypt/
Official site of Ministry of Tourism
Arab Net
http://www.arab.net/links/
-Background info on Egypt and an extensive links page.
Hurghada On line/ Hurghada.com
http://www.hurghada.com/
Has transport plane, bus and ferry schedule/prices from Hurghada to major destinations. Diving info.
Red sea Guide:
http://www.red-sea.com/
Has bulletin board that seems to have a reasonable number of visitors.
Newsgroups: Rec.travel.africa
Check the Deja News Section as lots of info gets filed here.


Money
Exchange Rate
US$1 =Epound3.39 Bargaining is usual.
Budget
US15+-/day
Accom$3-8
Sight entrance fees are high - eg entry to Tombs in Luxor can cost up to US$60
ATMS in Cairo, Luxor,
Travellers cheques are widely accepted however reports indicate that Cash is much less hassle.
Cash Advance possible from Banque Misr, and Bank of Egypt.
Visas:
Most nationalities require a visa, issued at Embassies, Consulates (there are Consulates in towns located close to the border (Eilat -Israel, Aquaba - Jordan), or a 2 week visa at the airport.

Climate: Hot & Dry, Winter - Dec to Feb is best time to visit Luxor and Sinai, with temperatures around mid 20's degrees. Summer is very hot .
Safety. Tourists have been targetted for attention by terrorists. Since the death of 67 people in Luxor The government has implemented measures to reduce the possibility of attacks on tourists. This includes military escourt/convoys of buses.
Getting There:
Flights from Europe to Cairo, Luxor, Hurghada Al-Ghardaka) and Sharm El Sheikh
Domestic Flights Prices for foreigners were reduced following the terrorist attack in Luxor.

Getting to Sinai:
from Israel (Eilat)
Take local bus to border walk across, pick up bus for Sinai destinations - Dahab, Nueweba, Sharm el Shiekh
from Jordan (Aquaba) -
Ferry from Aquaba to Nuweiba
from Luxor - to Dahab
1) flight to Sharm El Sheikh, bus to Dahab
2) train to Cairo bus to Sinai 3) Bus to Hurghada - boat to Sharm El Sheikh - bus to Dahab - Hotels & travel agencies can arrange the full journey, (reported price EP120). Cheaper if you do it yourself and pay for buses/ferries separately.

Hurghada to Sharm El Sheikh
Ferries/fishing boats 7hours
The official ferry goes 1-2
times a week, small fishing
boats also run at other times. Schedules change so confirm in Luxor/Dahab etc. before you set out.There are mixed reports about the journey, some enjoy others say it is crowded and bumpy - if you suffer from travel sickness take medication.


Food & Drink
Prices are fixed but will often be written only in Arabic - so learn numbers to avoid being overcharged - a common practice.
aysh (bread) pita
ful Beans, dip style
also base of
felafel deep-fried balls often served stuffed in pitta sandwich style with salad and tahina sauce (sesame seed based)
hummus chickpea plus tahina.
laban yogurt
gibna beida Feta style cheese.
Rice is often mixed with additional ingredients and used as stuffing in a variety of dishes such as:
wara' enab stuffed vine leaves.

torly stew, kebab,
kofta
distinctive long, narrow meatballs
hamaam stuffed pigeon a delicacy
mohamas dried seeds - pumpkin, sunflower, etc, popular snack throughout the Middle East.
Desserts
Fruits are widely available one of the more exotic fruits is tin shawki cactus fruit. Dates and other dried fruits are cheap and delicious.
baklava (filo dough, honey, and nuts);
mahallabiyya Egyptian style rice pudding is popular with tourists and very cheap and filling.The restaurants serving this speciality are very attractive and look clean.
drinking water is reported to be safe in the main cities. Check seals on bottled water.
coffee Lots of coffee houses which serve as popular meeting places for men. Backgammon and smoking shiissha are common activities at these venues.
Tea is served everywhere.
shay bil nana mint tea
sahlab a milky ovaltine type drink. Karkaday - hibiscus based drink, distinctive, bright red colour, served hot or cold.
The usual bottled drinks coke, etc. are widely available.
Alcohol
Though a Muslim country alcohol is widely available. Imported brands are expensive though.
Local beer Stella LE4-5
Local alcohol Zibib


Travel Notes - Egypt
Network Section
Have you any info on travelling in Egypt?
Transport,Email, Exchange, Sights, Hotels, Restaurants, etc
Please email us

I was in Luxor, Egypt visiting the Valley of the Kings and Queens, the Temples of Karnak and Luxor, and cruising the Nile. Now it was time to move on. I planned to meet friends in the famed backpackers village of Dahab on the Sinai peninsula coast. I was getting psyched to experience the world renowned snorkeling and diving of the Red Sea. Actually, after two weeks in the desert, I just wanted to see water!

I had a choice of ways to get there: #1. I could take the train up to Cairo then across the Peninsula, a two day trek. Then I learned a train strike just went into effect. So, that was out. #2. I could fly from Luxor to Sharm El Shek located at the southern tip of the Peninsula. Then, bus up to Dahab. This would take two hours by plane plus another one hour by bus. Total cost could be about US$75. Hmm... Or, option #3: I could take the bus across the desert to the coast town Hurghada and then pick up a ferry to Sharm the next day. This too would take two days but as a backpacker, I couldn't justify spending $75. I was roughing it. I had to do it the real travelers way. So the bus and ferry it would be.

The morning I was to leave, I bought my one way bus ticket to Hurghada. This cost about 15 Egyptian pounds (US$4.50). We left at 11:30 am, just 30 minutes late. Rumors were flying that the bus was oversold because some travelers missed the early morning coach and paid "baksheesh" to the ticket seller to reissue valid tickets. No one wanted to be left behind and a riot seemed to have broken out. Everyone shoved their backpacks in the bays and pushed their way onto the bus to get a seat. Once on, I was impressed with the coach: reclining seats, tray tables, a video monitor, a toilet in the back, and air conditioning! Wow... pure luxury.

I never expected this and the other backpackers who comprised of most of the other passengers, were just as impressed. I settled in. But my bubble burst quickly. My seat didn't recline, my tray table was broken, my seat cushion was slit and its springs were popping out. And who was that Egyptian woman in the fancy Muslim dress walking up and down the aisle shouting orders, telling us where to sit, where to put our bags, and to keep the windows closed because the air-co would be on soon? Who does she think she is? The flight attendant or something? Yup, in fact she was.

Within minutes of pulling out of Luxor we were cruising - 20 KPH and not a snails pace slower. The only thing moving faster was the temperature...up, up, up until the midday heat hit close to 40C. Thank god for the air-co! NOT! That was the first thing to go. So I opened my window. At last, air!! Ahh... and just when I was dozing, a harsh screech from the front of the bus:

"Shut that window. The air conditioning is on!!" barked the Bus Lady.
"Miss, forgive me, but I feel no air and it is boiling back here," I replied.
"If you don't shut the window, you're out!" she yelled.
"Out? Out where? I paid my ticket to Hurghada and that is where I'm going. And I don't intend to sweat my way there."
"If you don't shut that window, you will be out at the next stop!" The Bus Lady screamed as she turned to the driver. She then mumbled something in Arabic and the bus began to slow down. Visions of seeing myself wander the desert for 40 years came to mind. I shut my window and went back to swimming in my seat.

One and a half hours passed and I spent my time enjoying the views of the beautiful desert landscape, herds of wild camels, and the passing of a real nomadic Bedouin settlement. But then we slowed down again as we approached a series of poor villages. Shacks masqueraded as store fronts and homes, donkeys pulled antiquated wood carts, people dumped garbage into open sewage canals, and starving children played on the unpaved roads. The bus came to a stop. We picked up some locals who were surprisingly well dressed important looking gentlemen.

"Where are they to sit?" I said to myself and looked up and down the aisles.

The bus was practically full but the Bus Lady made room. She ordered four Australians to move to the back as the locals took their seats up front. What? But the Aussies knew better than to argue with the Bus Lady. The bus began to roll on; our new passengers rolled up. Within minutes the no smoking sign was hidden behind a cloud of smoke. I began to choke and prayed I wouldn't get sick.

I looked out, gasped for air, prayed for air, and wished I were anywhere else. I saw a highway road sign: 300 Ks to Hurghada... Oh my god! At this rate, we were to arrive... I'd rather not think about it.

20 more kilometers, another hour, we stopped again. We picked up more locals and more backpackers were bumped to the back. Fortunately, I chose a seat in the middle of the bus and I didn't have to move. After the seats were reassigned and everyone seated, we were ready to go. But the bus didn't move. We sat, and sat, and waited, and waited.

"What are we waiting for?" Asked a young British girl to her boyfriend besides her.
"I have no idea." He responded. "But I think I'm getting out to have a fag and a breath of fresh air."
He went and everyone else followed. Outside the heat was incredible, the dust swirled, the villagers stared, and there was no air to breathe.

I had to pee. I figured anywhere was better than on that bus. I went looking and found a tavern. Knowing that I would be the only woman in there, I tried to be inconspicuous. Every one stared and each seemed to have a comment or two to make. I don't speak Arabic, but some things don't need translation. Without saying a word, one man pointed to the rear where the toilet was. I walk to the back and I looked around. What I saw almost made me sick. A clogged hole in the ground with feces ankle high floating around the stall. No way was I going in there! I'd find a bush to hide behind. But this was the desert, there weren't any bushes. I had no choice. Thanking god that I was wearing my "all weather" proof boots, I held my nose and stepped in. Shlosh!!! Shlosh!! I squatted, peed... and almost puked simultaneously.

Back on the bus (I wiped my boots off in the sand before reboarding) and finally we were off. Out of the village and into the desert. And this time we were cruising really fast, too fast. Sure, there was nothing around and no one else on the road, but must this driver floor it at 150Ks? Did he really have to "make up" that much time? And just when I thought things couldn't get worse, the guy sitting to my left casually showed me the headline of the English paper he picked up at the stop: "Bus accident in desert kills 5. Cause is reckless driving." My knuckles were white.

At this point I realized my life was in the bus personnel's hands for another 4 hours. There was nothing to do but try to enjoy the ride. I finished my book, read my neighbor's paper, wrote a few postcards, caught up in my diary. That took 30 minutes. 3 1/2 hours to go... and nothing else to do. I gazed out the window and enjoyed the view. But after awhile the scenic mystical desert became monotonous and boring.

Just in time the Bus Lady reappears. It was time for tea. She began to hand out bags of chips, crackers, biscuits, and hot tea.

Having just finished my mineral water and dying for a refreshing cool drink, I asked: "Do you have bottled water?"
No response. But I quickly figured out it was hot tea or nothing. I chose nothing.
"Is this free?" An American guy asked her.
No response.
He asked again, "How much?" while rubbing two fingers together.
No response.
And then again: "How much? Pay? Free?"
Amazingly, the Bus Lady seemed to have forgotten all of the English she spoke so well just moments ago. She smiled, nodded and waved.
"I guess this stuff is complimentary. Wow, I never expected that," said the man to his wife.
Finally, after serving the entire bus, the Bus Lady came back. So did her English.
"20 pounds," she demanded.
"What!! I'm not paying 20 pounds. Here is 2. That is what this is worth."
"No! Give me 20!" she screamed.
"No way. Take this stuff back!" yelled the Americans.
"No, no. I asked if you want and you took. Now pay me," she sniped.
"Pay you? I asked how much and you ignored me. Now you want 20 pounds for snacks worth 2. Forget it! Take it all back," the American guy said. But the Bus Lady walked away cursing him in Arabic.

Frustrated the American tossed all of the chips, biscuits, and crackers on the floor. Having no choice, the Bus Lady picked up the snacks and gave the treats to the important businessmen in the front. I noticed no money changed hands. That didn't seem to matter as they didn't eat the stuff anyway. They were too busy smoking.

Now that our meal was served, it was time for the entertainment. On went the video and before us was a spinning globe, spinning in the wrong direction. It was a glowing advertisement for the bus company, complete with a proud disclaimer that all their buses are in tip-top condition and fully air conditioned! Must be a different division I thought. Then another commercial. This one was for "Baraka, Egypt's most pure and refreshing bottled water!" Were they torturing us on purpose?

Finally the movie started. It was an American gladiator flick dubbed into Arabic, but I don't think the dialogue mattered. A bad guy kidnapped a good guy's girlfriend. The bad guy threatened the good guy, the good guy paid up. Then... Tom & Jerry!!! Huh? What just happened? Intermission? But before I could blink and figure out the cartoon another bottled water ad intervened. Then, another bus commercial. Finally the movie returned: the girl was rescued, her lover swept her off her feet and took her into his bedroom. They embraced and... Tom & Jerry are set free!!!

I don't think I ever laughed so hard. Now that was pure entertainment. Two hours just whizzed by and I could have watched it again. But I didn't. Somehow I managed to doze off.

I woke some time later and I could see water. Water! Water! We arrived. The bus arrived in Hurghada at 7:30 PM, 3 hours behind schedule. Like the boarding episode, getting off was just as chaotic. "Hotel Hustlers" hawked their accommodations, crowded us in, and took our bags without our knowledge just to get us to go with them. Later I would discovered one of these not-so-noble gentlemen stole my sunglasses from my safari vest.

I went to a hotel where some travelers I met in Luxor were staying. Our Hotel Hustler arranged for us to attend a "real authentic Bedouin dinner show." All we needed to do was to pay him a 20 pound service fee to make the reservation. Later he came with us, drank and ate the most, and smooth talked the guys into paying his share because he was our guide. Huh? As for the reservation fee, that went into his pocket. On our way back to the hotel, the Hotel Hustler jumped out one block before the hotel. We got stiffed for his share of the taxi too.

The next morning everyone was up early to get out and onto the ferry as soon as possible. The day before, our Hotel Hustler took 10 pounds from everyone to coordinate a van to take us to the ferry. All 17 of us loaded into an 11 person van, backpacks on top. Squeezed together like sardines we began our 10K drive. But we stopped.

"Everyone, I need 10 pounds to pay for the shuttle." Said the driver.
" What!?! We paid at the hotel." Everyone seemed to have screamed at once.
"I didn't get get any money. Either you pay up or you miss the boat." The driver demanded.
That was it. I was furious and not about to give this guy any more of my money. "Take us back to the hotel," I demanded. " I'll get you your money."

So back to the hotel we went only to find the Hotel Hustler had disappeared. I carried on like a mad woman and by now the sardines in the van thought I was crazy. After many threats, the Hotel Hustler reappeared and with much chagrin, he turned over the money.

We finally got to the ferry terminal. We paid our 100 pound fare and played the waiting game. Oh no, not again! But we left without a hitch. The skies were clear, the sea calm, the breeze soothing. There was even a decent snack bar on board. We got to Sharm El Shek 8 hours later, passed through customs (since the Sinai Peninsula is a military zone everyone must pass through customs, even when traveling domestically from mainland Egypt) and faced our final hurdle: a taxi to Dahab. The drivers wanted 15 pounds each. No way! That was too much. Many travelers decided to walk to town and take the bus. Town was 10Ks away and I was tired. Forget it. I jumped the taxi.

So 48 hours later, exhausted, hungry, thirsty, and thoroughly fed up with Egyptians who work in the tourist trade, I made it to Dahab. Total cost: US$65.

I should have flown.


Writer's Notes:

Egypt is a fascinating, beautiful, historic, educational, and fun country to visit. But, it can also be a very difficult place to travel as a backpacker due to some of the travel conditions and situations you will confront. If you learn their system and follow a few tips, your time in Egypt will be much more pleasurable. Here are some of my thoughts:

If you decide to do this overland journey, I highly recommend taking the earlier bus. It leaves Luxor at 6 AM and usually arrives on time by noon in Hurghada. The drive is not as hot, makes less stops, is less crowded, and you will have the afternoon to wander around the town or go to the beach which is very nice.

The Red Sea is notoriously unpredictable. I was lucky that the sea was calm. If you get motion sickness easily or if you have a fear of small fishing boats with no life preservers or rafts on board, you might want to reconsider the ferry option.

"Baksheesh" is a way of life in Egypt. Baksheesh is like a tip with extra weight. If you want to get anything done, learn the system quickly. Don't fight it; use it to your advantage. 3.40 Egyptian pounds = US $1.00. Estimate baksheesh at half of what you think is appropriate. Be cheap, don't be suckered to give more.

Beware of the "Hotel Hustlers" not just in Hurghada but throughout Egypt. They are slick. Their favorite line is: "Trust me, I'm your friend." You are forewarned! Stick to your ground and negotiate. Try to avoid these guys at all costs and go directly to the hotels, ticketing offices, restaurants, etc. You will save a lot of time, energy, and money!

Weigh your travel options. Was saving US$10 worth the two day journey and all the anguish? Probably not. Remember, when estimating costs, don't just consider the cost of travel but add in ancillary expenses - food, hotel, "baksheesh," and more importantly your sanity and travel pace. Though I got a great story from this journey, I would never do it again. The time I lost was one less day I could have spent with my friends in Dahab.

Be prepared with lots of water, snacks, a good long book, and a fan. A special reminder: don't forget to bring along your patience and humor.


Watch for Jodi's next story:

"The Sonali Pilgrims, 24 hours on a bus from Nepal to India."

Copyright
Jodi Berman, 1999.

Do you have a travel tip/report/memory you would like to share with everyone?
Are you travelling now or soon and would be prepared to send us 'emails/snail mail'
while you're On The Road?
Please email us:

E-mail to itis@itisnet.com

Travel notes

Travel Reports

Travelers memories

On The Road
Tips, etc.? Been travelling? Travel stories? Heading off?

Back to

Travel Info

Network Index

On The Road

Travelers memories

Back to Top