Erg Murzuq, Libya
This second phase of our project comes along with different challenges: Libya is certainly a different piece of cake when compared to the rather "touristic" Tunisia. We need to have a guide which is a new experience. With 6.000 km this trip was quite long. Instead of just taking the shortest way to Egypt along the Meditereanian coast, we decided to drive a 2.000 km-loop through the heart of the country, exploring the Sahara south of Sabha.
Hotel Mercure El Mechtel (120 TD db room) very OK. Late arrival (0.30)
Hotel Jasmin Camp (see: Germany-Tunisia). Pick up of our Landy: Clearing documents at the customs office with the help of a local agent (10 TD). One hour and we are done. Pick up of the car at the Magasins Generaux: very easy 15 min. The tachometer says, that they moved the car less than 1 km.
Hotel Sidi Slim Camp (see Germany-Tunisia). Undefined noise from the engine when we started in Nabeul.
Hotel Sidi Slim Camp. Inspection of the engine showed that the water pump turbine was out of balance. Decision to look for a garage in Midoune. On the way: complete failure of water pump, fan belt slipped off. This means one day repair: with the help of Abbes who drived us in his car we find a used original part (210 TD) in Houmt Souk. The garage in Midoune can change it quickly (25 TD): hamdullila!
Hotel Sidi Slim Camp. Beach Day, at night: maglite spotting of huge, fat cicada in the camp.
We drive to the Libyan border, where our (two!) guides that we booked in Germany are already waiting with documents and number plates. Right behind the Libyan border we changed the route plan and add a 2.500 km loop through the Libyan desert upon recommendation of our Libyan guide Khaled. So instead of Tripoli, his brother's house was the first stop in Libya.
Madara Desert Camp: very nice camp at the "entry" to the Mandara lakes. Driving day: Our Landy completed his first 100.000 km. A very (!) long day on the excellent Libyan highway.
Mandara Desert Camp
Pure dune driving fun: the entry dunes look like mountains of sand. With deflated tyres (1 bar) climbing up is surprisingly easy. The sand is more compressed and coarse-grained than in Tunisia. The Mandara Lake is dry. Um-el Mar creates a Fata Morgana feeling when you approach it. Don't miss this when coming to Libya!
The "entry" to the Mandara lakes. At first we thought this was a joke, the we had a little panic attack and finally this was pure fun.
Wild camping in the desert. Great day! First driving through the Hamada of Murzuq then crossing Wadi Barjuj to enter the great sand sea of Murzuq near the agro project. Wild dune driving & climbing in the afternoon. BBQ with dromedar meat and campfire with Khaled, Fathi and a friend of Khaled whom we picked up on the way. We spent the night in our sleeping bags under the open sky - lovely. Very early in the morning a sandstorm came up.
Camp at the roadside outside Waddan near police station: very quiet and nice. Driving Day - heading north-east again to the Egyptian border. Stop-over in Sheba to receive the immigration stamp (triangel) in the tourist office.
Camp at the roadside of the inland highway to Tobruk, close to filling station in one of the new built but never inhabited village ruines in the middle of nowhere. All in al another ard driving day.
On the next day we pass the northwest Egyptian border at Soloum not far away from Marsa Matruh.
Hotel Beau Site (65 €/double room, incl. breakfast). Major achievement on this day was crossing the Egyptian border; short stop-over at the French military cemetary. At the end it was really strange to say goodbye to Khaled & Fathi.
Siwa Inn Hotel (nice Hotel with pool at the very South end of Siwa) - Camp in the yard. Cars can not enter the garden - as with all hotels in Siwa! Very friendly french and english speaking manager Mr Amira El-Zayyat. firstname.lastname@example.org, tel: 02-046-4601287 or 02-046-4600405
Long desert strip on excellent highway (300 Km) along military areas and oil rigs. Siwa is bigger as expected, with a fascinating ruin of the old city in the town center. We had a look at multiple places to stay for the night and found the Siwa Inn the best place for a car with roof tent.
Siwa Inn Hotel, Camp in the yard. A day in Siwa: morning completely booked with Egyptian bureaucracy: we want to continue via Bahariya Oasis which means that we need a permit for a 400 km long desert strip. We start in the tourist office where we meet Elke, Jutta, and Anette who also want a permit for saturday. We agree to make up a convoy (Elke will take the mandatory soldier on board). After going through 2 further offices and a multitude of documents, copies and stamps we receive the permit. The afternoon is very nice (bathing in Cleopatra's well, Oracle temple). For the sunset we climb up Gebel Dakrour and share the last glasses of wine.
In the morning we go to Bir Wahed a sea in the desert. Normally you need a permit but since nobody controls this, we decide to avoid the bureaucratic monster and go without. Tour operators in Siwa offer the "heavy duty" desert trip as a day trip with overnight stay in tents. Bir Wahed is indeed much smaller and closer to Siwa than expected. Orientation is no big issue. We continue our trip well behind Bir Wahed but have to return due to increasing winds and difficult orientation. Back via GPS (track back). In the afternoon, bathing at Fatnas Island.
Ahmeds Camp. Originally nice desert camp, Cabins are not very clean, we camp in the yard. Driving day: start early as convoy at the miltary office. In the beginning good road conditions. Several road posts need to be passed (clearing through the soldier in Elke's car). Road conditions get worse and worse. Dunes with deep sand have cover the road and the cars get stuck several times. It takes a lot of sand-digging to move forward. Over huge stretches the tar has completely disappeared and extreme corrugations force us to drive very slowly or try to find a bypass in the sand. In the middle some stretches, where the road has been repaired, but then again... We arrive in the dark. Nice small dinner with "the girls"
Road to Bahariya: not at all funny.
Wild camping in White Desert: African highlight
Spend the morning in Bahariya "city" replenishing our food reserves (very good cookies in the small bakery). Afternoon: offroad through the Black Desert and on the tar road into the White Desert with a short stop-over at Crystal Mountain (quite nice for a pee brake). You cannot miss the entry to the white desert in the late afternoon. About 20 tour operaters carry 4-5 tourists each for an overnight stay in tents. Once driving into the desert the crowd gets diluted. Finally you are all by yourself absolutely lonely in your tent below one of the million limestone "mushrooms". Just around dinner time a sweet desert fox showed up. Then we were alone.....a must-do!!
Salma Camp, Cairo. Located at a stinking and incredibly dirty Nile channel the camp offers a very nice view on the Gizeh pyramids and decent showers at the other end site. We did not find it as dreary as some of our companions and preferred the dusty place at the opposite side of the channel...Last driving day: extremely boring but excellent highway between Bahariya and Cairo. In Cairo we were not able to find Sahara Mar Camp or Pepo Pyramids Camp despite GPS data from our "Reise Knowhow 16th ed. Met Alexandra and Klaus on their way to Kenya and Lionel and Per on their way from Australia to Sweden. Great guys.
Salma Camp. Sakkara Pyramids, first stone buildings of this magnitude and extremely impressive (also because mass tourism prefers Gizeh).
Salma Camp. Gizeh Pyramids, then going downtown Cairo with our Landy
Talisman Hotel, Cairo (80 € for a db room, incl. breakfast). Very good hotel, hard to find in a side street of Talaat Harb in the fifth floor of a french syle building. It was really worth while to circle around Talaat Harb 3 times: it's a prime location and a top hotel. The entire hotel is decorated with Arabian Antiques, high fashion bathroom, WLAN and free internet access in every room.....Spent the day at the car customs; said goodbye to our Landy for the next 6 months
Talisman Hotel. A day in Cairo: Al Azahr Mosque, Public friday prayer at the Hussein Mosque, Khan el Khalili Bazaar, Citadel and Mohammed Ali Mosque. Sunset on a Nile felucca with "the girls" then dinner in an excellent Libanese restaurant (Tabula), close to American Ambassy.
last walk in downtown and Ataba market then taxi to airport
The great Sand Sea of Murzuq
Sand Sea of Murzuqe- walking in the dunes - barbecue and sleeping under the open skies - this is something we will remember
"Salesmen" at Um el Mar
Can we drive this?
Um el Mar - where reality and imagination collide
High noon in Mandara village: how a few raindrops drive an entire village crazy
Preparing the BBQ: Dromedar meat with oodles of garlic.
For people used to travelling alone "guides" are a critical issue. Khaled and Fathi our Libyan guides soon became friends. They made us see and experience things we would not have seen or experienced without them. Guys, if you read this in one of the Internet shops: thank you!
Nothing compares to the dunes in Libya
Egypt: Sunset in the Oasis of Siwa: a glass of red wine on Gebel Dakrour and the world is perfectly OK
In Bahariya Oasis: Lunch is (almost) ready...
Back in Cairo: Pyramids of Sakkara - a place where people started building with stones - while our ancestors in Europe still lived in caves: 4600 years ago.
Almost same time: Pharao Cheops has a lucrative project for the local construction company in Gizeh
The Sphinx in front of the Chefren pyramid
For us a true star of Egypt: the White Desert - try to spend at least one night of your life out there! When it was dark a cute little desert fox showed up.
Breakfast in the White Desert
Salma Camp in Cairo
The organization of the trip through Libya starts with contacting a German agency since a guide is mandatory. We decide to take "Saro" in Rosenheim. Saro contracts a Libyan agency (either "Sari" or "Sea and Desert Travel") who again contract local companies with guides and/or cars. Behind Saro you'll find Mrs. and Mr. Kechicheb - both very nice! Although we contacted Saro quite early the documents arrived only 2 days before our trip - several friendly reminders included. Saro organized a "guide with car" that was supposed to wait for us at the border and lead us along the Mediterranean Sea to the Egyptian border.
For Egypt one needs a Visum, when entering by car. We organized this at the consulate in Frankfurt. More difficult was the question where to park the car. Internet research left us clueless. Finally we contacted the consulate in Alexandria by mail. They gave us the address of a Logistic Company that could do the job for us together with the Egyptian customs
Getting back the car in Tunis: both of us were pretty nervous when we approached the customs office on the morning after our arrival in Tunis. Would our Landy still be there? Would there be any damage to the car, what about the equipment? would the engine start? While walking through the parked cars in the Magasin 6 months after we had dropped our Landy here, we saw that some cars had broken windscreens and/or one or two flat tyres. There he stood - covered with dust, complete and intact: our Landy! 15 min later we left the customs area with a stupid grin on our faces that lasted the entire day: Going South again!
Cairo: Three weeks later we were driving through Cairo, which is a very intimate way of driving (you're getting very close to all of your neighbours). Together with a representative of the Leader Group we finished the documents in the LG office and then drove together to Car Customs at the Cairo Airport. Everything went smooth in the beginning. The representative of LG hired a "helper" at the customs who led us through the process (Egyptian bureaucracy is extreme). Then we ran into a major problem. Upon our entry into Egypt at Marsa Matru "Landrover" was somehow mixed up with "Landcruiser" by the customs officer. Consequently our licence said, it was a Toyota (in Arabian language). Officially we had imported a Toyota! Despite the fact that the mistake was clear to the custom officers in Cairo, there was no way of clearing the documents. After 2 hours (where part of the people was working overtime on a thursday afternoon just for us) the problem was solved: the border officers in Soloum confirmed by fax that our car was indeed a Landrover, not a Toyota: Thank you!!!! The car was finally dropped in the big customs branch in 6th October City on the other side of Cairo. Without this little "extra-problem" the whole process would have been very smooth.
Lybia: Saro in Cooperation with Sea & Desert Tours/Libya
Diesel: appr. 0,07 €/l in Libya and Egypt
Tunisia --> Libya
Libya --> Egypt
If we would do the same trip again, we would go with a slightly different timing. 4 days for Tunisia was OK (we needed the the extra day for the water pump on Djerba). 7 days Libya was actually planned to be comfortable on the coastal route. The inland loop that we added due to the recommendation of our guide added more than 2000 km to the original route plan. Looking back, it would have been OK to spend 10-11 days in Libya as there is so much more to see and do than just driving through. We missed Tripoli and Leptis magna and do not feel bad about it.
Libya was rather expensive due to the unavoidable agency services. What we received in return was incredible. Being together with our two guides Khaled and Fathi was a gift. We are glad that we followed Khaled's recommendation and abandonned the coastal strip in favour of the desert. We really like deserts and the Lybian desert (Mandara, Murzuq) is something very special. Driving through this big country full of rocks and sand is a strong experience. Khaled and Fathi made us understand the problems of a rich country that is populated by very poor people. Strange to see all these new village ruins in the middle of nowhere: errected by the goverment but never inhabited by people because a new house does not help, when it is far away from the next school, a doctor, the family....If we would not follow-up on our project to reach Capetown we would definitely come back. The beauty of the desert is amazing and we regret not having seen the Wau an Namus or the Akakus or....
A terrific country full of controversies. People are extremely nice and helpful - bureaucracy is a monster that lurks behind every corner, just to jump at you and steal away 3-6 hours :-) That's at least how we perceived it. To import an Egyptian car in Germany would be extremely well organized - but would it be possible within 2 hours? The desert is terrific but different than in Tunisia or Libya. The white desert is something we won't forget. Cairo is a very cool places to visit (with the pyramids just being one part of an incredible mix of culture, beauty, dirt, chaos, nice people, cars and animals sharing roads, stink and scent, pollution and luxury). We'll come back in September 2007!