Welcome to my new blog Cork to Cape - the second leg of my round the world motorcycle adventure. As some of you know my first trip took me down through Central and South America on the back of a BMW R1100GS. This trip will take me from Ireland to South Africa on an F800GS. My goal is to take my time, enjoy the ride, meet new people and volunteer along the way. I welcome everyone to view and enjoy the blog, add comments and give me any advice on special places to see or people to meet. And, of course, if anyone wants to join me for a section of the journey or if there is a place you always wanted to visit, please come along.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Out of Africa

Day 205

Mileage 19,557 (31,291km)

Negev Desert
With every door that closes, another one opens. Yesterday we spent an entire day trying to gain access to Egypt without success and today we are back in Israel. With our progress currently suspended we are now searching for that open door. Denial of entry into Egypt, the gateway to Africa, puts a significant roadblock in our way but we are both confident it will only be a temporary upset. We knew we would be entering unfamiliar territory and had been adequately warned about potential problems but the obstinacy of the border officials on the Egyptian frontier felt like too much too soon. The legacy of British imperial bureaucracy has been embraced and taken to a whole new level by the Egyptian authorities. After a long, hot day of waiting, watching  and being watched we ended up back where we started with nothing to show for our efforts. Where we go from here remains a mystery but if we knew the outcome of everything it wouldn’t be much of an adventure. It has been a very full couple of weeks since we landed in Israel, for a relatively small country there is much to see and do and the welcome we have received has overwhelming.
Jerusalem at night

After our slow voyage across the Mediterranean onboard the Alios container ship we arrived early in Haifa, rested but eager to get back on our bikes. Once the boat had docked a group of security officials came onboard to begin the slow process of clearing us through customs and immigration. They quickly established our intentions and we were allowed to take our bikes off the boat so they could be thoroughly inspected. An immigration officer met us as we cleared the loading ramp and issued a special entry stamp which attaches separately to our passports and is removable upon exit, proof of entry into Israel can create problems when applying for visas to enter other countries. Once off the boat we continued the security checks, removing articles from the bikes to be x-rayed and inspected, as soon as we had satisfied the security personnel that we were harmless we were led to a bonded parking area where we had to store the bikes until we completed the rest of our paperwork. In order to obtain a temporary importation permit the bikes needed to be insured so we were allowed to exit the port on foot in order to visit a nearby insurance broker. Fortunately, our good friend Shalom had agreed to meet us and his help proved invaluable. 

Western Wall, Jerusalem

With what we thought was the necessary documentation we returned to the bonded parking area and asked for our bikes only to be informed that we still had more to do. Unfortunately the parking area and the clearance offices are some distance from each other so each time we had to walk from one to the other it added another half hour to the whole process. As the day wore on and we jumped through the required hoops it felt as though we may not get our bikes cleared until the following day. Thankfully, the last person we had to satisfy was willing to stay late just to release the bikes and as we made our way to the last security check point we breathed a sigh of relief. By now it was dark and we had been at the port all day, Shalom had patiently waited outside, unable to enter the restricted area, and without a phone we were unable to keep him informed as to our situation. At the final check point an impossibly young guard noticed a missing digit on the vehicle identification number of Beth’s importation papers and she had to turn back to have it rectified, luckily the customs office was still open and after the problem was resolved we were allowed to leave. 

Old stuff
It was a relief to leave Haifa and we were soon on the road to Tel Aviv stopping there briefly to snack on some tasty falafel. By the time we reached the Negev desert, our destination for the evening, it was 2am and after a few shots of the local beverage, Arak, it was off to bed. We slept well into the following morning before beginning our first excursion into the region and we soon found ourselves off road enjoying some challenging riding conditions. 

Over the next two weeks, using the tiny settlement of Ashalim as a base, we explored much of this diverse country, from the fertile forests of the north to the barren deserts of the south, from the Dead Sea in the east to the golden beaches of Tel Aviv in the west. Our friend, Shalom, rode with us taking us to some of the less visited parts of the country. An invitation to join a group of local riders saw us riding along the normally closed Sinai border road, a deserted stretch of twisting highway bordering Egypt. We wild camped on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, crossed the Jordan River, wandered the ancient markets of Jerusalem and had our efforts to swim in the Dead Sea thwarted by its unnatural buoyancy. With the clock ticking on our temporary importation documents we knew we could afford little time to relax and with a couple of days to spare we turned south to make our first attempt at crossing into Egypt.

Beth, ready to drive about a bit

After a particularly rough off road ride through the Makhtesh Ramon crater Beth’s bike had developed a worrying electrical problem, occasionally at high speed her engine would briefly cut out. When we arrived in the coastal city of Eilat on the Red Sea it became apparent we would have do diagnose and treat the problem before venturing into the Sinai desert. Again Shalom’s help proved invaluable as he called the mechanics at 2Alex Motors in Tel Aviv and translated the symptoms. Thankfully Beth and I ride almost identical bikes and by interchanging parts we were able to narrow down the cause to a faulty kick stand switch probably damaged by a rock on the rough desert roads. Bypassing the switch solved the problem but only after Beth stripped her bike down to its bare essentials, not once but twice, as Shalom and I stood by and watched. We were both impressed by how fast she completed this on her second attempt but felt she could have been faster still wearing only a bikini. She ignored our advice and continued working through the heat of the day, dusty and sweaty but pleased with her efforts. 

By now we felt as though we were delaying the inevitable and the time had come to say goodbye and enter Africa. On the day of our departure we arose early and packed our bikes expecting never to return. We bade a sad farewell to Shalom who accompanied us to the border and began the crossing procedures. Exiting Israel was relatively painless, after cursory checks of our paperwork and a few brief questions they lifted the barriers and let us through. Two friendly Egyptian security officers asked us a few questions about our intentions and waved us past a large sign listing all the prohibited articles we shouldn’t be carrying. A mixture of fatigue and a mild hangover prevented us from paying too much attention to the sign so when we arrived at the first checkpoint the border guards had a field day going through my belongings. Initially the search was relaxed, as the call to prayer sounded it seemed as though the office was quite understaffed. The guards seemed reluctant to look too closely at Beth’s belonging but as each piece of my gear went through the x-ray machine something caught their eye and I had to empty and explain the contents of each bag. They became rather excited when they found our binoculars, forbidden in the Sinai, and the discovery of a couple of knives in our tool kit had them summoning the entire hierarchy of security officers on duty. Finally a couple of large plain clothes officers approached and casually enquired whether we had any intentions of getting up to mischief while in Egypt. There were long moments of awkward silence when we wondered if this was the cue for offering backsheesh, an informal though widely practiced system of bribery. Eventually a very senior looking official with more stripes, stars and ribbons than we could count inspected us and our impressive arsenal and pointed us towards the customs outpost. 

Contemplating a hair cut

As we rode up to the front door of the customs building a fierce looking thin, old man in a wrinkled yellow shirt pointed us toward a parking space as he glared at our bikes suspiciously. We jumped off the bikes, removed our helmets and gave him a warm smile, hoping to soften his sour mood but he simply barked the word ‘Carnet’ and our spirits fell. The Carnet de Passages en Douane (CpD) can be a traveller’s biggest headache and we had deliberately decided to travel without one after hearing stories from fellow over-landers who had managed without. It is, in essence, a simple guarantee of payment of fees and duties should your vehicle not be re-exported from the country you are entering. It is required for taking a vehicle into a significant but diminishing number of countries around the world and it can be prohibitively expensive. Egypt requires a refundable deposit of 800% of the value of the vehicle, a more affordable option is to purchase an insurance policy which can run into the thousands especially when Egypt is included. It is valid for only one year and often serves to restrict travel rather than enable it. We had visited several online forums and heard of cheaper options being available at some border crossings so we decided to try first and buy one only if necessary. The customs officer lead us into his smokey office and sat behind his suspiciously empty desk. We told him we were traveling without a Carnet and he rummaged through a pile of dusty folders on the floor, opening one and leafing through a random selection of paperwork before discarding the folder and choosing another. As he held up and examined the documents inside, each one in a different language, he finally found what he was looking for, he placed it on the desk where we could see it, tapping it with his finger repeating the word “Carnet” with increasing impatience. We repeated “No carnet” and enquired about alternatives to which he replied “No Carnet, no Egypt”. Again, there followed the awkward silence as he glared at us waiting for our response, perhaps backsheesh would have helped our cause but we didn’t offer so he walked us briskly from the building repeating his words “No Carnet, no Egypt”. 

More scenery
As we turned to leave we enquired about buying one locally at which point he informed us we could buy one in Nuweibaa, sixty kilometers down the road, when we offered to drive there to pick one up he told us we would have to go back through Israel and on to Jordan before catching a slow ferry back to Egypt and into Nuweibaa. And so it goes. We are back in Israel planning to do just that. Information is vague as to how accurate the customs official’s information is and only time will tell. We will try to pursue this option and if that fails we may have to by-pass Egypt altogether. It is sad that alternatives exist to this archaic system but some countries are slow to adopt them. The money we will spend on the Carnet would have been better spent supporting local businesses and not these fat cat insurance thieves. Many more over-landers would consider the African route if it were not for Egypt’s insistence on maintaining the status quo. 
Our new lifelong best friend 'Whateverhisnamewas'

1 comment:

Coffee gal said...

Happy belated Thanksgiving. Sorry I keep missing your calls when I am working at cafe!!! Finally figured out who the Palmdale calls are from!!!!! Hope you manage to find your way into Egypt, waiting with anticipation. Take care, love you! Smurf