KHARTOUM TO EGYPT - MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

Unfortunately, securing two entry visas for Sudan on one trip and within one week of each other turned out to be too much for us to ask for.  Considering that 25% of our African Routes group were actually not able to secure even one Sudanese visa and that entering Sudan is the main bone of contention for almost every overland traveller attempting a similar route to ours, we should have just accepted that getting the one visa that we did have was enough of an achievement in itself.

Regardless, the timing of the Dubai 7's rugby tournament made it necessary for us to at least attempt to acquire a second entry visa for Sudan if we wanted to attend the rugby and maintain a mission of "completing every inch of our journey over land".

The four of us were successful in entering Sudan on the first occasion by pulling strings in Nairobi and using contacts to push our applications through quickly.  Our plan for the 2nd visa was to fly from Khartoum to Dubai through Addis Ababa with a short layover there that would allow us time to get another visa for Sudan so we could fly back to Khartoum to complete the trip from where we left off.  We had read in one of our guide books that the Sudan Embassy in Addis was one of the few places that could issue visas without referring to Khartoum and could therefore wisk through the formalities in 24 hours.  And, (making our plan potentially even better) during our first visit to Addis we made an acquaintance, named Gabriel, who claimed he had a contact in the Embassy that would help us do just that.

It was a shaky plan, but the only thing we had that could fit our schedule.

The Sudanese Embassy (in any country) is virtually impossible to deal with and it seems they actually consider it their duty to keep people out of Sudan- a real shame considering that the Sudanese people are so friendly and welcoming to visitors.  And, while we will never be 100% sure as to whether it was the Sudanese Embassy, or Gabriel himself, that ended up failing us that day, we are certain Gabriel is a crook because he made off with our visa money - unfortunately another black-mark on our experiences with the Ethiopian people.

So, our allotted time came and went in Addis and we left without any sign of Gabriel or our visas.

As it ended up, we made a priority decision early on in our planning that placed our 3-day Dubai luxury stop over the 50+ hour dust storm pretending to be a train journey from Khartoum to Wadi Halfa.  We knew our plan was full of risk and that getting the second set of visas was pretty unlikely.  So, when it finally came to be that our 2nd trip to Sudan wasn't going to happen, we were prepared for it.  And, while we were definitely all disappointed that our "everything needs to fit exactly into place" plan didn't work out for us, Cathy and Shannon still found it difficult to hide their elation that they wouldn't need to endure the infamous train journey.  We would have to make another plan for getting to Egypt - but not until after our Dubai luxury stop.

Dubai was awesome.  In fact, we spent much of our time at the rugby tournament discussing whether the Dubai 7's may actually be our preferred location (over Hong Kong) for our 7's rugby pilgrimage every 4 years.  Below is a list of some of the key points.

Why Dubai is better:

The Food - not only is the selection of food at the food court in Dubai better, but the quality of food you can get there rivals any high quality fast food restaurant you would find in North America.

The Toilet Facilities - in Hong Kong the elation you feel from successfully negotiating the urine pools that fill up the floor of the crowded toilets as you run the gauntlet between fellow urinators is short lived as you arrive at your allocated half-spot at the "piss-trough" communal urinal only to find that the two people next to you are too inebriated to aim properly.  In Dubai, this is taken care of by an effective queuing system to reach individual urinals separated by side panels AND a dedicated clean-up crew assigned to each toilet area.  Not to mention the best-practice hand washing station equipped complete with hands-free towel dispensers.

The Kid Pen - one of the toughest aspects to deal with at Hong Kong is that the Expats (and their kids) think they run the show; and proceed to take up all the good seats in all the stands outside of the South Stand.  In Dubai, there are so many "kid activity areas" away from the rugby that it is rare to see an Expat Brat anywhere in the stands - the only exception was the kid that chose his spot next to Mike.  The anguish on Mike's face as he held back strangling this young lad was only narrowly overcome by the fact that Mike cherishes the fact that kids are wonderful - when they're your own.

The Atmosphere - while nothing can beat the South Stands in Hong Kong for atmosphere, the beauty part about Dubai was that the entire stadium was full of people excited about the rugby and the international competition.  It is almost like the energy of the South Stands in Hong Kong is spread through out the entire Dubai stands making the tournament feel more like everyone is there together; rather than in Hong Kong where it feels like the people in the South Stands are there on their own and the people in the rest of the stadium are watching them as much as they are the rugby.

Did we mention The Food - in Dubai you can get Pieman's Pantry meat pies, real South African boerewors rolls AND biltong, pizza (from a Pizza Hut type oven), shwarmas, and both Indian and Mexican food to name just some of the options available.  Even the meat pies and fried chicken available in Hong Kong can't even hold a candle to this.

Finally, the Rugby is More Diverse - the Hong Kong tournament is so big that just to finish all of the international games, it takes a full three days to complete.  In Dubai, the facility ran 4 fields simultaneously to allow for other non-international level rugby to go on at the same time.  While the reason we go is to see the international players, it was a welcome surprise for us to watch some invitational teams from high schools, universities and clubs from around the world; rather than the Expat Brat rugby intermissions that we get at Hong Kong that really only appeal to the locals.

Why Hong Kong is better:

The South Stands - as I mentioned, nothing really beats the atmosphere of the South Stands at Hong Kong.  Being part of, or just being a spectator of, the shenanigans that goes on in the South Stands is something we've never seen beat at any tournament of any sport anywhere in the world.

The Public Transport - the public transport in Hong Kong is second-to-none and Dubai can't compete with it.  In Hong Kong the procedure to get to and from the stadium works like a charm and every time we go we're amazed at how efficient it runs.  In Dubai, not only do you have to take taxis everywhere, but we struggled to find taxi drivers that actually knew that the rugby was on let alone where the stadium was.  Getting a cab at the end of the day was a huge mission as well and saw us traipsing through the busy streets with all the other rugby fans flagging down taxis on the highway.  Eventually, we split up, with some of us taking a bus to a hotel (not ours) to find another taxi and some of us going back in the stadium waiting for the taxi line to shorten.

The Tournament Popularity - the high tournament popularity in Hong Kong could be considered a positive or a negative.  A negative, because it is now becoming expensive to attend (particularly in World Cup years) and it is very crowded.  A positive, because the entire city is aware of the tournament and everywhere you go you can find people that have traveled to Hong Kong to watch the 7's - it makes for a good atmosphere.

Anyway, that is the debate that we've been having.

Regardless, we all had a great time.  We arrived very early in the morning on our first day to Mike being "detained" for a short period at airport security for trying to smuggle weapons into the United Arab Emirates - a charge that would probably not be met with the relative mercy we would hope for.  Apparently, Dubai does not consider there to be a need for "beat sticks" in their fair city and while we never had an ounce of difficulty with it anywhere in Africa, Mike had a bit of paperwork to fill out to agree to the destruction of said beat stick before he would be allowed to enter Dubai.

Our early morning arrival meant catching up on some well needed sleep was the order for the day before taking a stroll through the famous Gold Souq that was right around the corner from our hotel.  That was followed by a taxi ride to the Jemeira Beach Hotel for an amazing lunch over looking the beach and the 7 Star Al Burj Dubai Hotel (the one shaped like a sail) - plus the first time we'd been refused entry to anywhere on our entire trip on account of "not meeting dress code".

That night the 6 of us (Jimmy and Sam flew in from their respective homes for the week as well) went to the Blue Elephant Thai Restaurant at one of the many 5 Star Hotels in the vicinity and ate until we were tired.  So, it was back to the St George Hotel in Deira to rest up for tomorrow's start to the rugby.

As I mentioned, the rugby was great and it rivalled any 7's tournament that Matt and Mike had ever been to.  England ended up winning the entire tournament in a very exciting final against Fiji.  Canada played Wales in the finals of the Bowl Championships (the best of the worst conciliation final) and lost.  And, unfortunately for Jimmy, Scotland didn't fare too well (we'll spare him the agony of seeing the results in print).  South Africa looked good, but were beaten out by Fiji in the semi-finals.

After Day 2 of the rugby (our third full day in Dubai), we bid goodbye to Jimmy and Sam and boarded a late night plane to Cairo via Addis Ababa and Khartoum.  The highlight of the trip was our midnight snack at the McDonald's in the Dubai Airport (and the fact that Mike made it through security without a body cavity search).

Arriving in Cairo by air was somewhat anti-climactic for our overland journey, but it was still quite an experience.  The traffic in Cairo is exactly how everyone describes it - completely chaotic.  Getting to our hotel from the airport was relatively straightforward, but trying to cross the street in the neighbourhood around our hotel was like taking our lives into our own hands.

Our hotel in Cairo was quite nice.  We stayed in the Cosmopolitan Hotel downtown.  It was within walking distance of the Egyptian museum and some fairly decent restaurants, so other than the tours we took to see the sites, we spent most of our time in Cairo in this area.

We spent our first day in Cairo getting organized for what we would be doing in Egypt.  We wanted to get all the way down to the south of the country as close to Sudan as possible so we could link all 11 countries on our voyage.  So, that meant, our plan had to be to get as far south as Abu Simbel.  The trip would take us through Aswan, Luxor, Kom Ombo and Edfu - all along the Nile and all places that are considered "must sees" in Egypt.

After getting ourselves organized we did the standard Cairo activities for the next few days.  First, going to get fake student cards (having student cards in Egypt is a huge money saver - half price on just about everything); then, to the Egyptian Museum; then, to the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphynx; then, to Memphis and Sakkara to see the Steppe Pyramid and the statue of Ramesses.  To top off all the activities, we ended our stay in Cairo with a dinner cruise on the Nile - complete with a twirling midget, an overweight belly dancer and, of course, two (count them, TWO) visits to the centre stage by Matt where he taught a lesson on two of the dances he made famous: "raising the roof" and "shaking that ass".

All of these things were quite cool, but certainly over run with tourists.  Our guides were very knowledgeable and full of information about the history of Egypt - in fact, we all felt a bit like we were in school; helping alleviate the slight guilt of having student cards as 30 something unemployed travelling bums.

At the end of our stay in Cairo we caught a night sleeper train from Cairo south to Aswan.  The train left Cairo at 8PM and we traveled through the night arriving in Aswan the next morning around 9AM.  We transferred to our hotel in Aswan to rest up before our afternoon tour of the city.

Aswan is at the northern tip of Lake Nasser and is the location where the ferry to/from Sudan departs/arrives.  From the High Dam (damming the Nile to form Lake Nasser) we could see where we would have arrived had we travelled from Sudan on the ferry.  Lake Nasser is considered the largest man-made lake in the world and is responsible for the displacement of thousands of Nubian Egyptians as well as a number of temples and statues that were moved to make room for the flooding waters.

After visiting the High Dam and Lake Nasser we went to the Philae Temple (one of the temples mentioned above that had to be moved so not to be damaged by the waters of the lake) which was dedicated to Isis, her husband Osiris and her son Horace.  It was built by both the Egyptians and the Greeks and therefore had interesting architecture.

The next morning we woke up at 2:45AM (yes, you read that right) so we could catch our tour bus in time to meet up with the police escorted convoy to Abu Simbel.  Abu Simbel is one of the most famous of all temple locations in Egypt as it is home to the large and small temples of Ramesses II.  It is about 50km from the Sudanese border and the only way to travel to the city is by police escort due to the frequent attacks targeted on tourists.  It didn't seem to us like the most effective way to reduce attacks on tourists is to make sure they ALL meet at the SAME location at the SAME time every day to travel the SAME road TOGETHER, but that is how the Egyptians have chosen to handle it - seems like their solution might actually help the terrorists find us, but nonetheless, we went anyway.

Abu Simbel was built by the most famous Egypt Pharaoh, Ramesses II.  It has impressive statues of Ramesses with the three Gods Ptah, Amun-Re, and Re- Horakhty.  Twice a year the sun is able to enter the temple and highlight Amun-Re, and Re- Horakhty but not Ptah as he is the God of Darkness.  Hieroglyphics show that Ramesses fought many successful battles, considered himself Godly, and enjoyed smiting his enemy.  He had many wives, but his favourite was Nefertari, whom the second temple was dedicated to.

Getting back to Aswan from Abu Simbel we joined the Nile Ruby - our cruise ship for the next couple of days.  We were originally planning on taking a felucca trip up the Nile, but the "open water bathrooms" and "open air sleeping decks" didn't appeal all that much to Cathy and Shannon and the cruise ship won the decision.

The cruise ship was pretty nice, but we made up 4 of the total 5 people that spoke English on the boat.  Most everyone was French and that made it difficult for us when it came to TV watching - all but 1 channel was French or Arabic.  As much as Cathy and Mike should be working on their French for their move to Switzerland, we still all chose the English channel when it came to watching our evening movies.

Our cruise boat stopped off in two places for us to check out some more rock temples: Kom Ombo and Edfu.  We'd be lying if we tried to tell you that we remember the difference between Kom Ombo and Edfu other than that for one we walked and the other we took a horse drawn carriage.

The next day we arrived in Luxor where we planned to visit the West Bank and the East Bank on two consecutive days.

The West Bank of Luxor is all about death.  Here is where we visited the tombs of Ramesses IV, VII and IX, Tutenkhamen in the Valley of Kings and the Temple of Hatshepsoot.  These were spectacular and although it was hot, the well planned purchases of ice cream bars kept us going.

Since Abu Simbel, Mike had been suffering from a pretty severe fever, intense headache and all round general malaise.  The travel agent (yes, you read that correctly) diagnosed it as the Egyptian flu and that we had nothing to worry about - all we had to do was boil some lemons and Mike'd get over it in a few days.  Interestingly enough the Egyptian flu also presents itself very similarly to another lesser known but just as deadly tropical disease known as "NotanotherTemplemadeofRockDisease" - also known as Temple-itis.  The only way to cure yourself from Temple-itis is to stop visiting ancient Egyptian tombs, eliminate all camel saliva residue from your clothes and skin and at all costs avoid Egyptian salesman selling postcards to you as you leave said tomb and/or temple (made of rock).

We self diagnosed Mike with Temple-itis, so he went back to the hotel to sweat out another fever, skipping the tour of the East Bank and Karnak Temple.  Cathy, Shannon and Matt went to the temple that afternoon so we could have the next day free for our own activities.  Karnak Temple is actually 42 temples and more of a "temple complex".  It has many very high columns, obelisks and a peace lake.  An interesting part of the complex was the "scarab wish statue".  To make your wish come true, you needed to think of the wish and walk around the scarab 7 times.  Matt, Shannon and Cathy all participated, but only time will tell if the scarab is capable of granting their grandiose desires, which might have included Matt not passing out from walking in circles in the heat.  He didn't, so hey, that's one to the scarab.

After a hellish afternoon for Mike in the hotel room, the three healthy travellers returned from the Karnak temple to find him almost dead in his room.  In those few hours Mike had decided that it was time for him to make a plan to get back to Joburg.  As much as we appreciated the travel agent's diagnosis of Mike's ailments, we took it more seriously when the pharmacist we visited felt it more appropriate to prescribe the anti-malarial drug chloroquine instead of the boiling pot of lemons.  And, Mike and Cathy decided that it was time for the Cape-to-Cairo journey to come to an end.  A successful end, but an end nonetheless.

Cathy booked a couple of tickets for her and Mike to head back to Joburg through Qatar and the next day after an hour felucca ride on the Nile, Mike and Cathy caught their flights back to Joburg while Matt and Shannon caught the night train up to Cairo for a couple of quick tours in the north of the country - one to the Western Oasis and one to Dahab on the Sinai peninsula for some scuba diving.

Upon return to Johannesburg, Mike was diagnosed with either malaria, tick bite fever or some other tropical disease yet to be discovered (maybe Temple-itis).  After one treatment for malaria, he started in on a course of medication that would treat both malaria and tick bite fever and about 4 days after getting home, Mike was back up and moving again.