North through Egypt into Asia
Our convoy of the Touareg and our four Egyptian fixers in their two Volkswagen Tiguans headed North from the border after a friendly welcome from all the officials there. Our route took us through the Sahara desert on a virtually empty dead straight road. With the temperatures up to 43 degrees even in the morning and a strong hot wind blowing, it was a shock to step out of the air-conditioning in the Touareg.
I have mentioned our 'fixers' a few times in these blogs over the past few days. It's worth explaining a little more about the vital service they provide to our World Record Attempt. Each border that we have crossed in Africa has had its own unique procedures. At the worst, there are 4 or 5 different offices or windows, each with a long queue to get a different piece of paperwork completed for visas, car paperwork, or medical certifications (such as yellow fever or ebola). At most borders, that process is needed to exit the country you are leaving, then straight away again to enter the next. You can imagine how difficult this could be for us to navigate, especially in the countries that don't use English. One incorrect stamp or missing authorisation, or even one grumpy official could cost us hours. This is where the local 'fixer' comes in. He is a local who will help us through every stage of the process, who will know the border officials and how to get through the seemingly endless bureaucracy and payments. Each one of our fixers has been invaluable to us. In the case of our Egyptian friends, they are driving the 24 hours non-stop with us through the night to help us through the many police check-points and finally to help us exit Egypt at the other end. That's commitment, and we would have struggled to get this far without all of these guys through Africa.
The first town we reached today was Luxor, on the Nile. The empty desert gave way to a sudden strip of fertile greenery around the town. At the first of the many police checkpoints on the road, a police motorbike escort took the lead of our convoy to get us through the town at high speed, clearing traffic and stopping junctions in front of us. Out of Luxor and back into the desert, and two more police motorcycles lead our little convoy at high speed along Southern Egypt's clear fast roads. We are achieving some great average speeds today with the help of the Egyptian police.
We got an extra benefit from our police escort as our fearless cameraman Marius climbed onto the back of one of the police bikes, sitting backwards, to get some great tracking photography of the three cars through the desert. Marius will do anything for the perfect shot!
From Luxor we drove through the desert for 9 hours without seeing a single sign of life. Not a single town, not a tree or bush, not an animal anywhere to be seen. It's amazing for a European to see so much empty space. Nevertheless, the desert is a very spectacular sight to have experienced up close. We've had some enjoyable distractions on the way watching the trucks full of camels or cows, and the old overladen Peugeot 504s from the 1970s that seem to still be the most popular car in Egypt.
As the desert came to an end, we looped around Cairo (with a Police Jeep getting us through the traffic and checkpoints this time) to head East towards Suez, where we took the long tunnel underneath the giant ship canal. Our local friends have arranged some very welcome food for us at the other side of the tunnel; good as our on-board sandwich service has been over the last 5 days, we'll allow ourselves a short stop to enjoy a quick hot meal.
After food, we're heading into the Sinai peninsula and entering the continent of Asia. This area has the potential to be the biggest security concern for us in the whole trip. Rather than taking the more direct routes through the North or central Sinai, as a precaution we will be driving around the longest route option with a police escort all the way. This takes us South, right around the Red Sea coast of Sinai, through holiday resorts such as Sharm el-Sheikh. This diversion will add many hours on to our journey, but with an element of risk in the North of the peninsula, it's a sacrifice we need to make.
By the next update tomorrow morning, we should have entered Israel, then into Jordan. From Jordan, our own Antanov freight aircraft will be waiting for us to fly us and the Touareg over Syria to Adana in Turkey - which should be a fantastic experience!