Friday 26 December 2008

18th December 08

Date: 18th December 08
Location: Soloum, Egypt
Weather: High clouds and warm sunshine, 27°c
Status: I think we’re off, but don’t say it too loud just in case…

For the last two days we have been at the mercy of our tour agent in Libya who is trying to organise our Libyan visas as quickly as he can….or so he says! In one phone call he tells us it will be ready on the 18th and in the next its back to the 20th, all of this is extremely frustrating and gives me very little confidence that Bre and I will be able to make it back to the UK to run the final marathon as planned on Christmas Eve.

In that time we’ve cleaned the trucks, again, painted the flags of all the countries we travelled through on them, cooked up some of the last dry supplies we have into really good meals and restocked with consumables for the long road trip west….whenever that happens!

And then all of sudden Sami called again “I have the visas in my hand here in Tripoli!!” – “What?!” I replied…..”Yes I’m sending a driver to the border now to meet you, he’ll be there in seven hours”

Action stations all of a sudden, photocopies of the Arabic page of our passport for the predictable police stops we needed, I had to confirm the boat date and time from Tunis – and it was still December 21st at 14:00hrs.

So a quick bit of mental arithmetic concludes that we have 2200kms to go between here and the boat in 65 hours time. Add in stops, food and a 2 hour buffer for the check in and we have 55 hours to make it at an average speed of 40kmh!!! Surely that should be possible? Let’s just keep our fingers crossed and see hey.

Well I’m back and since writing the first part of this journal entry every thing has gone tits up, and I mean properly destroyed. Our chances of ever getting to the boat on the 21st now lie in tatters as we have been refused our entry into Libya based on the lack of interpretation by the asshole on the gate.

So there we were driving to our penultimate African border with expectant hopes in our hearts that we’d make it through without any problems and as I type this be driving west as fast as we could towards Tunisia….and then the Libyan authorities dropped the bombshell – we didn’t have the official certification stamp from our own embassies we required next to the Arabic translations in our passports and would not be granted entry to the country even though Tripoli had issued us our visas based on having seen scans of them only 72hrs earlier!!

We were stuck fast in the middle of no-mans-land officially stamped out of Egypt having handed in our number plates, driving licence and having happily accepted our exit stamps in both our passports and carnets and were now unable to enter our next country due to a technicality and now faced the daunting prospect of attempting to re-enter Egypt with no visa and no money to pay the huge import costs required for each vehicle.

Enter our helper Mr Ahmed who had been sent to meet us at the border with the paperwork we thought we’d need to enter. He comes from Libya, speaks very little English but is overpoweringly helpful and wears a happy face; particularly useful when dealing with the horrible officials and policemen who Egypt seem to employ at all points of contact with foreigners!

At 11pm we’d decided to give up the Libyan attempt and tried instead to go back in to Egypt to somehow get the correct stamp. We walked, talked and went in and out of maybe 20 different offices, walked to the gate and back numerous times with Ahmed leading us on a seemingly impossible task of having our exit stamps reversed and our number plates re-issued and finally at 4.30am decided to call it quits for the night. But oh no the Egyptian police had other ideas “you can’t sleep here, you need to go back to the border town 16kms away to the hotel and come back in the morning” – yeah and how are we supposed to do that with no passports…and there’s no way we were going to leave our vehicles in their compound anyway!

So we all got into Kees’s truck, closed the door, drew the curtains and went to sleep oblivious to their knocking at various times during the night! When first light appeared we were back on the hunt and with more top officials around we seemed to slowly get further into their antiquated system…have they ever even heard of a telephone before!?!

We left the comforts (?) of their yard just after midday with our plates back on, our passports and carnet stamps removed with the aid of their latest technology, tippex! Back to the hotel were we have waited for the last few days and into deep discussion - just how are we going to leave this hole!

As it stands at 5pm on Friday we’re off to our relevant consuls in Alexandria on Sunday to have the passports stamped, again, and will attempt another break through the border and the formalities associated with it.

End of day location: Back in Soloum, Egypt
Distance covered: 25kms, 12 in the wrong direction!

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