Dutch style causes trouble in Egypt

Nowadays, a journey in Holland is rarely complete without the obligatory traffic jam somewhere along the way. Here in Egypt there is a different hobble to overcome when travelling: – the convoy. An ideal method of moving tourists around in air-conditioned buses that race along at 140 km/hr – a speed that our faithful Miles could never attain – not even in his youthful dreams. At each convoy gathering point there was a collective look of horror on the faces of the police – Oh no! Not the Land Rover with those mad Dutch / British tourists. Then with true Egyptian stoicism they faced the fact that someone was going to miss their coffee/ lunch and tea breaks not to mention the afternoon sleep to accompany those idiots – volunteers?

And tourists we have been. Leon took up his role of former visits to this country and was our guide, taking us to all the cultural highlights that this country has to offer. From day one it was up at six o’clock and off to see the sights of bustling Cairo. This is a country of contrasts. At every turn one is confronted by two worlds. Travelling round (in convoy of course) we went through miles of barren desert with little else to see except various colours of sand and rock and then we were alongside the Nile with its verdant pastures.

Fields full of crops such as maize, potatoes, aubergines and mango trees – a cornucopia of food for man and animal alike. Also our hotels were from both ends of the scale varying from a night sleeping in the desert, with Miles offering us shelter, warmth, comfort and a ceiling full of stars to luxury hotels in Aswan and Hurgharda. Our hotel in Cairo was an old colonial throwback to the days when the British had power here. It is a delight of old fashioned charm with an officers’ bar still serving excellent gins and tonics.

In Luxor we had an apartment on a campsite, with the highlight of the whole trip for Claire – a washing machine. Before we had hardly moved in she had filled the machine with clothes and some of her new favourite possession – Tide washing powder, which removes everything from clothes including the surface layer and colour. Culturally Egypt is also a country of contrasts. Our first visit was to the Egyptian Museum to see the treasures of Tutankhamun. Seeing them, we can only say they more than fulfil their reputation. The workmanship is exquisite and the mask itself truly breathtaking. Outside the museum we plunged into the backstreets of the Souks, with all their dirt and squalor but with so many bargains it is impossible to know where to look first.

We also visited the temple at Karnak, the valleys of the Kings and Queens, Brooke’s animal hospital, and the temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor. In Aswan we sailed on a felucca and travelled to Abu Simbel in an air conditioned bus in a convoy and in Hurgharda we went snorkelling from the deck of our own yacht. The biggest contrast of all was the change in Harm’s opinion of this country. A preconception that he had formed in his youth, while pursuing his career as a radio officer on board ships visiting the ports of N. Africa and their Arabic inhabitants. An opinion he was never shy of giving; something to do with goats, of which he saw very few, and never accompanied by men. Although still not impressed by the caterwauling from the mosques (5 times a day) he has a better acquaintance with the country and its people, of which particularly the farming communities are very hard working.

At the head of each convoy is a police car. This clears the way and lets the check (or as we saw on one station – chick) point know there is a convoy coming through. The police at the check point stop all the traffic till the convoy has gone through. In our convoys the lead car warned the check point, the police stopped the traffic and then all waited till Miles and the rear police car appeared, often 15 minutes later, thereby at each check point causing in true Dutch style – a traffic jam.

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