Sprinting Along Egypt And The Nile River In An Alfa Romeo Giulia
Photography by Jethro Bronner
This is a continuation of Jethro Bronner’s epic journey in a classic Alfa Romeo. Read the previous entries here: Introduction, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, and The Sudan.
I arrived on the shores of the Abu Simbel temples late at night after departing from The Sudan. My rule about not arriving in new cities in the dark had been broken long ago, so at this point it was no great panic to get my bearings under the cover of night. I had caught the last ferry of the day across Lake Nubia, and found a hotel with a vacancy.
The next morning I made my way to the temples for a quick look around, and to meet up with the military convoy heading for Aswan. Egypt was still very much in a state of emergency when I arrived. I had far more contact with the military than I would have liked, but it seemed impossible to avoid them.
Indeed, certain roads in the country required a military escort, and a convoy of armor takes the massive tourist-filled busses to and from the temples and ruins, and back to the main towns. As a foreigner in a foreign-country-registered vehicle, it was expected that I made use of these convoys. I joined up with them for the first time as I made my way from Abu Simbel to Aswan, and the first few checkpoints on the way out of town were easy enough. Out on the open road the crew sped up to 90mph, and my little Alfa and I were left far behind. My car was heavily loaded and running on low-quality 87-ish octane; the harder I pushed, the more it pinged and smoked. So rather than destroy the engine, I slowed down and let the convoy disappear into the desert haze.
When I made my solitary arrival in Aswan, I parked my car on a back street, as no hotels in Egypt allow cars on the grounds, and spent a couple days relaxing beside the Nile. I had booked a couple of days off to see Aswan on the recommendation of a friend, and was glad to have two nights in the same place and a little time to recharge.
The Nile Valley is crowded and busy and traffic moves slowly. I had decided to head for the Red Sea, where the coastal road would theoretically make for easier going. Leaving Aswan I cut through the desert again to Edfu, and crossed the Nile heading for the road through the mountains that would take me eastward. Unsurprisingly, a military checkpoint had been set up where the road split into the desert—I was pulled over, my paperwork was examined, the car searched, and I was questioned for a while, but I was eventually allowed to continue. I had set my sights on the seaside city of Hurghada for the night.
I spent the next morning winding up a lonely mountain road heading towards the sea. The tarmac was cracked and bleached by sun, and I didn’t pass another car for hours. About halfway to my next stop, the town of Marsa Alam I stopped at a tourist rest area built for the busses heading from the Red Sea resorts to the Nile. There were restaurants and shops to cater to hundreds of people at a time, but when I went I was the lone tourist in the building. I ended up having lunch with a couple of the local guys who worked there, and they told me about how difficult the economy had become, especially for people who relied on tourism for their livelihoods.
By the late afternoon I had almost reached Marsa Alam, I could see the Red Sea in the distance, as well as the city at the bottom of the mountains. I was stopped at another checkpoint on this route, and was told to hand over my documents. Standard procedure at this point, something that I was well used to by now.
With another one beside me, a soldier took my passport, my phone, and my camera while my car was emptied of its carefully packed contents. I stood in the desert sun as an official searched through my bags, looked through the contents of my camera (of which they deleted the majority of my photos of this leg of the trip…), and questioned me in regards to why I had decided to visit Egypt. This went on for hours, and as it got dark, everything was eventually handed back over and I was sent on my way. When I asked why I had been detained I was told: “It’s routine, welcome to Egypt.”
I made it to Hurghada late in the night. Apparently I am meant to arrive shrouded in darkness with the Giulia’s headlights barely illuminating my navigation of yet another unfamiliar place. And this city was more or less a maze—many of the streets had been blocked off to boot. Still, I found my hotel and checked in all the same. The building was a mega-resort built sometime in the 1980s or ‘90s. In the morning I had breakfast in a grand dining room, built for thousands of guests, again, alone apart from one other person. The staff outnumbered us ten to one. There were two guests in a 500-room hotel.
Before the revolution, it would have been possible to catch a ferry across the Red Sea to Sharm El Sheikh, but that route had since ceased operation, so I spent a day following the west side of the Red Sea to Suez, where I was able to drive through a tunnel, under the canal, before heading back down the river’s east side to Sharm El Sheikh, in Sinai. All told, it was a 500 mile detour, with road blocks and checkpoints strewn throughout, and I ended up only 50 miles across the water from where I started. I recall something about Mussolini and train schedules.
The long roundabout route saw yet another nighttime arrival in the next city, Sharm El Sheikh. Aside from the timing, this was a wholly new city experience. After passing through the bordering gates it was like entering another country altogether. Every hotel was packed with tourists. Everything was modern and brand new. The contrast between Sharm El Sheikh and towns like Edfu was stark.
I spent the night in a resort bursting with European tourists, but not before being questioned by the Tourism Police. They had spotted my car outside and demanded to speak to the owner of the foreign vehicle. I was exhausted, but I answered all the questions of the official, before getting to bed around midnight.
The following morning, I found my car with a massive scratch and dent down the side. I tried to put it out of my mind though because I still had to reach the border with Israel and had no time to spend on repairing the cosmetic damage.
I was exhausted; the weeks of traveling in Ethiopia, the deserts of Sudan, and my continuous encounters with the Egyptian Military had taken their toll. I had been traveling non stop from Nairobi, and was looking forward to some downtime on the beaches of Tel Aviv.
On my way to paradisiacal sun and sand, I endured yet another long and tiresome day of military checkpoints including an extremely long customs procedure at Taba. By the end of it I’d left Egypt behind and pulled into the high-tech border facility at Eilat. It wasn’t until I was waiting for the Israeli border officials to complete a background check that I realized that I was at the other end of Africa. In all the difficulty of the days leading up to that point, I had forgotten that when I arrived in Sinai, I had officially crossed Africa in an Alfa Romeo!