- Egypt's Bermuda Triangle
-- Story by Erin --
We left Jerusalem on Nov. 19th to meet Eran Bashan and his
girlfriend Dana in Be'er Sheva. We met Eran on the internet (he rides a white BMW
F650), and he invited us for a ride to meet some friends who were camping in the desert.
After a quick lunch, we left Be'er Sheva and rode south towards Eilat and the desert.
After a spectacular drive through the Mitzpe Ramon (crater) with its beautiful mineral
striped desert scenery and wildlife, we met up with a group of their friends in 4 jeeps
and 2 off-road bikes. These people know how to really explore the desert!!!
We enjoyed a great barbecued meal and slept under the stars that night without our tent
(no need to worry about the morning dew in the desert!).
In the morning, Eran's bike wouldn't start and we towed him
about 40kms to Eilat. It turns out the problem was some sand/grit caught in the
carbs, causing flooding in the airbox. The culprit caught and fixed, we spent the
afternoon exploring the mountains from where we could see Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi
Arabia all at once. Eran and Dana headed back north in the evening, and we setup
camp again under the stars, excited at crossing the Egyptian border into the famous Sinai.
Sunday, November 21st, we entered the Israeli portion of the
border around 9:30am to get our permission to exit. It took about 30 minutes, and
with the exception of not getting back $160 in VAT (tax) for work on the bikes, all went
pretty smoothly. Permission granted and security clearance approved, we mounted the
bikes, rode through the exit gate, and proceeded 5 meters to the Egyptian entry
gate. We were waved through, and directed to passport control. Nothing
interesting here, so we proceeded to Customs to get the bikes imported into Egypt.
Four hours and $180 later, we were permitted to enter
the region of Sinai (not even all of Egypt which would have more expensive). OK, we
know that bureaucracies are going to create new/more difficult challenges as we progress,
but something here struck me as beyond absurd = funny (now). Egyptian passport
control stamped our passports with an entry stamp, then the Import/Customs officials
required a photocopy of this page/stamp (can't make copies of this beforehand).
Here's here's the catch: They don't have a photocopy machine at customs, passport
control, or anywhere else at the border!
It was approaching noon, and already the temperature was
scratching it's way to the beginning of this decade. I had to walk across the
border, and into the 5-star Hilton Resort. Dripping sweat and a little dirty from
sleeping in the desert for two consecutive nights, I approached the concierge and
requested use of their copier. The machine was broken and awaiting parts from Cairo
. . . Ugh! Next I tried the Casino, but the office wouldn't open for another 4
hours. Not knowing what else to do, I roamed around the (air-conditioned)
lobby. I eventually approached the Europecar rental desk and explained my problem.
The man took pity along with the instructions for multiple copies and
returned 15 minutes later with everything I needed.
We were issued Egyptian license
plates and left the border around 2:00pm. Hot, tired, hungry, and (naturally)
frustrated, we stopped at one of the many beach resorts which had bamboo huts right on the
beach. After riding across the deep sand, we parked the bikes next to our hut and
watched a beautiful sunset.
We awoke Monday morning well rested and in good spirits.
Our destination was Dahab, about 100kms away. We rode along the Red Sea
coast, into the picturesque desert, over a stunning mountain pass, and arrived in Dahab
around lunchtime. When we arrived, we couldn't quite figure out were
"town" was, so we went to the 5-star Hilton Dahab Resort, to get directions to
the tourist information office. After getting directions to town, I found out the
cost (the place was gorgeous) was about $68 for the two of us, including breakfast -- Had
we not been trying to recover from recent motorcycle service and purchasing new tyres . .
We found our haven along Laguna Beach at a
place called Nubia Village. We were trying to find a hut on the beach, but here we
were offered a room with bath, air-conditioning, and a swimming pool. We eventually
agreed on $15/night (no breakfast). After changing into bathingsuits, we dove into
the sea, and spent the remainder of the day lounging around in beach chairs, soaking up
the sun and some overdue reading.
In the evening, we rode into the town center and had a great
seafood dinner in a restaurant along the water, our bill was $8. We met several
other travelers and spent the night sharing travel stories.
We originally were going to visit several resort towns along
the Sinai, but we fell into such a comfortable atmosphere, we kept putting off our
departure. Most of the travelers we met fell into the same trap -- "I was
supposed to leave a while ago, but I'm still here". With the locals and
travelers getting along so well, the cheap prices and relaxed attitudes, it's easy to get
sucked in -- some people have been there for years!
One afternoon, we met a dive instructor, Roni, from Club Red. Before he came to Dahab, he too rode
BMW motorcycles and once worked in North Carolina before giving up the business world to
give diving lessons for a living. He offered us each a
free introductory scuba diving lesson (normally worth $42/per person). Like most
people who have never been diving, we didn't understand the big attraction, but figured
too many others were captivated by it, so we should see what all the fuss is about.
And that's how they get you -- Once we were submerged and swimming along the coral reef,
we too were hooked.
Unfortunately we didn't arrange for the lesson until our
last day in Dahab, otherwise we would have done it again (and paid for it.) Now we
want to get certified somewhere in our travels so we can maybe dive in Indonesia, Malaysia
We spent Thanksgiving Day in Dahab. Our dinner was not
the traditional fare --- parsley soup with rice pilaf and BBQ ribs (yummy!) for me.
Chris had lentil soup and Kofta (chopped meat that is seasoned with all sorts of spices,
rolled up like a sausage and grilled) which was also delicious. We ate with an
American expat (Ron) who owns Club Red, Roni (the
dive instructor), a Singaporean dive instructor (Simon), and a few Australian and English
tourists/divers. It was a new Egyptian restaurant and the owners were absolutely
In Dahab we also ran into many of the friends we met on the
boat from Rhodes to Haifa. It was great seeing them again and finding out where
they had all been in the last month. Dahab basically has two types of people: divers
and world travelers -- we now qualify as both!
On November 26 we returned to Yael's from the Sinai.
The return trip was beautiful driving through the crater, but it quickly turned
cold. We had to pull over to the side of the road to put on more clothes and switch
our gloves to our winter riding gloves! My how the temperature had changed in just
one week. On our arrival, we quickly set about firming up our plans to have our
bikes (and ourselves) sent to Bombay.
After talking to both a freight forwarder (Flying Cargo) and
directly to the cargo departments of a few airlines we decided to do a combo-deal----Royal
Jordanian Airlines would actually ship the bikes and Flying Cargo would do the necessary
paperwork and clearances. On Dec. 2nd we rode the bikes to the airport and prepared
them to be loaded on a pallet----no crating this time! We took off the mirrors,
windscreens, tank panniers and anything else that was loose on the outside of the
bikes. We also had to drain ALL of the fuel from the tanks and disconnect the
batteries. This all had to be demonstrated to the satisfaction of the customs
official. Chris got away with conserving about 5 liters of fuel in his bike because
the customs official didn't know how to turn on Chris' reserve switch. This would
allow us to put fuel in my bike when we landed in Bombay and at least get to the nearest
gas station without extra hassles.
Since we still had a week or so until our flight to Bombay
we were able to spend more time with Yael's family and with her brothers and their
families. During the time it was also the Jewish holiday of Hanukah. Each
night the family would light another candle on the menorah and sing Hanukah songs.
One night Yael invited many of their friends over to the house for the lighting of the
candles. Special doughnuts were made and treats to eat. There were children
everywhere playing with toys and singing songs. It was a very special time.
That Friday, Yael and her family went on a trip to the Dead
Sea area with a group of their friends. Chris and I decided to go into Tel Aviv and
check out the beach area and the old port city of Jaffa. We went to Jaffa first and
strolled along it's harbor lined with fish restaurants, and walked through the gardens at
the top of the hill. Here you get the best view of Tel Aviv and it's beaches.
As we walked along we saw an R100GS/PD painted with black and white zebra stripes.
Of course we stopped to check it out and inspect all the little doo-dads
on it. The owner saw us checking out his bike so we struck up a conversation with
him. His name is Uriya and he has also traveled many places around the world by
motorcycle and happened to know Mickey, the other motorcyclist we met through Nadav, our
mechanic. When we said we were from the States he immediately knew who we were
because Mickey had mentioned us to him early in the week. It really is a small
world! We finished the evening by walking along the beach of Tel Aviv and having a
nice meal overlooking the Mediterranean.
On the Saturday before we left, Ronan, Yoav, and their
families drove up from Be'er Sheva to see us one last time. We spent the day
visiting some nearby caves and having a barbecue picnic. The caves were spectacular,
some natural and some manmade, and were used by inhabitants for hundreds of years.
Some of the caves were used to house pigeons to collect their guano of
fertilizer, others were used for making olive oil, or as storage from their quarry,
and some as burial chambers. These types of caves can be found many places around
this region near Jerusalem---probably hundreds of them in all.
Time was getting nearer to when we had to
leave on December 8th. Yael didn't want us to leave without seeing one last thing,
the Golan Heights. Monday morning we packed up the van, including Yael, her
daughters Lilach and Sigal. and the five of us headed north. Although the Golan
Heights are at the very north of Israel you can easily drive there in a day. We
drove along the Jordan River, through the ancient city of Jericho (which is now
Palestinian territory), along the Sea of Galilee (Tiberias), beside the border of Syria
and finally to the border with Lebanon. The Golan Heights are a range of mountains
that have a somewhat flat plateau on top. It is considered a very "green"
area for Israel since most of the country is desert. Unfortunately for the drought
situation it was mostly brown.
Late in the day we passed a field where it was obvious that
some major action was taking place. We pulled over and strained our eyes to see
through the clouds of red dust to see that the Israeli Army was conducting tank
training! We watched this for some time in awe of these huge machines rumbling
along. Luckily they were not engaged in firing their cannons! We stopped for
the night in a lovely hostel, which had great views of the valley below. The next
morning we drove up along the top of the mountains again and along the Lebanese
border. This is apple tree territory, so we stopped at a small stand for some fresh,
hot apple cider.
The owner of the stand talked with us for some time about
the current military situation there. As we peered across and saw two fairly large
Lebanese towns in the distance we listened as he told us about the daily gunfire he hears,
the military jets taking target practice regularly in the surrounding hills, and the
occasional rockets that flash overhead that are sent from Syria. The Israeli's
actually patrol the Lebanese side of the border and conduct exercises in Lebanon.
The Golan Heights are at the heart of the dispute in the peace talks with Syria.
This is also the area where many terrorists have entered Israel and attacked and killed
many people. So the Israeli's are extra sensitive and alert to what goes on
here. In spite of all this military tension, life goes on at a normal pace for the
people who live in the many kibbutz and cities that exist less than a kilometer from the
From here we drove west to the ocean and stopped at a place
at the Israeli/Lebanon border where there are natural underwater caves that are accessible
from the cliffs there. We took a cable car down and ventured in. The color of
the water was a beautiful turquoise blue and crystal clear. It almost looked
inviting enough to plunge in! Next we drove south through Haifa and to a small
Dravidian village. We stopped for some wonderful Shwarma, pita and hummus for lunch,
and walked through many of the little shops. After lunch we drove directly
south again until we reached home that evening.
The next day was Wednesday, December 8th, and the time had
come to finally say goodbye to our wonderful cousins and to Israel. We will have
fond memories because of the renewed ties to family here and the special places we
visited. We've enjoyed our 6.5 months traveling through Europe, and we're excited
for what lays ahead in India and SE Asia.