Egypt. Ground Zero. My first backpacking adventure was in Egypt ten years ago, an adventure which introduced me to the joys of backpacking, the love of deserts and the open road and a certain Miss Amanda Newland. This is my favourite country on Earth (after Great Britain, of course rah rah rah) and it’s where I was happy to sit and watch the millennium tick over from 1999 to 2000 with Mary and Paul at the Jean Michel Jarre gig at the pyramids. Yeah, Jean Michel Jarre. The penguin guy.
A more perfect spot to be reunited with my erstwhile lover I could not imagine. The KFC by the Sphinx for sunset. Nice.
But logistics, ah, logistics… the MV Turquoise did, to be fair, arrive in Suez before sunset. But then I had to wait – we were not coming into port, the Suez officials and the shipping agents came out to us on a pilot boat. Within mobile phone coverage, I was able to knock back my ETA at the Pyramids from 5pm to 8pm. But in the event, that was I little optimistic. By 8pm I was still on the ship. By 9pm I was really beginning to panic. I texted Mand and told her to hang tight in Cairo until I gave the signal – I didn’t want her hanging about in Giza at night on her own waiting for buggerlugs here.
By 10pm I was free. Kinda. Having said my heartfelt thanks to the chief and the bosun, I clambered aboard the pilot ship with the shipping agent and we were heading to port.. We were joined by Naser the cook and a bunch of guys from the ship who were planning to have a few hours of R&R. Hopping off the pilot boat onto dry land was sheer joy and although the border formalities seemed to take an eternity (even though I was the only person there) I could feel it in the air – nothing could stop me now.
Matt the cameraman, having flown to Egypt from Djibouti, was waiting for me in a taxi outside the port. The driver(s) didn’t speak a word of English, which made explaining the urgency of the situation very difficult, although they really should have guessed by my frantic gesticulating. By now it was 10:30pm and the Pyramids were over 100 kilometres away.
I’m not really supposed to take a private taxi more than 50km, but this was an emergency… rules be damned. I was in country number 133 and my girlfriend was waiting.
As I said, the urgency of the situation was completely lost on the Chuckle Brothers who were driving us – they seemed more keen on taking us on a tour of Suez, stopping to pick up some bits and bobs on the way. By the time we were on the freeway it was already approaching 11pm. I watched out of the window as the milestones (well kilometre signs) clocked down to 50km. At this point I rang Mandy and told her to it was time.
Mand had arrived in Egypt from Oz on the 29th and gone to the grotty resort town of Hurghada, the logic of which was that if I didn’t make it she could still hang out with Lorna, the sassy chick behind many of my shipping forays, who happened to be holidaying there for the New Year. She had made her way up to Cairo earlier today and had been waiting for me as my ETA got pushed back and back.
At 11:35pm, I actually thought that we were going to make it – we had passed Cairo airport and since there would be little traffic at this time of night, we should be laughing. Well, we should have been. Instead I was fuming at the fact the morons who were driving us decided that now would be a GREAT time to take a twenty-minute detour in order to get some fuel, thus saving themselves a few cents and saving me the indignity of actually hitting the pyramids on time.
Hurriedly texting my Twitter account with a blow-by-blow account of the whole howling adventure, the humour of the situation (i.e. that our drivers didn’t actually know where the pyramids were) was lost on me for a while. At 11:55pm, we were pulled up at the side of the road getting directions from a random punter. There are only two roads to the pyramids – one, the imaginatively titled ‘Pyramids Road’ which runs to the north of the complex and the other, which runs to the south-east – near the Sphinx (and the KFC).. This shouldn’t be rocket science. We wanty visit Sphinxy.
Mand rang. She was already there and had been waiting in the dark for nearly half an hour. Her taxi driver (bless him) had stayed behind to make sure she was all right. I put him on to my taxi driver and he explained the situation. With new-found fervour, our driver headed the right way (for a change). But by now it was too late. It was midnight.
But soon the KFC reared into view. It didn’t look the same as I remembered from all those years ago – loads of buildings had been put up around it. But there was Mandy – I could see her! She ran towards the taxi.. Matt ordered me to WAIT! This was the money shot he didn’t want to miss.
Frantic, Matt attempted to escape – unfortunately his door was locked. “LET ME OUT!”, he screamed at our slack-jawed lollygagger of a driver – CLICK CLUNK out he got, and then it was my turn… I took a deep breath and stepped out of the taxi and WHAM into the loving arms of my Amanda, that hot chick from Oz that I hadn’t seen for a year. There in the shadow of those ancient giants – the place we first met ten years ago – we hugged and hugged and hugged.
It was six minutes past midnight. Happy New Year.
Here’s the video of countries 89 to 133:
To see the whole thing, look out for ‘Graham’s World’ on Nat Geo Adventure!!