Day 1,443: His Dark Materials

Thu 13.12.12:

According to some, in an alternate reality the path I’ve chosen through life puts me in a very different place. Somewhere in the multiverse there’s a Graham who is sitting on this bench in Aswan’s Botanical Garden, his sassy Australian girlfriend Mandy by his side, laughing and talking like we did on this very same bench 13 years ago. But not in this reality. In this reality I’m sitting here on my own.

But maybe it was always supposed to end like this: maybe whatever path I had chosen Mand and I would have split up. Say I had moved to Australia and got a job shelling prawns in the local prawnery (foreigners aren’t allowed decent jobs in Oz, and in any case the strength of the Aussie dollar makes TV and film production vanishingly unlikely as a viable career). Would the gruesome waste of my unique and incontrovertible talents drive me back to Europe anyway? What if Mand had come to the UK for good, would the distance between her and her family drive her back to Oz? I have little reason to doubt it. The more I think about it as I sit on this bench in this shady spot of serenity, the more I think that all roads led here. Some things just ain’t meant to be.

But I have little to grumble about. Last August might have been the end of Act II, the point at which all is lost, but now we’ve passed the dénouement and to the victor goes the spoils. I gambled everything on the successful completion of this journey: last August you might have been fooled into thinking that the whole thing was in folly. I have to admit to having some long dark nights of the soul myself: I had lost my girlfriend of over ten years, after burning my bridges with the mmmmms at mmmmm, mmmmm and mmmmm, the chances of me working in television in the UK was pretty much nil, the powers that be (evil) had stitched it up so the second series of the TV show would never see the light of day and that the first series will never be shown on British TV or made available on DVD (I can only assume that’s because I might actually get a cut of any DVD profits). Furthermore, I couldn’t even put the footage I had filmed after the completion of the first TV show ON YOUTUBE. And to add insult to injury, I was so low on funds that I had to beg my friends for the money to get home to see my dad before his heart operation and, don’t forget, at the time I still had no confirmation that Costa would let me on the cruise ship to Maldives and Seychelles.

If there was light at the end of the tunnel, I was probably the only one who could still see it.

One of the things I always took solace in was that I had inspired people all over the world to pick up a backpack and go travelling. I know this because they write to me, something that buoyed me up during days that I was banging my head against the wall saying ‘what the hell am I doing?’

But now I have a new story of inspiration for you. This isn’t just about travel, this is about pursuing your dreams no matter what. No matter how many people tell you to give up, come home, get a proper job. Because – and pay attention to this – if I had given up last year after my sister died and Australia was conspiring to crush the reckless ambition out of me, I would have left this whole expedition with just some wonderful memories and some great new friendships – but The Odyssey Expedition would have been not much more than a jolly (albeit an admittedly epic one).

But I didn’t give up. I saw it through to the bitter end – and, in that, I have no regrets. Because this is what I have to look forward to in 2013:

• Being signed up by one of the biggest talent agencies in Hollywood
• Presenting a travel show for NBC America
• Giving a TED Talk in February
• Casey

In short, I gambled, I gambled everything and I won. I won big. I slayed the giant (which may or may not have been a windmill) and, unlike the Man of La Mancha, actually won the girl. In a year’s time I’ll be in a position to reward all the people who stood by me, worked with me, gave me a helping hand. I’ll be hosting CouchSurfers of my own in Liverpool, London, New York or LA. I’ll be working my way up the ranks of Hollywood towards my dream job: shooting movies loaded with aliens, monsters, zombies, explosions and impossibly good looking people hanging off helicopters. And, most importantly, I’ll be with Casey.

So while I sit on my own on this bench, in this botanical garden on an island in the middle of the Nile, the very bench upon which in a previous millennium asked a cute Aussie girl if she knew what was brown and sticky (a stick!), my nostalgia ebbs away in favour of excitement for the future. In just over a week I will be home. I’ll be surrounded by my friends and family. I will spend my first Christmas back in Liverpool since 2008. I will *finally* get to kiss Casey (three months of text messages and Skype can feel like an eternity). And in the New Year… well, I can only imagine what dreams will come.

Day 1,444: I Predict A Riot

Fri 14.12.12:

Yesterday the Sinai arrived in Aswan without too much fuss. Danny and Jill, the couple I shared lunch with in Wadi Halfa, slept the night on the deck in front of the bridge. They must have been freezing. After disembarkation we got chatting outside customs to the Aussie girl who had just, with the help of Mazar and Midhat Mahir, taken the first EVER tourist bus into Egypt from Sudan USING THE ROAD. This is no small achievement and paves the way for much easier travel through Africa for all us overlanders. The Sinai doesn’t take cars: you currently have to leave your vehicle in Wadi Halfa or Aswan for the barge to bring over a few days later.

Danny, Jill and I shared a taxi from the port into town. Wow it’s grown in the last 13 years. In the afternoon I had just an hour to catch up with all my emails which had back-logged since I left Ethiopia before heading over the river to spend some time in Lord Kitchener’s Island, the botanical garden in the middle of the Nile where Mandy and I walked together for the first time back in the heady eclipse-dominated summer of 1999.

From Aswan Dec 2012, posted by Graham Hughes on 12/18/2012 (28 items)

Generated by Facebook Photo Fetcher 2

Later, I jumped the night train to Cairo, an 18-hour journey which cost me about £6 in British money: ie. About how much an overnight train journey SHOULD cost, EUROPE I’M LOOKING AT YOU.

I arrived in the great stinking noisy dusty concrete hell-city that is Cairo around 3pm and headed straight for Tahrir cinema in order to meet Kendra, my Bostonian CS host from last time I was in Egypt. She was a bit late and I ended up chatting with Christian, a British guy who had been travelling since I was a wee nipper. (Having a toilet seat strapped to your backpack is a great conversation starter.) We shared tales from the road and I was happy to have him pick my brain about travelling around Africa on a shoestring and without flying as that’s exactly what he planned to do next.

Kendra rucked up fashionably late and after dropping my stuff off at her gaff (and grabbing a much needed shower) we headed out to meet with Midhat Mahir – the Khartoum tour agent that I owe for getting me safely in and out of Sudan. If it wasn’t for Midhat, I’d still be in Ethiopia right now. Honestly, if you’re planning on going to Sudan, or even transiting through, contact Midhat first. He’ll tell you everything you need to know. The fact that it was he and his brother Mazar who were responsible for getting that tourist bus over the border yesterday speaks volumes for his ability to get stuff done in a country notorious for making things as difficult as possible for us hapless wayfarers. Good on ya, Midhat!

Afterwards, Kendra and I jumped a taxi to the famous (and also quite marvellous) Café Riche near Tahrir Square. It didn’t take long before we were boozing and putting the world to rights. Tomorrow is a big day for jolly ol’ Misr (as the Egyptians call Egypt), they’re having a referendum on a constitution that 40% of the country can’t even read, the other 60% can’t understand and that will invest even more power in the hands of the ‘elected’ tyrant (see: all Presidents ever) who currently runs this corrupt, dysfunctional and bizarrely impoverished corner of Africa.

You see, the mistake they made in February 2011 was getting rid of just The President.

They should have got shut of The Presidency.

The new president is a religious fundamentalist (oh yes, the world needs more of that lot…) called Mohammed Morsi. Like all ‘elected’ tyrants (see: all Presidents ever), he is Head of State AND Head of Government as well as being in charge of (*ahem*) the army, the navy, the air force, the police force, the judiciary, the civil service, the tax collectors, the border security, customs, the sea ports, the air ports, Egyptian embassies abroad, the postal system, anything that’s been left nationalised, the oil, the gas, the Suez canal, the Pyramids, the Valley of the Kings, the remains of Tutankhamen, the bleaching of the Red Sea coral, the dust in the Egyptian museum and that bloody awful new library in Alexandria (hey Christers! Do us a favour – burn it down again!).

Last week his police force shot dead eight people outside his ‘palace’ (does anybody else understand why the ‘elected’ representative of the people gets to live in a palace?? Hmm? And don’t be playing with semantics – The White House is a f—ing palace too and you know it). Their crime? Well, you know: protesting against him. Morsi then went on TV to apologise and singularly failed to apologise. I mean, they had it coming, how dare you protest against your Fuhrer (*cough*) I mean President?! The irony being that Morsi only became president as a result the job vacancy left in the light of of last year’s, erm, goddamnprotests.

I love it when ‘elected’ tyrants (see: all Presidents ever) get stuck into the job straight away, murdering their own and changing the constitution to make themselves pharaoh. It warms the cockles of your heart, doesn’t it.

I’m sorry if you think I’m labouring the point here, but I firmly believe that Presidencies are deeply flawed systems and are responsible for horror, warfare, murder, poverty and social dysfunction on a par with (and in some cases surpassing) the deeply flawed systems of fascism and communism (I’d throw the childish notions of anarchism and libertarianism in that pot as well). Here is a list of the top ten most democratic countries in the world:

1 	Norway		9-10	Full democracy	
        Constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy, unicameralism

2	Iceland		9-10	Full democracy	
        Parliamentary republic and parliamentary democracy, unicameralism

3	Denmark		9-10	Full democracy	
        Constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy, unicameralism

4	Sweden		9-10	Full democracy	
        Constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy, unicameralism

5	New Zealand	9-10	Full democracy	
        Constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy, unicameralism

6	Australia	9-10	Full democracy	
        Federalism, constitutional monarchy & parliamentary democracy, bicameralism

7	Switzerland	9-10	Full democracy	
        Federalism, directorial system, bicameralism

8	Canada		9-10	Full democracy	
        Federalism, constitutional monarchy & parliamentary democracy, bicameralism

9	Finland		9-10	Full democracy	
        Parliamentary republic and parliamentary democracy, unicameralism

10	Netherlands	9-10	Full democracy	
        Constitutional monarchy, parliamentary democracy, bicameralism

In ALL of these countries, Parliament has sovereignty, not the Head of State. Yes you’re right, nobody has ever erected a statue to a committee, but at the end of the day there simply aren’t enough so-called ‘Great Men’ left in the world to justify presidential systems – systems that are abused wholly, completely and without remorse by almost every man who gets the job (invariably by imprisoning, killing or out-spending the other guy). Countries which embrace such madness are in need of some serious time on the naughty step.

Incidentally, although it’s not exhaustive, ALL the bottom fifty on the Democracy Index have ONE MAN in charge of everything. What a surprise.

Day 1,446: 29.9792°N, 31.1342°E

Sun 16.12.12

So long as the world continues spinning and the sun continues to shine, there will be days. There will be happy days, sad days, rainy days, days in the sun, wasted days, salad days, dog days, birthdays, stay-in-bed days, days when the world is your oyster and days when you lose your shirt. But every so often you have a perfect day. A day in which it all comes together. It might be something you’ve been looking forward to for a long time. It might be a childhood dream you never thought would actually come true. It might be a day when you finally win the lottery. Or it might be all three at once.

Today was all three at once.

I love Egypt. Okay, I’ll poke fun at the place as I would a younger brother, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love the bones of the place. I’ll always come back here and as I’ve said before this, for me, is my travel Ground Zero, the place I first fell in love – with backpacking, with a country, with a girl. Through everything, everywhere I’ve been, Egypt has remained in my top three countries in the world.

The second time I came to Egypt was in December 1999. I stayed with my friends Paul and Mary (who, gawdbless’em, are still together) and we attended the Jean-Michel Jarre concert at the pyramids together to see in the new millennium. Yes, that’s right, I saw in the year 2000 watching French electro-pop from the 1980s. But I don’t care, it’s still cooler than anything you did that night.

But what I really wanted to do was to climb the Great Pyramid and watch the first sun rise of the new millennium from the top of the last Great Wonder of the ancient world. (The others being – off the top of me noggin –The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, The Golden Statue of Zeus, The Colossus of Rhodes, The Lighthouse of Alexandria and the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. (I’ve been to the sites of those last two, but there’s nothing there anymore.))

A couple of decades ago, people climbed the Great Pyramid all the time, it was just something you did. But then, like Uluru in Australia, a few too many people were getting themselves killed, bringing bad luck on the Aboriginals and the possibility of law-suits from those ever litigious cousins of ours from across the pond. On millennium night there were hundreds of people knocking around the plateau – security, musicians, random Egyptians with flashlights – and (possibly more importantly) nobody I was with at the time fancied attempting it.

Not wanting to see the dawn of the new century alone (or in a jail cell), I elected to stay with my mates. Don’t get me wrong – it was a great night, maybe one day I’ll post the video on YouTube, but that longing – the desire to just, you know, climb the damn thing, stayed with me.

Exactly 10 years later I was once again at the Pyramids for New Year, this time meeting Mandy after the first year of The Odyssey Expedition. I wish I got there a little earlier (I arrived at a couple of minutes past midnight) and had climbed up the pyramid with Mandy. But in any case we had Matt the cameraman tagging along, so it wouldn’t have been very romantic, plus I had my backpack with me: not gear you want to lugging up all 146.5 metres of Cheops swanky-assed burial mound.

So my second opportunity to climb the big boy passed me by.

But not this time. This time nothing would stop me.

With the possible exception of a guard with a whistle.

It was around 4am on Saturday morning before Kendra and I rolled into her place. The sad news was coming through of yet another high school massacre as America’s deadly love affair with the gun continued its unrelenting rampage through the corridors of innocents. Americans just cannot grasp how damn uncivilised it makes them look when they talk of ‘freedom’ but what they really mean is ‘the freedom to kill 20 children in 10 minutes – try doing THAT with a knife, Fu Manchu.’

In my country we don’t have the ‘freedom’ to do that. We couldn’t even if we tried. When I have kids I’ll be able to send them off to school with a 100% certainty that a nutter with two assault rifles and a handgun isn’t going to burst into the classroom and spray 300 bullets a minute at my little boy or girl and their classmates.

Now that, my Yankee cousins, is FREEDOM.

The freedom to relax. The freedom from paranoia. The freedom that comes from living in a land which does not allow idiots, morons, psychopaths and sociopaths easy access to weapons of mass destruction.

After a few hours shut-eye I was up and plotting my course back home to Liverpool in slightly finer detail. I had already announced in South Sudan that I’d be back on December 22 and, thanks to a few outrageously good chess moves while in Ethiopia, I’m on schedule to his that deadline. I’ve even got a bit of redundancy built in, but more about that later. That afternoon, Kendra and I headed out to first of all check out Tahrir Square (there were a few tents and things, but not much going on, which was surprising as the referendum is today) and then met up with a couple of her Egyptian friends, Mohammed and Mohammed, and started looking for a leather jacket so I don’t FREEZE TO DEATH when I get back to Europe in the middle of the coldest winter since the last one.

At first they were taking me to fancy shops, jackets costing up to £200. That’s British pounds, not Egyptian. Ever so slightly out of my budget of a tenner. Once they understood that I couldn’t afford these crazy prices and didn’t want a fake leather knock-off from the street stalls that ran down the sidewalk, we headed over to the market where our Egyptian friends were mortified to see me rifling through the second-hand jackets looking for the perfect fit: soft leather, not too busy, not too pricey… No, really, second hand is fine. We call it ‘vintage’ in the UK and charge way over the odds for it. A bit like the trains and organic vegetables…

I have to say that Egypt isn’t the trendiest place in the world (you could probably tell that from all the revolting gold chintz they sell), and so it was a tough old rummage. In the end, I must have visited about 50 shops and stalls and rifled through about 1000 jackets. And then, in the last shop before the shops ran out, I found it. An old Hugo Boss number, no crazy zips everywhere, not stitched up like Edward Scissorhands, wonderfully soft lambskin leather, a little bit scuffed, but then I’d do that to it within a week anyways, How much? “120” (GB£12) says the man. “I’ll give you 100” (GB£10).


Mohammed later laughed at me for not haggling more. But sod that – I know a bargain when I see one, let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth eh?

After coat we met with Mohammed and Mohammed’s friend, Mohammed, and sat for a tea on the Nile. It would have been nice, perhaps some traditional Egyptian music quietly carried by the breeze as we sat under the stars. But no, This Is Egypt and the music simply must be annoying, repetitive, played on a kazoo, sung by a tone-deaf hyena and played SO LOUD IT DISTORTS like a teenager in his Mum’s Fiesta. Empty ‘party’ boats sit forlornly along the riverside blasting this crap out quite possibly scaring away any tourists hapless enough to still be here.

Did I mention there are hardly *any* tourists in Egypt at the moment? Surprisingly, protesters being shot dead and holiday-makers do not make happy bedfellows. Quite how President Morsi has been allowed to get away with ruining the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of his citizens (sorry, ‘subjects’) is beyond me. Egypt has lived off tourism since before the days of Herodotus and to scaring those tourists and their much-needed dollars away is not what the leader (sorry, ‘fuehrer’) of Egypt should be doing.

After tea Kendra and I said goodbye to Mohammed, Mohammed and Mohammed and headed back to her place. I got a couple of hours sleep as tonight was the night.

Tonight I would *finally* climb The Great Pyramid of Giza.

Kendra climbed the smallest pyramid, Mycerinus, back in 2010 with one of her mates. When I told her a few weeks ago that I would be returning to Cairo I also told her that this time we would be climbing the big one. I knew that Kendra, the girl who waited in line for 3 weeks to be the first to watch Star Wars Episode I, would not say no to such a proposition.

Mohammed, Mohammed and Mohammed were also up for it. It made me feel a lot safer having Arabic speakers with us, although they told us that if we got caught, Kendra and I would have little to worry about – we could just act like dumb tourists – Mo, Mo & Mo didn’t have that luxury. They could get into some serious shit for doing this.

But we figured that tonight of all nights, the Pyramids would be under minimum surveillance as this constitutional referendum took everybody’s eye off the ball.

We reunited at Kendra’s flat at 2am. Mohammed bought us all special pyramid-climbing gloves which made me feel like a proper cat burglar.

We drove to Giza in Mohammed’s car and arrived at the infamous KFC by The Sphinx sometime before 3am (I know this because it doesn’t close until 3am. I bought myself a piece of chicken). This was were I met Mandy at the end of the first year of The Odyssey Expedition. Now it would mark the beginning of our journey to the summit of the most famous building in human history.

How To Climb The Great Pyramid of Giza

If you’ve ever paid the scumbags who run the camels and horses to take you to see the pyramids at night, you’ll know where we went, but for uninitiated, you need to go clockwise around the plateau from the KFC. The track is well marked by camel tracks and horse shit.

There’s usually nobody about at this time of night, but we had the misfortune of walking through the Gizan backstreet when the last remaining nutters were leaving an Egyptian wedding, setting off fireworks and shooting their guns up in the air. We just walked on as though we were supposed to be there.

Once past the small cemetery, turn clockwise 90 degrees you’ll see the parameter fence to your right. Follow it along until you get to the place where the late-night horse rides end – on the sandy bluff from where you can see all three pyramids. It’s the spot Mand and I sat during the final credit sequence of ‘Graham’s World’. There’s a little shelter there at the top of the hill.

Make sure nobody is about, If it’s late enough, there probably won’t be, Don’t trust the horse and/or camel guys: don’t forget it was them who charged into Tahrir Square in February 2011 and set about beating women and children. If they see you climb the fence, there’s a good chance they’ll report you in order to take a cut of the ‘fine’.

Getting over the fence is a doddle. Between the panels there are metal poles. In some places these are missing and the side bolts of the chain-link fence provide splendid footings. Don’t worry about the CCTV cameras – they’re not on.

Your biggest problem is going to be the pyramid dogs. They’ll bark at the merest hint of a person walking about at night and once one starts barking, they all start barking. They won’t run over to you, which is the good news, the bad news is that if there is just one guard on duty, you’re going to get caught.

We crouched as we made our way across the plateau towards the smallest pyramid, that of Mycerinus. This was the one that Kendra had already climbed. It’s nearest the fence and it’s unlikely that any dogs will notice you on the way over. We did our best to go around any ridges, we didn’t want to get skylined. We were also lucky to have a moonless night: it’s the darkest you can hope for given Cairo’s substantial light pollution.

Once at Mycerinus we proceeded around the left hand side of the pyramid towards Chephren, the middle one. A few dogs started barking and howling, but nobody came. We were very cautious on the way in. We had a choice of which way to go around Chephren, but we decided to go around the left side again, since on the right (Sphinx) side, there was a whopping great floodlight that could cause us grief.

The direct way to Cheops requires a little bit of climbing, but soon enough we were near the south-west corner: the best place to climb.

There was only one problem. The pyramid dogs were going BALLISTIC. There most have been a couple dozen of them, all running around in circles, screaming “People are trying to climb the pyramid!! People are trying to climb the pyramid!!” in their own little VERY IRRITATING doggy way.

We ignored the dogs and started to climb. We had made it this far, hadn’t we? Half expecting to shrill PEEEEEEEEP from a guard’s whistle at any moment we started to scramble up the big one. I have to admit, the dogs freaked me out. My heart was beating nineteen to the dozen.

The lower stones are the most dangerous. There’s a lot of rubble to slip on. Things get easier the higher you go. If a stone seems a bit too high to climb, then just walk along your tier until you find a better proposition – you invariably will. As I said, the south-east corner is the best to climb, the stones are well placed and you get some cover from the other two pyramids.

In the event, all the barking in the world wouldn’t have stopped us. There was nobody there. Literally not a single soul guarding what I regard as the important buildings in the history of mankind. Once we were halfway up, the barking died down and from then on up it felt like an enjoyable hike to the top of a comparatively small man-made mountain.

The View From The Top

It took 20 years to build The Great Pyramid of Giza. It took 20 minutes for Kendra, Mohammed, Mohammed, Mohammed and I to climb. The massive capstone was stolen a long time ago and so there’s a flat area at the summit measuring around 5 metres square: plenty of space to move about and admire the view from the top. Cairo spread out below us like the whore she is, polluting the night air with dust, petrol fumes and yellow phosphorus light, while taxis tooted mercilessly in the distance. The stars were bright. The Gemini twins, Castor and Pollux, pointed straight down towards Mycerinus and of course Orion, my faithful travel companion, was there too: he didn’t want to miss out on all the fun.

Well, we made it. The worst they could do to us now would be a fine once we got back down, so we took a stack of photographs, the flashes no doubt signalling to anybody in a twenty mile radius that there were no good hoodlums monkeying around on top of the last great wonder of the ancient world. And yet nothing. No whistles, no shouts, not even a dog barking.

We stayed up there for about an hour, marvelling at both the view and the sheer majesty of these bombastic, iconic and timeless monuments – monuments that we had all to ourselves. Then, just before dawn, the city below us crackled awake as the muezzins sounded their ghostly call to prayer. When your hotel window is right next to a speaker, being woken up at the crack of down by this tuneless warble is a nightmare. But up here, with the murmuring cacophony going off in every corner of Africa’s biggest city far below, it sounded amazing: a harmonious drone like nothing I’ve ever heard before.

Mohammed, Mohammed and Mohammed got down to pray. Kendra and I sat nearby and kept respectfully quiet. When they were finished, with the morning sun fast approaching, we figured it was time to leave.

We clambered down the south-east corner, nice and easy. I kept surveying down below, to see if anyone was waiting for us, but there was no-one.

Once on the ground we walked back to the fence, this time using the Sphinx side of Chephren and Mycerinus. Unlike the journey to the pyramid, we used torches and spoke openly: by now we were pretty confident that there was literally nobody here.

It was fairly light by the time we got back to the fence. By the time we got back to the car it was broad daylight. The night was over. We had done it. We had climbed The Great Pyramid of Giza.

From Climbing THE GREAT PYRAMID!, posted by Graham Hughes on 12/18/2012 (21 items)

Generated by Facebook Photo Fetcher 2

Day 1,447: Africa Has The Last Laugh

Sun 16.12.12:

Kendra, Mohammed, Mohammed, Mohammed and I jumped into the car and headed back to Cairo. Tahrir Square was having some kind of meltdown, so we had to get back to Kendra’s via Timbuktu, not arriving until 8am. As I wished to be on the bus to Port Said by 8am, this was not the best of all possible worlds. The ferry over to Turkey was due to leave at 1pm, so I’d be cutting this finer than Parma Ham. As the others went to get breakfast I hurtled into Kendra’s flat, had a quick shower (my last until next Friday), gathered my things together and we headed back out. What I really needed was a café with good, fast internet.

Kendra said there was a place around the corner, letting her gender down by failing at special distances by a factor of 10. It was around several corners and by the time we got there it was 9am. And the internet wasn’t working. And the staff were unbelievably rude and unhelpful. And there was no food. Five people, wired from a night of no sleep and pyramid climbing, all we wanted was some TLC, but it was not exactly forthcoming.

I had attempted to call the Turkish shipping company yesterday to confirm dates and times and prices, but it was to no avail. The automated answering system instructed me to press 9 for English, I pressed 9 and got through to a woman who just said ‘I do not speak English’ and hung up.

This morning Mohammed had a go, calling the Egyptian agency that the internets told us were in charge of operations in Port Said. The guy who picked up was about as helpful as a flaming bag of Hitler-AIDS left on your doorstep. He told us that they didn’t operate any ferries and he didn’t know of any ferries leaving from Port Said for Turkey.

It took us an hour to suss that he was lying. Another agency – United Shipping – had taken over the ferry route, and the old operators were doing their level best to scare customers away, not that they’re bitter or nothing. Mohammed got through to United Shipping. The ship was leaving today, but not until 7pm at the earliest. This gave me plenty of time to head over to Port Said. I just needed to get there before 3pm to buy the ferry ticket. All was good.

We chilled out and had another coffee (I had given up trying to explain tea with milk to them) before heading over to the bus station. Mohammed sorted out my ticket and the bus was leaving in about 45 minutes. I grabbed some quick kushery for breakfast (by now I was starvin’ Marvin’) and soon I was saying my fond farewells to my Pyramid-scaling chums who I have no doubt I will one day be seeing again. Cairo, you horrible litter-strewn concrete-hovelled wench of a city, I’ll miss you. I always do.

The bus was late getting into Port Said and by the time I found the shipping office (the 8th floor of a building you would swear was derelict until somebody pointed out that this is Egypt and, like India, everything must be dirty and dysfunctional. They seem to take a weird sense of pride in the fact.) it was 3:30pm.

Not to worry, the woman said it was okay to get the ticket, even if I was a bit late. That’ll be $170 please. *Jesus – How much?!!* ‘Okay, what’s that in Egyptian pounds?’

‘Sorry – must be in US dollars.’

*What??? Is that even legal?* ‘Where can I change money on a Sunday?’

‘There is a Credit Suisse Just down the road, you can change your money there.’

And so I start to walk. And walk. AND WALK.

An hour later and I have asked over 40 people where the f—ing Credit Suisse is. Everyone either tries to get me to change money with them, points me in the wrong direction or lies to me. I remember how frustrating Egypt can be when you’ve had no sleep, it’s getting dark and you need something doing, NOW.

It was 4:50pm before I found a money changer (I never did find the mythical Credit Suisse). A first he said he had no dollars, but that was a lie, an so he just gave me a lousy rate instead. It was too late in the day to argue. I had to take a taxi back to the shipping offices and once again climb all 8 flights of stairs (you need a key to use the lift). I arrived, out of breath, furious with the world, only to be told that the ship wouldn’t be leaving until 7am. But it could be any time before 7am, so I had to be ready to go. They would give me a call.

Sod a hotel for the night, yes I had slept for just two hours last night and four hours the night before that, but I’ll sleep when I’m dead. I found a 24 hour café with internet and settled in for the night.

At 11:30pm my phone rang. It was the woman from the shipping agency telling me to get to the office. I finished off whatever I was doing and headed back over. There were a group of people, mostly Syrians, milling about outside the office. The piles of luggage told me that were waiting for the ferry too. So I found a speck on the step and began to wait. It was a cold night, as nights tend to be in Egypt in winter, and after two hours of sitting there, I thought sod this for a game of soldiers and hiked all the way upstairs to the office. There they told me that they would be leaving ‘shortly’. Given the rather lasses-faire attitude most Egyptians have towards the concept of time, this could mean in a few minutes or a few days.

So I plonked myself down on one of the armchairs in the boss’s office and got myself a good half-hour’s sleep before being woken up and told that the minibus was waiting. I went down and yes there was a minibus, bus it was us having to wait, you see they didn’t have a driver. So we waited for another good half-an-hour before getting on the damn bus.

It was no 3.30am and I was in the rattiest mood you could imagine. The bus drove us all of 100 metres down the road before being stopped at the port gates by the port police who wouldn’t let us in without our passports. We had given our passports to the shipping company. When will the passports get here? ‘Shortly’.

TWO HOURS LATER we were finally in the port, but Africa wasn’t *quite* done with me yet. I had to go through customs. My bags were scanned for 476th time of The Odyssey Expedition and the scanner guy excitedly pointed out that I had a Swiss Army Knife in my backpack. Of course I did, I’m a backpacker. It was not a problem crossing any other border – including that of the USA, China and Saudi Arabia, but it’s a problem now. Well, not really: the guy just wanted to steal it from me.

F— it. Fine.

I was through arguing. I took out the knife and slammed it down on his shitty plywood table, called him a gobshite and got back on the minibus. He grinned broadly and popped the knife into his top pocket. A nice Christmas present for his horrifically obese eldest son methinks.

We arrived at the ship after just before 7am. Why the woman at the shipping office felt the need to call us 7 and a half hours ago is quite beyond me. I hurried onto the ship. It was quite nice, surprisingly, a Greek passenger ferry all kitted out like a proper ship. I found a couch and FINALLY fell asleep.

When I woke up a few hours later I found that I could barely walk. My legs ached to Billy-O. It took me about an hour to figure out that it was probably because I climbed The Great Pyramid yesterday.

I half expected to be well on the way across the Mediterranean by now, but by lunchtime we still hadn’t budged. It was 1pm before we left port, 24 hours after the advertised time of departure. If this had been a one-off freak occurrence I might have had a little sympathy, but according to other travel bloggers who have taken this journey, this sort of thing happens every week. You might call it Africa’s Last Laugh.

The day passed in a daze. I wrote a little, read a little, watched some old episodes of Black Books on my laptop. Breakfast, lunch and dinner was provided free of charge (that’s one up on those godawful GRIMaldi ferries between Italy and Tunisia) and I found myself torn between getting my money’s worth and not wishing to come back home to my new girlfriend a big fat fatty fat fat.

We would be arriving in Iskenderun, Turkey, at 11am the next day. The helpful guy working ship’s reception told me to expect to be clear of customs etc. by 1pm.

That would be 1pm Tuesday December 18. I intend to be back in my hometown of Liverpool for the weekend. Ladies and Gentlemen, you don’t need a Mayan calendar to tell you that The End Is Nigh.