There are two entry borders into Egypt from the east. One land border from Eilat, Israel to Taba, and one from Aqaba, Jordan to Nuweiba, Egypt, which entails a nightly ferry down the Red Sea. There has been much spoken and written about individual experiences, having read many, it is obvious that different people have different experiences. The decision for me was easy as I didn’t want an entry stamp into Egypt from the Israeli border, (I needed to get a Sudan visa in Cairo) the boat from Aqaba it was.
I understand that there is a problem bringing drones, GPS devices and even GoPro’s through these borders. With this in mind I hid my Garmin GPS, Spot Tracker and GoPro 7 in the engine air-box.
The ferry leaves every night at about 11pm. I tried to buy a ticket in Aqaba but nobody could sell me one, in the end I went to the port without a ticket at about 7pm. Over the next hour I was passed from one office to another, everyone welcoming and helpful although many people didn’t speak English. I paid 10 JOD departure tax for myself and 25 for my bike. Customs stamped me and the bike out, then I brought a ticket for the boat, 108 JOD for me and the bike. Much cheaper than any travel agent said. £166 total costs for leaving Jordan and the ferry.
I was consumed with thoughts about entry into Egypt, as everyone had told me how unhelpful the Egyptian Customs Guards are, and how much you have to pay / bribe many people.
There are two boats to Nuweiba, I think both owned by the same company, as I rode towards them they didn’t seem to care which one I boarded! I chose the bigger one, although it wasn’t big. It was packed with people, everyone (as usual) staring at the westerner on an adventure bike.
I assumed it might be crowded so I only take essentials off the bike (which stays untethered below), 2 litres of water and my Thermarest NeoAir sleeping mat. This means I can be comfortable on the top deck, away from the crowded and noisy interior. By 9pm I was all set for the journey down the Red Sea. It departed at 10.40pm. There were a couple of hundred people on-board, but I only saw a few women. We docked at 1.10am.
Everyone was crowding to disembark, however an Egyptian ‘Tourist Policeman’ came onto the ferry and 3 women: Italian, Spanish & Indian, a Kuwaiti guy and I were ushered off first. I rode off the ship and was welcomed to Egypt. My smile was a mile wide, even though I had now been up 19 hours, including 5 hours trekking around Petra and a 100 mile (160km) ride through the desert to get to Aqaba. I was dirty and must have stunk.
At 1.30am Hatem, the Tourist Policeman assigned to us, was guiding us through immigration. The long and possibly expensive process begins here I thought.
I had an e-visa and was stamped into the country. If you are travelling beyond Sinai be sure the visa you get covers all of Egypt. At this point the other westerners had completed all the paperwork and left the port.
An hour later, I unloaded all my stuff from the bike to be X-Rayed. After I was told to wait outside with my bike. I love borders, sometimes quiet, I’ve been the only one crossing on more than one occasion. However, this was a busy crossing, 99% men importing so much stuff, carting and pulling massive bundles of what I assumed were textiles! Every piece of luggage, the hundreds of massive bundles of stuff, were all taken inside for X-ray and inspection. Wow, quite an operation and a massive amount of effort for 3am in the morning, that’s for sure. Then about 50 men without any luggage were escorted into immigration, they were tightly packed and all holding hands. I didn’t know what was going on, I speculated they maybe refugees, seeking asylum.
It was now maybe 4am. I waited patiently, and maintained my default position, whatever happens, ‘they are right and I’m wrong’, it’s their country with their rules. I was smiling and talking to some of the people. What was the rush, it was pitch black outside! I love borders and watched the crazy activity. It’s all about the people.
An hour passed and I wandered back inside. I calmly said ‘nobody has been to see me yet’, the customs guy smiled and said ‘its for your safety, we don’t want you out there (meaning on the streets) as it’s dangerous’. I’m smiled and said ‘no problem’.
As I wait, I wonder when the many stories of ‘officials making it hard for me will start’, or when I will start ‘paying $ to officials’. Whilst taking a long time, everyone has been so helpful, curious, welcoming. Perfect!
Eventually the traffic police and bomb squad police come over to me. They made me unload everything off the bike again, asking questions, ‘why have you got binoculars?’, ‘to see things with’ I said. I thought ‘why else would I have them?’ The Bomb Squad Policeman, Nabil, spoke very good English and was very helpful. I was then asked where I was going, and why? The chief guy looked at me and shook his in disbelief that I wanted to ride across Sinia.
Hatem returned later and said we had to get the motorbike inspected. It’s the very early hours of the morning and I’m exhausted, however Hatem said he would get on the back of the bike and we would ride 1km away. I’m exhausted, my bike is fully loaded and Hatem (6ft + tall and heavy) sits on top of my bag behind me. It must have looked so funny (it was so dangerous), me on a fully loaded bike with a Hatem towering a meter above me. How I didn’t drop the bike as we rode over terrible roads and sand I have no idea. I paid $2 to the man who checked the bike and we went to another set of offices to get my Carnet / TripTec (temporary importation document for my motorbike) stamped.
Hatem said I needed cash to pay many people, I said I only had US dollars, so he took me to the change office. I said I would change $100, he said I should change $200. It doesn’t take a genius to know the next hours were going to be expensive!
I paid the Carnet guy, even though he didn’t stamp it. It was at this point that I first realised there was a potential problem ahead. The man sorting the insurance out said ‘The Egyption Autoclub’ is closed for 6 days (all foreign carnets / triptics need authorisation from this organisation prior to getting approval to leave the port).
The sun is rising above the mountains in the distance now, whilst it looks beautiful, I’m not interested. Exhaustion has set-in!
For the first time in hours I’m taken to wait in a cafe, sweet tea revives me temporarily. I wasn’t thinking straight and I had the feeling that they know I’ve now been up over 24 hours which means I will pay more to get my bike in the country! I reflect on the other borders I’ve crossed with my motorbike, Iraq & Iran was ok. Pakistan into India was a bit of hassle. Russia and SE Asian countries a breeze, Austrailia a little hassle. Nothing compares to this I thought! I was aware of this border and thought I was prepared. Whilst tired I’m ok.
Hatem returns saying there’s a problem but at 9am he will resolve it. He’s back on my bike gain. It’s amazing the strength one can muster up on occasions. He takes me back to immigration, I get my sleeping mat out to try and get a couple of hours sleep. I slept for two hours, the sleeping mat proved more valuable than an ‘oasis in a desert!’ As I stirred, I heard so many people in the distance, it sounded like two opposing football team’s fans had met, they were shouting, was it friendly? I slowly opened my eyes and recognised the modern building I entered a few hours earlier. I saw the dirty floor, the windows that looked like they had never been cleaned and the rubbish on the floor! Through the open door I could see the bright sun and dusty road, hello Egypt I thought. I wasn’t smiling, I hadn’t had enough sleep. I thought about Hatem, he was a huge man, how crazy was he to ride on my luggage on the back of my bike! Then I realised the predicament I was in! Would I be riding away on my bike later in the morning or would I be another ‘overlander’ with a tale of wow at the Egyptian border?
The good thing about being older is that I acknowledge my feelings, and understand they can be temporary. In a few hours or days I would be free to ride into Egypt. I would be feeling amazing, I would have overcome a different and challenging situation. The type of euphoria that I rarely experience back home.
I pack my sleeping mat away, wash my face and wandered outside and see my motorbike directly outside the building, about 100 metres away are the exit gates. Freedom is close. All of the men from last night are pushing their goods out of the gates, I imagine they’re off to a bazaar in Cairo to make some money. Off to my right is an army tank, and beyond the gates the hustle and bustle of Egyptian life. When expectations are out of line with reality, it can result in disappointment. I was prepared and was expecting what was being served up to me. I’m ok, I’m doing what I love, I wouldn’t want it any other way. One more hour and Hatem might turn up, or would it be 2 hours or more? I had a sweet tea and cigarette, I’m starting to feel good. A wiser man than me once said ‘it’s not about the destination, it’s how you get there that counts’. If I had wanted life to be easy I would have stayed at home!
At 8.58 Hatem came out of an office, he said ‘hello and good, you slept’. I wondered if he had been there observing me all morning? I thought maybe they wanted me to sleep, to be prepared for Sinai. I’m prone to positivity, it’s within me, it’s a good trait but on occasions means my expectations are not in sync with reality.
At 9am on the dot Hatem asked me to go into the office, he wanted me to eat, did he want me strong, would I be leaving on my bike this morning? My positivity was in overdrive! I wasn’t hungry but wanted them to see me eat, I forced down falafel & flatbread. As I ate I remembered when in 2014, I rode into Iraq from Eastern Turkey. The border guards told me I was the first tourist at the border in a long while, after I got my visa they took me to the Chief of the border. He sat me down, gave me tea and sweet cake and talked to me about the war, where was safe and where I MUST avoid.
Over the next hour everything changed. Office to office, Hatem arguing with people in authority, I kept my cool, but was 95% sure I wouldn’t get the bike in. What an emotional roller coaster ride.
Finally at 10.45am they told me ‘Ede’ (The most important Muslim festival) started today and everyone is on holiday until Tuesday. This means I couldn’t enter the country on my bike.
My plan was always to get into Egypt (with my bike), ride the 100 miles (160km) south and relax in Dahab (chilled dive town on the Red Sea) for 4 or so days. I didn’t tell anyone this though.
It’s 11.15am and I’m 80% ok, I’m resilient and thought ok I was going to Dahab for 4 days anyway! However, I can only keep up a ‘smile’ and ‘you’re right and I’m wrong’ for so long…
It’s maybe 1pm (12 hours after arriving, a few hours sleep in the last last 31 hours having spent the previous day hiking around Petra, and riding through the 40+° Desert). Hatem, Nabil and the many other people I spoke to were all trying to help me. They all kept saying ‘you are so unlucky you arrived today, it’s Eid’.
I came to terms with the fact that I had to leave my motorbike in the port and travel to Dahab, to return 5 days later to get my bike.
I was escorted to a warehouse where I was to leave my bike, I wasn’t happy about my predicament, but had no choice. Hatem, who had been so good to me for over 12 hours now, told me the warehouse manager wants 2,000 Egyptian Pounds (£100 / 110 Euros) to store my bike! In that instant, my calm, measured, smiling self disappeared. I lost my composure, I had no control of my behaviour, I was mad! I’m not proud, but I lost it and refused to pay! I shouted and swore (not at any individual), I was in a rage, it was their decision that I had to leave my bike, I wanted to ride away. I broke the rule, ‘smile, they’re right and I’m wrong’.
It takes a lot for me to ‘lose it’, but when I do, I can’t control myself. I stormed away.
I rode my bike back to the immigration building. The hundreds of people that had been there in the night we’re gone, I was alone, the place was empty. I’m so physically and mentally exhausted I’m not functioning as usual. I’m very weak, I have to sit in the shade as the temperature is well into the 40°’s. As I look outside all I see is the shimmering heat, dust and a very unwelcoming environment. My thoughts had turned to my safety, I was aware of my sleep deprivation, my physical exhaustion, I wasn’t capable of functioning outside in the heat. Hatem said he was going to find a solution, whilst he said he would be 5 minutes, I knew it would be longer!
I start feeling desperate, occasionally a guard wanders by and I try to talk to them, they walk by though. I’m losing my rationality, I can’t cope. I start saying to the odd guard ‘I need help, can you help me?’ Nobody did. Then Mahamoud, the man that exchanged my cash many hours earlier came by. I asked him to help me. He stopped and said yes. It was at that moment I ‘broke down’. He was looking at me, waiting for me to say something, but I couldn’t talk, I was a wreak. I mumbled ‘I can’t talk’, and stood back a metre. Everyone still in the port (guards, immigration people, police) knew my predicament. I knew Mahmoud completely understood my emotions, he stood in silence, giving me time to compose myself. It took me a few minutes to get back to 50% functioning. Natem’s colleague who had also been helping me all night turned up. Between them, they spoke and made phone calls. Mahmoud told me everyone was trying to help, that Natem was currently talking to the second in command of the border, he was asking if an exception could be made for me, as I was so unlucky arriving at the start of Eid.
‘It’s all about Eid’, if one more person tells me ‘I’m just unlucky!’.
I wasn’t in control of my behaviour when I was told to follow Natem to another office. Back on my motorbike I didn’t feel safe. We returned to the Carnet office. I was deluded, I thought they were going to stamp my Carnet and let me ride away! They didn’t. I was told I had to pay 10pence (11 Euro Cents) fees to someone in an office. It made me ‘lose it again’! I refused, shouted and stormed away.
I must have looked so exhausted, dirty, emotionally ‘out of control’. My anger was never directed at people. Again, I sat down. I very nearly fell asleep.
I thought I was in the same predicament as Tom Hanks in the film ‘The Terminal’. I was trapped and couldn’t get out. It gets to 2.30pm and I’m slowly getting to the point where I consider getting my air-mattress out and sleeping.
They said I could leave my bike for free after I complained again. I rode back to the storage warehouse and locked my bike up. I walked outside and sat in the shade. The guys helping me said I could leave the port, and walked away. I said I wasn’t capable of walking in the heat, they continued walking. I now screamed at them and said ‘help me, I need help!’ They stopped, talked and 1 minute later a motorbike arrived and took me to the port gate.
Natem’s colleague told me to walk to the bus station, 1 mile away. 14 hours ago the port and small town outside these gates was a hive of activity, with hundreds of people coming and going. It was so vibrant. Now as I sat in the mid-afternoon heat, it reminded me of an old Hollywood ‘spaghetti western’. Clint Eastwood, riding in the midday heat into a small Mexican town. Everyone is inside sheltering from the sun. The only movement is when the wind blows the tumbleweed down the dry, dusty road.
I’m so angry, they know exactly how I feel as I’ve told them and nobody is offering help. I literally can’t walk anywhere. I feel abandoned. I sit in the shade and refuse to walk out. I’m now focusing on my safety, long gone are thoughts of my motorbike. Again, they said ‘you can go’.
It’s about 3pm and I tell them it’s irresponsible to let me walk out there, pointing out towards ‘hell on earth’. Natem’s colleague tells me to follow him, we walk outside, it’s like a ‘ghost town’, I tell him I’m not capable of getting a bus, ‘I want a taxi’. He spots one and waves it over. It took 5 minutes of discussion, the policeman took a photo of the taxi registration and noted many of the driver’s details. I shook the policeman’s hand and said ‘thank-you for your help’.
I told the driver to take me to Dahab, a cheap hotel by the beach.
I had now been up for about 34 hours, hiked for 5 hours around Petra, rode 100 miles through the blistering heat of the Jordanian desert, took a ferry down the Red Sea and spent 14 frustrating hours at the Egyptian border! I had never felt more exhausted and weak. I must have fallen straight to sleep, as I woke up on arrival at the hotel. I would have agreed to stay in any hotel, however, it was perfect.
I now need to get my physical and mental strength back, as I’ll be returning to Neweiba Port again…
I returned to Nuwebia Port 8 days later (this was the first day back at work for many people). I waited outside in the early heat, until Hatem (Tourist Policeman) came to meet me.
I completed most of the paperwork previously, but there was more to do, and money to pay. Many people crossing into Egypt at Nuweiba have to leave their bike inside the port and get a coach to the ‘Egyptian AutoClub’ in Cairo, to get their Carnet (TripTic) authorised. I don’t know why they had to go in person? Copies of my passport, Carnet and motorbike registration were all sent directly to AutoClub with a smartphone. Once received in Cairo, Hatem took me to a bank where I paid 1,140 Egyption Pounds (EP), which was transferred to AutoClub.
I had assumed the payment for storage of my motorbike would raise its head again! It did, and after much protesting I had to pay 1,320 EP.
Nabil (Bomb Squad Policeman) arrived and as he had the best English, helped me with translation. Over the following hours I went to many offices, signing documents and paying money. Another 400 EP for processing my Carnet, and finally (I thought) 500 EP for my number plates and insurance. Natem told me we were finished and we could go to the gates, he helped me so much I gave him 200 EP as a ‘thank you’. As we approached the gates Hatem said I need to pay a man 600 EP for Port Authority fees. This was the only time I speculated that this payment may not be official!
I arrived at 9 am and 7 hours later, I rode out of the gates with Egyptian number plates. I found a nearby hotel and relaxed.
The total cost was 143 JOD (£166 / 180 Euros) to leave Jordan (immigration & ferry), and 3,960 EP (£197 / 215 Euros) to enter Egypt. Grand total £363 / 395 Euros. And if you’re unlucky enough to arrive at Nuwebia at the start of Eid, 9 days…