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.

Graham Hughes

Graham Hughes is a British adventurer, presenter, filmmaker and author. He is the only person to have travelled to every country in the world without flying. From 2014 to 2017 he lived off-grid on a private island that he won in a game show, before returning to the UK to campaign for a better future for the generations to come.

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