20 December 2009

From Norway to the Red Sea

Yet another ferry, I thought, oh great! Just what I need after the traumatic trip from Sudan to Egypt. But we had to cross the Red Sea to get from Egypt to Jordan, as the alternative (crossing through the tip of Israel at Eilat) would prevent us from going on to Syria: some Arab nations are not happy to see an Israeli stamp in your passport. So the ferry it had to be: if it meant getting out of Egypt asap, that was OK with me.


So we battled our way through yet another tangle of Egyptian border bureaucracy, taking 4 hours just to get clearance to leave - the process interrupted by prayer sessions, being given the runaround by officials with nothing better to do than sit around drinking tea and held up by yet another stamp requiring baksheesh. So when we were finally allowed to drive up to the ferry we were starving. As it looked like we were only three or four cars from getting on board, Stuart and Alex wandered up to find a good lunch spot while I waited as cars and lorries were backed into the mouth of the ro-ro ferry. As it turned out I had two hours to contemplate not only the mystery of having to reverse cars into a ferry expressly designed for cars to roll on at one end and off at their destination but also the strange sight of a Norwegian ferry in this hot and dusty Red Sea port.


Yes, this used to be the Kristiansand, later the Skagen, which, after being superseded in the Baltic by fancier models, has found a home here in Nuweiba, shuttling passengers back and forth between Egypt and Jordan. When I finally got to drive on to the car deck and wandered up to the passenger levels, it was slightly surreal to see the original names scratched out from the signage to be replaced with the boat’s new name of “M/S Shehrazade”, although there were still signs advising customers that due to Danish customs regulations, the restaurant would be closed until the ship left the port. Emergency evacuation signs in English and German were overlaid with photocopies in Arabic, and there were other printed signs exhorting us to “show your opinion to get your rights”. Not sure that would go down so well with Egyptian customs. We never did work out what those were about.


After spending some time in the overfilled cafe, loud with Arabic television and heaving with smoking Jordanian truckers (all other passengers apart from us whiteys were kept up on deck), we managed to score a ghostly empty restaurant room, decorated with Skandiwegian summer scenes, where we holed up with our laptops for the duration.


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