Egyptian Border Salloum – Secret Police, Guns and Desperation

April 16, 2013 / Egypt, My category / 6 Comments /

I haven’t posted this until I was far away enough from the country that it would have no negative impact on us at all.  What happened that day was sickening and possibly the scariest and most horrific experience I have ever been in.  I never want to ever be in that predicament again, nor do I wish for anyone else to be.  I hope our blog helps others in safely getting across the border…

Leaving Libya was pip-squeak.  Entering Egypt… absolutely horrendous.  As we had heard on many occasions the Libyan/Egyptian border is the hardest and most horrific to cross in the whole world.  No matter how much we psyched ourselves up nothing could have prepared us for a full eight plus hours of experiencing what we can only describe as an utter hell hole.   Once you have read the following I have no doubt you will feel the same way.

Banging, drilling and the odd squabble rudely awoke us from our rickety itchy linen beds all puffy eyed and shattered.  From a fairly early start building works had commenced to make good of the artillery shelled roof and exterior of the hotel, just when we had managed to be lured into a deep sleep after a restless night.  We dressed, packed and waited for the knock of our driver but it was almost 2 hours later than expected due to him having a wee bit of a lie in after a late night on the sheesha!  Once he managed to stumble around and gather himself rapidly we all sleepily made our way down to the truck.  Before hopping in we both had a quick check over the bikes and noted that everything was still in order… Good times!  Loading our boots, helmets and bags into the back of the truck and under the tarpaulin we jumped in the cabin and were ready to go again.

Back on track, we were heading to Torbruq on the desert road – a long, straight, empty desert road with no services or buildings to break the horizon.  Our driver was pretty exhausted and on the odd occasion he would “blink” for a prolonged period before individually forcing each sleepy dust crusted eyelid back open, readjusting his seating and squinting to refocus.  This process was repeated every few minutes as he slouched further and further into his seat.  It was when he started properly nodding that Sam and I made every effort to chat away loudly, nudging and including him in broken Arabic conversations to try and sustain his attention and alertness.  We even turned up and sung along to the Spice Girls cassette he had on loop in hope that would give him a burst of energy.  In the warm cosiness of the truck though it was a struggle for us all not to feel drowsy.  We really had to fight hard the temptation of a quick power nap.

A few hours on and we found ourselves leaving the desert road behind.  It was around 2pm so we figured we were making good time considering we would be stopping off for a night in Torbruq… Or so we thought.  At this point in time we were unaware of the drivers intentions for crossing the border that day.  We had a short break at a food shack where we hungrily munched our way through a greasy chicken, chips and humous, avoiding the rather flaccid looking salad presented to us.  It wasn’t great but we were ravished.  Back on the road we made it to Torbruq where the driver continued straight through.  It was only then Sam and I realised we were heading straight for the border and concerned about the time we pulled out the GPS and pointed to where we were and then the border, trying to explain it was still a good few hundred kilometres and we would arrive near nightfall.  The driver nodded and said he understood but continued either way.

A few hours on, and after passing lines and lines of Chad military all queued by the hundreds in their toyota pick ups, we arrived at the border town.  For about half an hour we drove backwards and forwards looking for insurance on a busy, dusty road full of others also doing the same whilst simultaneously loading goods in to their suspension strained vehicles.  When waiting we watched as various cars and trucks with furniture and goods piled high on top bundled precariously past.   So many of the rusted vans were brimming with families squished in like sardines the young ones clinging to the outside due to the abundance of room.

Once we were sorted for insurance our driver took us straight to the border.  The time was now 16:30 and the sun was beginning to slip out of the sky casting long shadows across the rubbish filled desert road.  We knew we were going to be there in darkness and in anticipation of the guards and politics I ensured I was well covered and aimed to remain as inconspicuous as I could be.  We arrived at the Libyan border and handed over our documents, plates and passports.  Within about half an hour all the details were dealt with and finished rather painlessly and we found ourselves happily heading to the Egyptian border control!  I remember thinking if it’s all going to be like this, it’s going to be a complete doddle!

We then drove through the final Libyan border post and suddenly the atmosphere around us changed.  Slowly we made our way around a large queue of parked vehicles where people were frantically running around like skittish ants, tying down goods, swapping items over and reloading, some shouting and barking orders from the tops of lorries to others as they eagerly buzzed around below at their will.  Scooting up over pavements, much to the protest of some people blocking the path, we passed a border post and entered a new swell of chaos.  Within seconds the truck was fully submerged into a crowd of desperation with people and guards combined in to one gigantic sea of commotion all rolling past, rocking us side ways through a tide of pushing, pulling, crying and shouting out for a response, a reaction, some hope or an answer… But all succeeding in nothing.  Every inch we crawled a face would shape itself out of the monstrous mass.  Some were darkened with anger and furrowed brows, their cheeks flushed with fury, mouths raging and fists shaking as their raw throats continually cried out vigorously in all directions, splaying those within close proximity with spittle and fear.  Others showed signs of creases formed from the constant flow of daily tears which had etched sore tributaries from their swollen eyes, their sobbing unheard or ignored as their tired and wasted bodies limply clasped desperately on to officials before being tossed back into the storm.  In darkened corners lurked some suspicious figures, eyes glinting and hunting the crowd for an opportunity.  Framed in front of a barred window, one elder caught my eye as he twitched gently but perched perfectly on the slither of the window ledge, bandaged stumps replacing where his hands once were and balanced on a gnarled, crippled foot, a living human version or a deformed city pigeon.  It looked like he had been their for months, if not years, slowly decaying.  The worst though were the ones who swept past in a ghostly fashion. Their bodies would tumble and jaunt back and forth like a dancing rag doll as they mumbled monotonously and repetitively, sometimes silently but always obliviously through the contorting tidal mass.  What was most haunting about these ones were their eyes.  They were soulless.  Completely soulless.  Despite being among a throng of hundreds, they swayed endlessly, all alone.  My heart sank trying to contemplate what they must have been part of or witnessed to have reached such a state.  Our launch into this area was like being hit by a human tsnami of confusion, anger, sadness and destruction.  It was a complete mess and shock.

It took about 20minutes to be fully washed through the crowd and churned into a small clearing the other side where a concrete guard house stood.  An official was outside, a rather rounded looking chap with a blank expression despite the hysteria merely meters away.  We were signaled to stop and after a brief discussion and some form of bribing negotiation our Libyan driver indicated that this guard would help see us through the initial stages of the border which was to commence in a building set off to our left.  The border guard took some time to greet Sameer and I with a friendly firm handshake and upon asking us the usual questions in broken English (where are we from, where have we travelled, are we married etc etc) he burst into a huge grin when I exclaimed I was ex-police, proceeded to give me a hearty handshake, a half hug and a European style kiss stating “you like me! I also police! We police friends! This is good”!  At the time I was a bit taken aback by his enthusiasm but Sameer and I figured he was just being funny and friendly and was in fact harmless.  We were kind of relieved that he was so happy and thought it may even help us with the border crossing.

So, with our border guard guide, Sameer and I were directed off towards a large official building, leaving our driver to stand over the truck, bikes and luggage as the clashing crowd bubbled nearby.  It was a large, square lined concrete structure which emanated nothing but cold and emptiness – something straight out of the gloomy working towers depicted in George Orwell’s 1984 book.  Upon entering through the beggars at the doorway and excusing ourselves between huddled groups, I was frequently subjected to double takes and the odd person sharing their unwanted intentions towards me as a white western woman, despite my efforts to remain fully covered.  The room funneled into a long, bustling corridor, a dim hive of activity, bribing and commotion not too dissimilar to the chaos rumbling outside although worryingly contained within a tight, barred enclosure.  If it all kicked off, it would be mayhem.  I am fortunate that I was born with a rather strong gut and the ability to cope with stenches without much other than a flicker of the nostrils and a side remark.  But here… it was a struggle not to gag at the lingering wretched stench which invaded your nostrils with such force it managed to leave a heavy taste  lingering at the back of your throat.  With fresh and old feces and vomit on the floor and walls along with sweaty people in various states of hygiene and health it all seemed to combine stickily, only momentarily to be masked by a cloud of thick, puce cigarette smoke billowing out from a side room.  It was claustrophobic and unpleasant to say the least.

After fighting our way through the gluey atmosphere we found ourselves being pulled off into a side room which, once the huddled groups had been fought back out from the heels of our entry and door firmly locked shut, fell surprisingly quiet.  It was a small and strange, strange room.  In stark contrast to the nude grey concrete corridors beyond the multiple lock-wearing door, they had made some bizarre attempt to decorate in a elegant and business like fashion, presumable to make it have an official and authoritative air.  With torn, rugged, leather topped tables, stained upholstered wood carved chairs, faded and wonkily framed Egyptian hieroglyphics, a large mahogany dresser and grotesque vintage lampshades, it was tired, worn and tacky.  Filling the room was seven guards casually lounging out in jeans and shirts smoking and chatting.   It was kind all very odd.  There was chaos brewing away outside and yet they were in here ignoring it all.  It felt unnatural.  We made our greetings and were offered seats where we politely sat down albeit on the edge, nervous and aware of our uneasy surroundings.  Our passports were requested and before long each official had a nosey through before the runt of the group was pulled off to one side, thrusted the documents and ushered off into an accompanying room much to his annoyance.  Sam explained in broken Arabic how his Father was Arab and Mother English, making him half Arab.  This went down well with the guards and there was a lot of exchanging of handshakes and high fives.  Our border guard then indicated I was ex-police and the same reaction ensued.  A bit more relaxed we waited quietly for our paperwork, answering general informal questions when they were asked.

It was mid being enthusiastically explained that the fella sat with his feet up on the desk could speak multiple languages (12 apparently, including English, although he was quite incapable of saying hello in any of these supposed fluent languages he spoke) when a door flourished opened and out stepped a rotund velvet crushed suited and waist coated chap.  Instantly the others jumped up and fell silent, eyes to the floor and feet shuffling… this guy obviously had some clout and I tell you what, he knew it.  In his clippity heeled shiny shoes he slowly and meaningfully approached Sam and I, regarding only Sam’s passport in hand and not once making eye contact.  After a prolonged, dramatic silent pause he tilted his head and looked down his nose at Sam before making some kind of drawn out comment in Arabic.  Smiling, Sam explained he only spoke a little Arabic “shuh why shuh why” and that he was only half Arab.  Without recognition of Sam’s comment, a further long silence ensued before he swiveled on his heels and as stiff as a plank clippity-cloppity returned to the small side room.  The runt officer attentively pulled the door to and immediately relief filled the room, cigarettes were lit up and conversations reformed.  Sam and I exchanged knowing looks.  This guy was going to be a complete doosh.

Twenty minutes passed… then another.  We were reassured “not long not long, two minutes” every so often.  Sam and I figured this was all for show and patiently accepted we were at his will.  A few times officers slipped in and out of the room, some carrying trays of empty tea glasses and returning with new brews.  It was almost an hour later and the door creeked open.  Again the screeching of chairs and shuffling of feet filled the room as everyone stood to attention for our rotund official.  Without expression he approached Sam and the following conversation followed:

Rotund Official: “So you not speak much Arabic?”
Sam: “Heh, no unfortunately not.  My Father never really taught me and my Mother is English so I spoke very little Arabic when younger.” *cracks a smile*
Rotund Official: *stoney faced* “Why you no want to learn Arabic?”
Sam: “Oh I do want to learn it but it’s difficult language to learn when older!”
Rotund Official: “You not learn Arabic means you not like Arab.”
Sam: “Noooo no no no, I am half Arab I just never had the opportunity.  I grew up in England and my Father worked away…”
Rotund Official: “You don’t like Arabs then?”
Sam: “No, I am half Arab, of course I like Arabs, my Father is…”
Rotund Official: “…But you don’t speak Arabic so you don’t like Arabs”

It went on and round in circles.  In short he was being a complete and utter nob.  Eventually, he clip clopped back into his little room with a disgruntled huff.  I tried to reassure Sam and encourage him to just ignore the guy as it was all just a willy wanging show.  Sam agreed but was naturally miffed off they were trying to wind him up.

Half an hour passed and we decided that our rotund friend was probably just sat playing Solitaire in his manky little room, the aloof twonk.  During this time there were a few rolling black outs and now with the sun set it left us in sheer darkness.  It seemed these cuts were a regular occurrence as the guards were unfazed and quite pprepared with torches and mobile lights.  After another ten minutes I decided I would go check on the truck and driver and explain we were waiting for this official to give us the nod to the next stage.  I informed my intentions to the “multiple fluent language English speaking guard” who just stared back at me bemused.  It was evident English was as alien to him as Clingon is to me.

Accompanied by our bribed border guard I forced my way out into the stench of the corridor.  Whilst squeezing past a group as politely and inoffensively as possible, another black out came over.  With no windows around we were all unexpectedly blinded by a sudden inky black dank air.  People cried out and from the darkness emerged an opportune groping hand on my arse, followed by a desperate grab for my pockets.  With the lights flickering and a sense of confusion, I was nearly pulled off centre but within moments I rebalanced by grabbing the offending arm and with a twist and a yank I returned the original gesture with a hard knee jab in a general sweaty groin area.  It was quite surreal as the whole scene happened captured in a slow motion action due to the intermittent strobe lighting, all accompanied with fearsome shouting.  When stepping back I witnessed the guard also heavily shunting the fallen felon with force and without further ado I hastily fumbled my way in the flickering light past fighting bodies, guided blindly by my hands along the icey, lumpy-bubble-gummed walls to the entrance which I burst out of in relief.

Outside, I stood to the side and took a breath.  I remember thinking how utterly shit and out of hand this could all get.  It was not good at all.

Within moments I was joined by the guard and with a reassuring back pat we made our way to the driver where I left them both to discuss our current situation in Arabic giving me five to assess the truck, happenings, my pockets and sanity.  Everything was in tact.  I was fine.  I had to be fine.

A few minutes and leveling breaths later the lighting fully returned and with the guard at my side we made with haste our way back to Sam, dodging and ducking without a moment of hesitation.  Fortunately we managed to avoid any offending hands this time round.

As soon as I sat down, Sam took one look at me and knew something had happened.  Whispering, I unfolded the recent happenings and just as I had finished, our rotund friend appeared again giving Sam no time to react other than utter fury glinting in his eye.  Fortunately for Sam’s building temper we were given a “we were lucky this time” nod and both our passports were tossed back.  Up up, we were moved on and ushered out and down the corridor to a much larger crowded room, this time all filled with heavily paper weighted desks, folders, files, phones and the odd computer screen.  The opaque fly filled windows were moving with lamp lit silhouetted bodies crying out for help, begging and pleading.  Sam kept a white knuckle crushing grip on my hand, pressing me protectively into his body as we were bumped about.  After more introductions, our bribed border guard guide took our passports and started conversing with a screen focused admin officer.  Whilst they debated Sam and I watched as another officer approach a pleading man at a broken corner of the filthy barred window.  A rather calm discussion ensued, accompanied by lots of sympathy and agreement from the officer.  He then made some form of acknowledgement, taking the man’s papers and a few bank notes with it.  It was bribery before our eyes, but at least the Officer was being nice and actually trying to help… Or so we thought.  After taking the pleading man’s papers he turned, strutted across the room and dumped the papers in a broken bursting waste paper bin whilst simultaneously pocketing the cash.

This place was atrocious.

A lot of paper work continued and then out of no where the truck driver appeared, seemingly being man handled and receiving hassle from another official.  After trying to intervene he was released and within a few seconds delay we suddenly realised that if the driver was with us, along with our border guard… the truck and our luggage (only protected by a tarpaulin) was unguarded.  Unwilling to leave our documents out of sight, yet also unwilling to leave the truck unguarded meant being split up – we were torn.  Sam looked straight into my eyes and told me to remain with the guard at all costs and not speak to anyone unless it was the officials – he would go stay with the truck.  Squeezing my hand Sam then disappeared into the crowd of chaos in the corridor.

Half hour later, I had filled in various forms and answered various questions, keeping as low profile as possible.  Some papers were finally handed over although they explained they could not give us a visa because they were “too tired” and we would have to get one at a bank.  Not a problem really and with much relief we all made our way out of the building to Sam.  Upon stumbling out of the exit, I instantly spotted Sam and he gave me the thumbs up – everything was fine.  Phew!  Relieved we moved on to the next stage… the motorbike check.

With the driver, Sam, border guard and I in the cab we were quite rammed in.  I managed to part squash up against our driver and with my legs across Sam our bribed border guard took the opportunity to hold on to my ankles… something I wasn’t entirely comfortable with.  We stopped and the driver signaled at Sam to get out and for me to stay covered with the guard.  Once alone in the cabin the border guard tried to talk to me in broken English and after some charades he pointed at me and exclaimed “You, Police!”.   I laughed and said yes and grabbing my hand he shook it whilst cheering and tried to give me a stubbly kiss on the cheek.  Feeling quite uncomfortable I laughed it off and asked where Sam was, pointing to my wedding ring and saying “husband”.  He glanced about and said “no worries, you ok, you POLICE! Yaaaaaaah!” and again took my hand, shook it and pulled me in with a firm grip, kissing me hard on the cheek but trying to pull my face further towards his lips.  I immediately pulled back harshly and edged away looking around desperately for Sam.  Ugh.  Such slime and inappropriateness.  Was anyone going to be good at this border?  He then gets out his gun and proceeded to ask who I would like to shoot, or perhaps I would I like to shoot one of the stray pack dogs?  Flinging his arm around me he tried to scoot his rounded, cheap aftershave stink of a self right up next to me, exclaiming again “You police you police!” attempting to take my hand and pull me in for a full on kiss.  Within seconds I found myself leaping out of the truck, fortunately just as Sam came back into view leaving the creepy border guard cheering and smiling in the cab.  I explained to Sam I’d sit on his lap to the next section and whispered “don’t leave me with him”.  Sam had already clocked the guard was bad news having seen him with his arm around me.  Climbing back in the truck Sam indicated I was his wife and kept me to one side.  Our driver too recognised the danger of the guard and at the next opportune moment we managed to get the driver to shake off the border guard saying we no longer needed his assistance.  It took a fair whack of Arabic conversing but he left with a smile and wave… Thank God for that, what a creep.

Now, knowing our VIN numbers were part hidden on the bike by electrics and a metal plate (not able to be moved unless the whole bike is completely dismantled) we were not looking forward to the bike checking part.  At a tiny border post we were greeted by Mr Sayad (if memory recalls correctly).  As opposed to the aloof velvet crushed twonk we met before this official came across as quite friendly and polite with an air of respected authority around him.  I was offered tea and given gifts of sealed water whilst Sam accompanied another chap to check the VIN numbers and sort the carnets.  I was also then told it would take “Five minutes, five minutes, no problem”.  Five minutes my arse.

During the following three hours they really tested our patience to the maximum, especially when heavily handling our bikes.  The chap Sam was with needed to take a rubbing of the VIN number but to do so had to cut a plastic coating off the top of it.  Using a sharp pen knife he kept scraping dangerously close to our wiring causing Sam to have to interject frequently, the guy just ignoring him and brushing him off.  Mr Sayad kept telling me “no problem” and I did all I could to help get the rubbings they needed or at least get us off the hook of needing to take the bikes apart… but nothing seemed to be satisfactory enough.  They would just totter off to the small outpost and then return exclaiming it wasn’t the full VIN number and repeat the same steps again, succeeding in only pulling off an identical rubbing as before and repeating the above.  Three hours of this.  It was madness and hopeless.  Eventually I went and spoke to Mr Sayad and said there was no way it was going to happen and annoyed he stormed off outside and confronted the whole team now gathered around the truck.

Having been told to wait inside by Mr Sayad I sat quietly, closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths in, trying to refresh my mind.  It was the third inhale I took when I was suddenly overwhelmed by a cheap aftershave whiff.  Opening my eyes I all but leapt out of my skin as the border guard who was trying to get cosy with me before was stood merely inches away.  Leaping to my feet he sheepishly said hello and asked if I was okay.  I thanked him and took a step sideways trying to recover my personal space and indicated that I was fine and my husband was outside sorting everything.  Just as I went to point at Sam out the door and make my quick escape there was a sudden black out.  Shit.  Shit shit shit shit shit.  I heard the guard laughing and cheerily calling out “You police you police! It’s good! Yaaaaah!” and then felt him trying to grab me as he blocked the doorway.  Hands held out I backed clumsily into the room knocking the coffee table over spilling tea everywhere.  The lights blinkered and then hummed back on.  The guard laughed and as he bent down to pick up the toppled table left me an escape route past him out the door.

Relieved at leaving him behind flailing at his lost opportunity, I stumbled straight into Mr Sayad who was in a full flowing argument with Sam. The guy who was trying to originally take the rubbings was now wielding a gigantic hammer and set of metal embossing stamps.   Apparently he went to hammer in new numbers to Sam’s plastic petrol tank at which point Sam lost the plot.  Blockading the bikes we spent a good half hour debating why it was a stupid idea to stamp a plastic tank and that it wasn’t going to happen.  Mr Sayad finally told us in a grump we would suffer in Aswan when heading to Wadi Halfa if we did not have the stamps but realising we weren’t going to back down he gave in, stamping our carnets and telling us to move on.

Back and forward we then drove visiting small official rooms a few hundred yards off each other.  Eventually our driver decided to leave the truck by the Mr Sayad’s small office post and continue the palaver on foot with Sam.  During this time, I stayed with the truck and attempted to re-cover the bikes with the tarpaulin.  I remember trying to regurgitate in my mind how to do sensible rope knots which my Father taught me as a child.   Due to  tiredness and an overloaded mind, I achieved merely in yanking the rope hard and making countless double knots to secure it.  It did the job either way!  For a while I patrolled the truck as infrequent cars pulled up to have their vin number rubbed before disappearing into the dark night.  Eventually though no one was around and with the border guard house empty, the night coldness setting in hard and wild dogs starting to linger too close for comfort I decided to take to the warmth and safety of the cabin.

About twenty minutes later, I spotted a figure emerging from another recent black out.  It was the bribed creepy touchy feely border guard and he was heading straight for me.  Taking a look about I couldn’t see Sam or the driver anywhere… nor anyone else at that fact so I edged over to the door and subtly locked it whilst keeping my head down.  I was hoping dearly he would just walk past.  Alas.  The border guard approached the truck and called out to me asking if I was okay.  I gave the thumbs up and said “No problem, okay” pointed to the lock and gave the thumbs up again.  The border guard then persisted with me and continually said “You okay? You okay? I make you okay?”, and tried the door handle unsuccessfully.

By this point I was exhausted, frustrated and scared witless.  I decided to stop saying I was okay and averted my eyes, looking down at my phone.  It was when he started tapping the window with his gun I felt myself freeze and the realisation set in that I had no where to run to.  The only border house close to me was where the VIN rubbing stamp man was and to be honest, I hadn’t seen him in ages.  Even if he was about, I wondered whether they would stop anything from happening.

His tone of voice changed from a friendly helpful tone to a lower aggressive one where he rumbled “I make you okay lady, I come in. You police like I, boosie, boosie (kiss kiss), you like, you must let me in”.  The door rattled harder at my silent response and the metal of his gun tinnily scratched the window as he grunted and tugged harder.  Glancing sideways he took the opportunity to catch my peripheral vision where he held the gun straight at me and pointed to his crotch, “You will let me in, now.  Boosie.”.  I froze.  If I did not open the door, he may shoot.  If I did open the door, God knows what will happen.  What was I to do?  I was petrified.  Suddenly though two bright lights stunned me leaving me looking like a rabbit in headlights and I heard a huge thunder.  Out of the darkness emerged a coach and as it hissed to a stop people starting bundling out irratically.  The guard lowered his gun to a point it was hidden, watching with care the movement of the people.  It was evident they were not going to go anywhere fast and as he was in full view of everyone it left him in a compromising position.  I stared straight ahead and hoped he would back away.  A moment or two later he thankfully stepped away, returning the gun to his holster.  He then slinked off like a vulture to the coach where I am sure there was plenty of money and bribing to partake in, another opportunity for him to pursue.  I watched carefully and with a backward glare he turned and disappeared into the new commotion.

For the next hour there was quite a crowd of people coming through and the truck was constantly surrounded.  I think I was in shock at the time, I hadn’t moved an inch and my eyes were beginning to water at the constant staring and straining of my eyes into the darkness.  Thankfully, the border guard did not return.  With a loud thump, I leapt out of my skin and then saw Sam at the driver door.  It wasn’t the border guard.  Thank God. I then fell apart and threw myself into Sam’s arms explaining in croaky tears what had happened.

Filling Sam in he felt horrendous for leaving me in what we had originally thought was a safe place.  He comforted me with a hug and promised he would never leave me again… I was so relieved.  Sam then updates me on what happened his side and he too went through a bit of an ordeal being heavily questioned by what sounded like a most disgusting man.  The Official who grilled him apparently kept saying how much he hated Libyans and how they were scum… locked in a room with this creep Sam felt the situation he was in was really not good and very dangerous, particular with them using the whole unable-to-speak-Arabic-despite-being-half-Arab combined with having a Libyan driver with us.  Fortunately, Sam managed to dodge much of the questions he was proposed and was finally released. I could feel myself getting less upset and more angry at the whole situation.

At that point Sam then updated me we had no money left and we were currently being held up for some ridiculous paperwork reason which we couldn’t make head or tail of.  Confused as we had brought plenty of cash Sam explained we had to pay a ridiculous amount for the number plates ($200 each).  I think for me this was the final straw and I saw red.  Furious, absolutely furious beyond belief, I flew out of the truck with the number plates in hand and made my way to the room they were issued.  Calling out “Who issued these?  I want to know NOW who issued these?”, the officials saw me coming and took a step aside.  Storming into a small border post, I slammed the number plates down on the desk and demanded our money back.  I told them their way of working was disgusting and I wasn’t having any of it and I would not leave until they had given my money back.  They looked confused.  I waited and then asked again.  After much debating amidst themselves they called out to the other guards over who were giving the driver a hard time and they backed off.  They apologised to me and said I would get my money back at the other border and that they had issued a receipt to Sam, there was nothing we could do, that was the cost.  I told them it was all ridiculous and they made me sick.  Scouring at them I pushed my way past the officials completely livid, headscarf falling off and with flushed red cheeks and made my way back a few hundred yards to the truck like an aggravated whirlwind.  With Sam still struggling to hold back some guards who were insisting again the bike was to be stamped I just burst.

Me: *pointing ferociously and rapidly approaching the truck* “RIGHT, THAT’S ENOUGH. WE HAVE SAID NO.  It’s simple.  NO.  Now BACK the HELL up and stamp the paperwork NOW.”

The guards froze, fell silent and didn’t budge.

Me:  “You’re all HORRENDOUS criminals. Absolutely DISGUSTING.  HOW DARE you treat us like this, how utterly DARE YOU.  We have been here for 8 HOURS.  Eight.  You understand?!? EIGHT HOURS. For absolutely NO POINT WHATSOEVER other than the fact you are dogs and being BLOODY STUPID.  EIGHT… HOURS.” *holds up 8 fingers and points to the watch* “You have treated us like utter shit, we’ve watched you steal, cause problems, threaten us, you’re all very very BAD people and crazy – MAGNOUT (Arabic for crazy).  You are all Magnout!” *gestures at head and then points to the stunned crowd of guards*

Still motionless I had now reached the truck and stepped between them.

Me: “I’VE SAID IT ONCE, and I don’t plan on saying it again, GET AWAY FROM OUR CAR.  HALLAS (arabic for Stop). HALLAS. ENOUGH. LA. Lah Lah LAH. HALLAS.”

The paperwork was handed back, supplied rapidly with the required stamp.  Another officer objected to this and taking my arm gestured towards the paperwork.

Me:  “DON’T YOU DARE TOUCH ME…. DON’T YOU DARE. The same goes for MY BIKE, OUR TRUCK AND MY HUSBAND.  We are leaving.  Get the hell away from our vehicle. KELB.  YOU all – KELB. (Arabic for dog)”

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Shocked the guard stood back, hands up.  Bundling in to the cabin, followed swiftly by Sam, I pulled in the driver and told him to go.  It seemed to have worked.  We may not have got our money back but they completely backed off and we were let through.   Sam realised I was at the point of break and comforted me the best he could.

Sadly, that was not all.  We needed to get something stamped again to confirm the number plates so at the next border point I followed Sam into another building and we waited another half an hour for our papers to be processed.  During this time others came in and with a bribe on their paperwork they were passed through instantaneously.  They had issues with spelling our names in Arabic for our license for Egypt apparently.  I refused to do any more bribing, they had had enough of our money by that point.  It was just a sickening and stupid place.

Finally though, we made it out.  A few more border guards attempted to stop and grill us but by this point I was either spitting fury or begging to continue to the guards saying we had already been there 8 hours plus.  Whether it was a good tactic or not it had us waved through no worries.

Out on the road the driver, Sam and I spent the rest of the trip conjuring up every word possible we could think of to describe the people we had just had to endure.  Donkey seemed to be a favourite of the driver and I, whereas Sam had a few stronger words to impart!  We drove for a further hour before reaching a hotel stop off point and although the room was manky with itchy sheets and a water, feces flooded toilet we were completely emotionally and physically exhausted so decided to stay.

And that… was our experience of the Egyptian border on the Libyan side.  It was horrific, frightening, disgusting on all levels and probably the worst experience I have ever had in my whole entire life.

I am so glad we made it through okay in the end, although I’m genuinely not sure how we did it.  It’s something I will never ever do again in my life and certainly something I would recommend for everyone to avoid at all costs.

I have no idea whether anything will be done about this border.  It’s frought with illegal activity, bribing and incompetency.  I have never been so offended or scared and can only hope that our Embassy can summon the powers to change this experience to a better one for future travellers.  Unfortunately it’s one of those places which is heavily influenced by gangs and who knows who so I doubt very much if anything will be done.

I will say though this is by no means any reflection on the Egyptian community as a whole.  We have spent a good month in Egypt now and so far we have been greeted with phenomenal hospitality, kindness and friendly experiences.  It is just a very small corrupt minority we had the misfortune to meet.

Onwards and upwards!


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  1. Nabil Farah

    April 16, 2013
    / Reply

    Hey, I would have enjoyed resding this if it was not you being the star of this episode. You are in Adis now and I hope that your encounters will only be with the magisty of of the African nature and exciting landscape. Stay cool and be safe

  2. Ria

    April 19, 2013
    / Reply

    Ah Misr, such warm fuzzy memories of hospitable officials and friendly salesmen.

    At least you have Sudan coming up! No sarcasm here - seriously hospitable country with amazing people

  3. michnus

    April 19, 2013
    / Reply

    And this is no exception, we had the same kind of issues with Egyptian border officials and customs. There's much to love but as much to hate and make that we will not go back there again.

    There's so many other places that's stunning to visit than take their crap.

    Good blog.

  4. KRM

    February 28, 2014
    / Reply

    You don't speak arab so u don't like arab.

    I have the same problem as Sam, to my luck thou I am half palestinian and if I say I don't like arab i actually would have a good starting point :-)

    I always get the question asked about where is ur father from, even thou we are still in touch our lives can not be more different than one another. It kind of hurts cause ur not really being treated as an individual but rather as the sum of ur genes. Which basically leads the social surroundings u may have been brought up with to a zero value for who you are.

    Anyway, great story, hope you guys had a good time. I am riding from Lebanon home to Austria this summer.

  5. Moto touring

    March 19, 2014
    / Reply

    That is useful information about moto trip thanks for sharing it.

  6. Motorcycle Accident

    June 13, 2014
    / Reply

    How much would it cost exactly from Libya to Egypt and how far is it on plane or driving? Any advice?

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