Well it all seemed pretty simple? and the only experience I have to compare it with is RO RO ferries for Dover to Calais. But hey this is what being retired is about, finding out just how difficult things in the world can sometimes be.
To get you up to date my Citroen Saxo is still in Greece where if all goes well it will be gifted to the food charity I spent some time with. Just seems when you travel lots of things just fall into places you could never have imagined.
So the plan is to pick up Julia Albu’s Toyota Conquest and drive it back to Cape Town. Julia is the amazing 81 year old lady who I met for about 20 minutes last year in Ethiopia driving her car from Cape Town to London and not only did she do it but she was driving it back when she became ill and had to fly back to Cape Town where she spent a couple of months in hospital. I am glad to report she is on the mend but obviously isn’t an easy lady to tell, “Take it easy Julia” 🙂 Follow Julia on https://www.myafricanconquest.com/
Another inspiring lady is Laura driving her 50 year old Morris Minor from Aberdeen to Cape Town. Follow her on https://www.facebook.com/pg/morri2africa/posts/
My new special forces friend inside the port, even though he speaks no English and me only a very little Arabic, his colleagues were in stitches at s trying to communicate.
So I knew very little about the arrangements or even where Julia’s car was when I left Greece, sometimes that’s just the way life plays out!!. Its probable that due to her poor health no one person dealt with the processes for the car and all its contents, which makes it even more complicated. All a challenge the way I see it!.
The road to the port is an interesting place, Anything at all from a cardboard box to giant heavy eg machinery moving cranes are lined up at the road side for sale. Most look ancient and unworkable but lots of potential for enthusiasts.
I knew you cannot ship anything in your car so it has to be emptied and freighted over separately. This has got to be a real pain but that’s the way it is. I also knew you need to get Egyptian registration and number plates to drive through Egypt. I also knew you had to negotiate insurance in every country and had heard something about a yellow card scheme similar to the green card scheme but had no idea of where and how it works.
First problem is collecting a car that isn’t in your name and you aren’t really sure even where it is!!. If only you could send an email saying “I’m sick can Ged pick it up?” There was a whole host of documents that need to be either re issued and originals sent through to me in Alexandria from Cape Town along with certified copies of them for each border I may need to cross. All this takes time but there isn’t much you can do about it other than get on. At least Julia now knew I was serious about collecting her car….. I was in Alexandria!!
One of the most important documents is called a carnet du passage. Its a 10 page or 25 page 3 part document for the car and is designed to make sure you do not sell or dispose of the car in any country you enter because they would lose the tax revenue. Each counterfoil is stamped as you go in and leave and you have to return it at the end of the trip to show the vehicle is back in the country. They are not cheap and there is a bond that you have to pay up front that is often in the thousands of pounds especially if you have a new car. An old one can get away with a much smaller bond but there are “quite severe” penalties if the car isn’t returned. Exactly what these penalties are I have no idea but I am aware of one traveller I met who “gave” his car to an official in return for writing off papers to evidence its demise . Not the sort of thing I would ever want to even try when in the middle of Africa. They quoted £750 in the UK for my Saxo’s carnet and £250 for the bond but that’s because the car was worth much less than £1000. The shipping quote was very hard to find and came in at £650 from Athens to Alexandria but it was only £680 from Bristol to Alexandria. I did have a nano second blink about doing that but then thought about what I would miss driving across Europe!!
I’m now the proud owner of an Egyptian driving licence too. Yes it is upside down
In addition to the new documents being sent from Cape Town I had to try and find out where the car was and where the contents were. Believe it or not it wasn’t easy, yes we had tracking numbers etc but not for the car. When there are shipping agents and then agents of agents as well as the shipping companies in Greece and Egypt and both languages are indecipherable to me, you really have no idea where or what anyone is saying.
After a few days I established that CFS (Consolidated Freight Services) in Egypt definitely had the best knowledge of the car but trying to ask where is it exactly, wasn’t very productive. I couldn’t even find the port in Alexandria (which is huge) and saw no point in trying because the car could have been anywhere. There were conflicting reports about it being in Milan and then not in Milan and then eventually after a few days I began to believe a little that the car was actually here in Alexandria somewhere.
The process to retrieve a car is best described as tortuous. Nothing could be started until I got the documents from Cape Town. Julia and her family and friends did all they could to get a new carnet issued in my name and then to gather vehicle registrations and get signed affidavits about her illness, certified with the local authorities in Cape Town before sending them DHL Express to me in Alexandria.
Addresses alone in Africa are something else. Important documents going astray could cost you weeks of time. Its no good hoping the businesses are still there and operating. They could have moved, be undergoing a refurb, closed down, gone away or be a part of the business that has nothing to do with the issue of a car. So you have to physically check everywhere is open, will do what you want them to do and that you have all the contact details of the person you need to be involved. I walked 74 miles last week (and about the same this week I reckon) in this city doing just that. Fortunately I like walking and its the only way to see a city anyway. I made provisional enquiries about the insurance and number plates but didn’t need them in the end as it was all sorted by CFS
The staff at CFS have been great. They know the process inside out, and once the docs from Cape Town arrived we could start…….slowly. It’s been difficult to describe the process to me because of the language barrier. Often I just sit reading my kindle having no idea what is happening !!
First my documents and the pile sent from Cape Town had to be copied and duplicated and sent to who knows before we could move on. Then my 30 day tourist visa had to be confirmed at the passport office, that’s where the 3 hour delay took place for a tick and stamp that took 5 seconds. I still wasn’t entirely sure the car was here but CFS were slowly convincing me it was!! Then we went to the port, no not to see the car, to arrange access to the port the next day. Passports and lots of other documents all copied in triplicate and then from one office to another and eventually I had a pass to get into the port but it was now the end of the day. We just had time to rush, sorry crawl, through the traffic to the Egyptian Automobile association Club in grand surroundings on the water front to get an insurance document to use in Eqypt.
The next day back to port early and whilst I was hoping to get the car it wasn’t to be. Once again with a growing pile of papers, people using typewriters and yes …..carbon paper were typing even more notes and then we were being sent from office to office. The port is huge we used a taxi to get to our first office. There were new cars everywhere in neat lines Mitsubishi Crossfires, Renault somethings, very fancy, and Posh Fiats and tons and tons of old cars all over the place. I saw a UK plated Range Rover as well as an older Rolls Royce. And of course the Lamborghini with a young VIP owner about 25, No idea how he expects to drive around Alexandria in it without ripping the bottom off it!! . Amongst all these cars were huge building and engineering machinery. The port is huge.
It did all make me realise that getting Julia’s car out was purely routine and one of hundreds if not thousands they deal with every day. I cant complain there is a process and we were following it. I will talk another time about the “cash process” but its impossible to have an idea about what goes on and who is doing what. Their equipment facilities and offices were like something out of Victorian times, They are really dusty and in places filthy and everyone smokes all the time, which even for me has been a cultural shock. (Ever since the Balkans smoking has been huge with everyone) All the police and staff were doing their best and everyone was smiling and chatting so I could practise my Arabic and send them into fits of laughter most times.
I did go to one “big cheese” office and the boss was a grim serious guy who paid no attention whatsoever to me, on my three separate visits to him. I did understand he said “No” a lot to people, and in fairness to him he did seem very methodical checking and rechecking documents at his own speed no matter how many people were around him. On one visit a colleague came in and “borrowed” a pen out his drawer. When he came back there was lots of smirking and giggling and then one guy said, “We told him you took the pen” I put my arms up in the air and done my favourite get me out of trouble phrase, “Hey what is this the Mafia” The whole office including Mr Serious Boss Man all folded over in massive laughter. I couldn’t help but think they saw the reality to it all and found it really funny!!
Then we hit a problem no engine cc on the paperwork anywhere. (Seems they don’t record this in SA) I scoured a pile of papers and eventually found just the numbers 1597 on some Greek paperwork. No idea what it said but it looked like the right place and figure for the cc. They referred us to yet another guy and after a few hand signals and begging signs he signed and stamped the papers. We were cleared to another two people to sign duplicates and stamp away until I suddenly ended up in a dusty warehouse to see Tracy for the second time. (That’s Julia’s name for the car and I first saw Tracy in Ethiopia last year fir less than 5 minutes) looking very sorry for herself amongst lots of other cars. I took a picture and was told off but managed to get a few more before he looked ready to kill me!!
Off we went then to get the Egyptian car registration done or at least started. After about 30 minutes of one office, to another we ended up with a big chief who pondered the pile of papers, flicked through them about ten times, glared at me in my kilt and looked again and again at my passport open in front of him and then he indicated to sign on 5 pages in the pile and then we were free. Until Saturday though, they will process it tomorrow and I assume fix the number plates on, but Friday s Mosque day so their weekend. Fortunately thy are open on Saturday so all being well I can collect Julia’s car a last.
The traffic here in the city is awful,reminds me of Delhi and that’s the worst I have seen. Julia’s car is right hand like UK so that’s not a bad thing. It wont start at the moment (which isn’t surprising as the battery has been lying connected for probably 3 months ) but they promised me a jump start or a push on Saturday.. I am not looking forward to driving in town they are all raving mad drivers constantly leaning on their horns as if it will part the traffic like the red sea. It makes no difference at all!!
Well I did finally collect Tracy on Saturday after another eternity. Getting the number plates was supposed to be 10 minutes repeatedly but took about 1.5 hours. Anyway who has had to endure this process must be like me ecstatic when they actually hand them over. I was!! When they checked the chassis and engine number I was very impressed they don’t just write it down they do a”brass rubbing” with paper over the numbers and stick it to the paper work. They did this at 3 separate places so “the only way you will get stolen cars through is to have a network of villains all working together!!! Finally just as you think you can go. You have to buy a fire extinguisher that’s big enough to put out a jumbo jet fire!1 and then we were off.
The pictures above show some of the queues at the port and Tracey as they inspect the engine and chassis numbers along with her kilometers…….. Yes 370,127 Wow. We got a jump start and were off but I then had to drive to my hotel in the middle of Alexandria to collect my bags. Tracy who is right hand drive, was wonderful and even has power steering a complete luxury to me. The traffic is, was and always will be awful. I have no idea how I managed to get in and out (by then in the dark) without hitting something or someone. Vehicles with no lights people in dark clothing, driving the wrong way, jumping out from behind stationary traffic, walking in the middle of 4 lanes, it goes on and on. Oh and Salah my fixer from CFS (pictured with me in Tracy above) sends his best wishes to Julia,
I wanted to get to Toyota to see their service manager Sharif so Tracy can have a qualified person look her over before I start. I got there about 10 minutes after they shut. However Sharif was great, came out to see me, copied all he needed to and assured me he will treat checking the vehicle (They have no spares for it her warned me straight away|) as a priority so I can leave for Cairo. However I can’t go to see him until I have recovered the box of tyres and spares that (includes a locking wheel nut) and is still with customs somewhere in Alexandria after being flown in last week. That’s another story on its own, the short one, it changed its tracking number and ended up coming here from Milan via London, East Midlands and then Cairo but its here awaiting customs clearance.
So last night after a long day I thought get a hotel near the airport so when the box is ready, it will be easy to pick up. Ha ha!! First I got the wrong airport then I got the right one, then I found out they had no hotels there. I was considering sleeping in the airport on my sleep mat because the thought of driving again in the dark trying to find a hotel wasn’t appealing and Google Maps is already proving to be a challenge here in Africa. However got to this lovely hotel (I needed a pool to lie beside) after a quote of $52 per night but then became $65 at the desk. I was getting ready to leave again but we settled for $55. So I’m here until the box is released then a visit to Toyota and I can really start the journey properly.
Sudan is already proving to be a challenge, mainly because it has a fuel shortage so I am going to have to carry as much fuel as I can but of course I need to get my visa first and get out of Egypt. So far I have loved Egypt, the people are very friendly ……even without my kilt and have been helpful at every opportunity.
One down side, my Egyptian kilt is still a “work in action” t this rate it may become a Sudanese kilt!! The tailor kept saying he would do it tomorrow but as we all know tomorrow never comes. So I have the material just need to find a good tailor now oh and 3 belt buckles. That sounds like a good project for Cairo when I am doing nothing else. I;m already thinking of employing a driver for Cairo to drive Tracy for 2 reasons, I have a few things to do, finding them as a stranger isn’t easy, Google Maps isn’t so good here and parking is always a nightmare and of course the traffic is terrible. I’ll probably arrange this with a fixer I know or the hotel I stay in.
A few other bits whilst I think of them: There was an African Union football match on the other night between an Egyptian side and an Algerian side . Lots of cafes were packed to the hilt no idea who won but it was close near full time and football is obviously as popular here as anywhere else in the world.
I had cause to visit a bank to use Western Union a few weeks ago, Don’t bother. I have never seen so many carrier bags full of money being brought in for deposit. Guys rolled in with three or four carrier bags crammed with money, banking it and counting takes for ever. No wonder all Africans hate banks and think they charge too much!! If you need to use western union just go to a branch that is western union only because banks prioritise their own customers and you will wait for ever!