20 August 2009

Nightmare journey

Today we had tickets to get the ferry from Hurghada to Sharm el- Sheikh. The distance across the Red Sea is about 50 miles and the journey should only take 90 minutes. It ended up taking over 12 hours for us to get there.

Unfortunately the ferry was cancelled due to rough seas and the only other way to get there was by road. There's only one ferry a day and we couldn't wait for tomorrows as we had a made a non-refundable booking for a hotel in Sharm el-Sheikh. There isn't really any budget accommodation in Sharm but we found a great offer on Kayak which got us a room at the five star Hilton Sharm Dreams Resort for £33 a night, which is quite a saving on the standard listed rate of $350!

After an hour long scrum we managed to secure a couple of seats in a Peugeot 504 estate taxi that would take us to Sharm. It was a bit of a squeeze, along with Liz, myself and the driver we also had three other adults, three children and all our luggage.

The journey by road is a little bit further than the 50 or so miles that the boat takes. First you have to drive 395 km North up the gulf coast, cross the canal at Suez, and then drive another 388 km South back in the direction that you've just come but down the opposite shore. We thought that the bus journey to Hurghada on Tuesday was a bit trying but it was a walk in the park compared to this trip. At least the bus had the benefit of air con to keep the 40 degree desert heat at bay. Unfortunately when our taxi was built, which looks like it was some time in the mid 70's, air con wasn't on the options list. Thankfully neither was a stereo, so this time we were spared the sounds of Quran FM.

The car was also lacking in a few other areas too. There were no seat belts, no functioning hand brake, no door handles on the inside (making it quite hard to shut the doors when you got in) and only one window winder which had to be pulled from the door and passed around if anyone wanted to open or close their window!

As we left Hurghada we stopped to fill up with fuel. After we filled up the smell of petrol in the car was quite overpowering but we just put it down to a bit of spillage somewhere.
I was a bit suspicious when after only about an hours driving we stopped again for more fuel. As the attendant was filling up I got out of the car to stretch my legs and discovered the source of the petrol fumes. As quick as the petrol was being pumped into the car it appeared to be drizzling out of a hole in the fuel tank and onto the floor. The driver seemed to have no concern whatsoever that we were heading out into the desert with a ruptured fuel tank. To make matters worse none of the guages in the car worked so not only did we not know how fast we were going but we also didn't know how fast we were depositing our fuel over the desert, and more importantly, how much we had left.

About another hour or so down the road the car started to judder and shake in the same manner in which a car that has run out of petrol does. Thankfully we hadn't run out but just had a blocked fuel filter. After a 10 minute repair we were back on the road again before we ground to a halt another few miles down the road with the same problem. This pattern continued all the way to Suez where we were treated to the luxury of a new fuel filter.

However; we were about 50 km before Suez when we had an altogether different type of incident.

We were making our way around some fairly tight and winding sections of coast road when were were met by a speeding pick-up truck coming in the opposite direction but on our side of the road. He had come around the corner far too fast and was skidding out of control, head on into our car.

Our septugenarian taxi driver furiously pumped the brakes but being as the pads probably hadn't been changed since King Tut was on the throne nothing much happened. It really was one of those moments where everything goes in slow motion. Thankfully at the last second he remembered that there was also a steering wheel and managed to avoid a full head on collision, hitting each other side on instead. Thankfully, God/Allah knows how, no one was hurt and the car was still driveable (or no less driveable than before bearing in mind the punctured petrol tank and blocked fuel filter).

Just to increase the comfort levels for the paying passengers, when we got to Suez as well as picking up a new fuel filter, we also picked up the drivers son. Taking the occupant count to a very cosy ten plus luggage.

Even though the fuel filter had been fixed we still had plenty of stops on the remainder of the journey. In addition to more stops to fill up with petrol we also had to stop twice to refill the radiator and a couple of additional stops for some random under bonnet tinkering. Finally after 10 hours on the road, and with still over 200km to go to Sharm, the car finally gave up and came to a spluttering halt on the side of the road. After more under bonnet tinkering the driver decided that more extensive repairs were needed. With that he flagged down a passing minibus and loaded us onboard to complete our journey.

After leaving our hotel in Hurghada at 8am, we eventually arrived at our hotel in Sharm just before 10pm, thoroughly dehydrated and covered in a nice crust of dust. We certainly had a few odd looks from the receptionists as we checked in, looking somewhat more dishevelled than the average guest at a Hilton hotel.

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