11:10 am. I enter the AK Naggar Shipping office in Alexandria. A very friendly lady asks me when I could leave. ‘Immediately!’ I say. For 300 USD she promises me a berth on a vessel leaving Port Said Saturday morning at 8. She gives me her card and contact information for Naggar’s Port Said office.
It’s Ramadan. Most offices open late and close early. And I have just spent the better part of the past two days running round town trying to secure a passage on a ship going from Egypt to Europe.
To no avail. ‘We only transport cargo.’ was the most common reply. Cruise ships wanted me to pay for a whole cruise when I was only going to be on board for two or three nights. And getting near the cruise ship that I knew was docked in the port was impossible. ‘It’s a bg problem for you. It’s a big problem for us also.’
The Naggar contact is the only one you can find on the overlander forums when you search ‘ferry Egypt Europe’. It had been in my pocket the whole time.
3:00 pm. I check into my hotel in Port Said and am introduced to Greg*: ‘He’s Australian and has a bike.’ But most importantly, ‘he’s traveled 50 countries’. I’m even less impressed when he seems shocked I know about the boat. ‘Usually only overlanders know a bout this.’ Greg might be my only English language contact in the coming two days.
3:25 pm. I call Mr Nabil at Naggar. It’s Friday. The office is closed. But Nabil is still friendly. There is no boat at 8 am. The boat arrives at 9 am and leaves at 7 pm. I should be at his office at 11 the next morning.
11:35 am. I have just spent 40 minutes looking for Palestine Street. Nothing. No one knows. But everyone points me in some directions or the other. Or offers to find me a taxi. I estimate that there are about five taxis per person in Port Said. They’re not hard to find. But the drivers usually don’t speak English or know street names. What they do know, though, is that they can usually charge foreigners five times as much as they would locals. I don’t want to deal with that now.
My phone has been broken since some time after 7.
For two pounds I make a local call from the hotel, reach Nabil and get clearer directions. ‘Port. Gate 10. In the Bank of Misr building.’
11:40 am. I am at Nabil’s office. It’s around the corner from the De la Poste. Nabil takes my passport to get me stamped out of the country. He aks me to come back at 2.
2:00 pm. I return to Nabil’s office with all my luggage. He points me to sit down and wait a moment while he holds heated discussions on the phone and with visitors.
No sign of Greg.
3:00 pm. Nabil’s still busy. But Greg shows. We start talking. He turns out to be less boring than his introduction a day earlier.
4:00 pm. Nabil’s still busy. His assistant leaves for the day.
4:34 pm. Nabil wants to leave for the day and asks us to sit outside his office and wait for Eslam. Knowing we still have to get Greg’s bike and his luggage we get uneasy. Greg has missed the last boat because the Naggar guys didn’t manage to clear his bike. Nabil makes an agitated call, bids us to follow him to get stamped out of the country. We ask when the boat leaves. ‘At 10 pm.’
5:09 pm. Ten (and fifteen and twenty) minutes have long passed. I decide to go chase after Mohamed. A boy in the dark elevator grabs my boobs. Mohamed meets me just when I step out of the elevator.
5:31 pm. Eslam arrives at the police station where our passports are about to be stamped. He tells us to hurry, hurry as we have to pick up the luggage and then make it to the customs compound before the officer goes ‘for break fast’. We run to his car. He speeds through dense traffic to the hotel, to the port.
5:54 pm. Eslam speeds across the port. I ask him not to kill me on my last day in Africa. We arrive at the vessel. There is no sign of cargo or other passengers. Eslam hands me his card: ‘When you come back I will organize you a very good journey.’ Greg asks when we’re scheduled to leave. ‘The vessel will leave at midnight.’
10:22 pm. The ship Nikolay Konarev used to be the Finnish ferry Fellon but now sails for a Russian company under a British Virgin Island flag with a largely Ukrainian crew.
I have moved into my cabin which has a clean toilet and shower, lots of electrical outlets and windows big enough to climb through but no air condition or fan. Do I lock door and window in the interest of safety and get really hot? Or do I risk having people look (or even climb) through the window but sleep with a nice breeze? Decisions, decisions!
My last African sunset was beautiful. We have had dinner. Sturdy Ukrainian fair with sausage, potato and cheese. They expect us to drink tea from throw away plastic cups. I protest and get a porcelain cup.
We have chatted more. Greg works on super yachts. The second guy I meet on this trip who does that. It’s a small world.
Greg has talked to Eslam who told him that the boat wouldn’t leave before midday Sunday. ‘But the captain doesn’t know, yet.’
10:43 am. I have slept poorly due to the heat in my cabin. But the noise outside my window kept me from opening it.
They served porridge with bread and cheese for breakfast. I scramble to find all the Russian I have hidden in the last corners of my brain.
Still no sign of the ship being loaded. A little walk to the car deck confirms: ‘The boat will leave at 5 pm.’
1: 41 pm. They served Macaroni, meat and fresh cucumber for lunch. Outside the ship a host of trucks is piling up.
4:00 pm. Truck drivers have begun pouring into the passenger deck. I start believing in the 5 pm departure time.
5:57 pm. Five has come and gone without any sign of the ship leaving. My cabin, which is at the end of a hall way, feels like a zoo with truck drivers cordially strolling by every couple of minutes.
10:41 pm. As I finish my last letters for the day the ship starts rolling. Good-bye Africa!
*I don’t like to use real names of travelers when they haven’t agreed to be on the blog. So Greg’s not actually called Greg. He’s still a nice guy, though.