Plates and ladders

Dealing with the Egyptian Traffic Police is like playing snakes and ladders. Land on the right square on the right day and you will progress up the ladders and get to your destination. Land on the wrong square and the snakes will ensure you’re in for lengthy delays.

Our first mission was to get an Egyptian licence and a set of number plates for our bikes. And what a mission that was to be!

We travelled to Aswan by the ferry up Lake Nasser from Wadi Halfa, but our bikes had to take the slower barge and were not to arrive until two days later. We cleared immigration but were told there’d be no more progress until our bikes arrived. For the next two days we looked at the scenery. But it was worse – we had hit Aswan on yet another succession of African public holidays so it was to be four days until we could even start the bike clearing process.

Brendan and I were volunteered to do the processing. We arrived promptly as the Egyptian Traffic Police office opened, armed with all the materials needed and determined for a speedy resolution. What dreamers! Entering the Police department we were immediately perplexed by a plethora of signs. The room had 15 counters with Egyptians queued at each and even more just pushing in – animals!

After minutes of push and shove we were curtly informed that we needed copious copies of our carnets and passports and an individual folder for each motor bike was soon established. Little did we know how bulky these files would become.

By 11:00am our prospects of a quick resolution were dimming. While we had the requisite number of photocopies we now needed Egyptian insurance but that office would close at noon. We sprinted across town to the insurance office, up the stairs and into another Egyptian queue or should I say, rabble. An hour later it was back to the Traffic Police office to find an inspector to confirm we hadn’t bull-shitted our chassis numbers. What!

The verifier looked like someone fresh out of the Columbia drug trade – or that fat Turkish prison Governor from Midnight Express- and man did he revel in the power he held. Any attempt to push things and he invented further delays. Immediately we slid down a snake. He shouted us out of his office and we were told “Mr Inspector” was busy – in other words, sit down and wait!

It was a 1 ½ hour wait until the inspector was “ready”. We watched this jerk in action – he tested all the vehicles without moving from his seat – his powers of delegation to a coterie of minions was an inspiring template of leadership.

Once out to where the bikes were locked up “Mr Inspector” planted his arse firmly on a car bonnet and barked at his minion to do the business – taking stencils from the motorbike frames. We’d landed on another snake, “Mr Inspector” would not release our forms even though the stencils revealed we weren’t liars. We were advised to thank this tosser properly . I asked, “how much properly” and was told 20 pounds should do it. I duly gave this bully the Egyptian hand-shake.

Oh god, another snake. The 20 Egyptian pounds apparently should have been 50. Finally we left the port with what we considered to be completed paper work. Suckers!

Now back yet again to the main Police Traffic office to complete the exercise. Shit, the doors are locked – it’s only 2:15pm and the office isn’t supposed to close until 3:00. Around the back and upstairs to where the Police Chief resides. By this time our tempers have gone – not a good omen. The big man, replete with 4 star epaulets, office with ceiling fan, air conditioning, a TV playing the local “days of our lives” and a closed circuit TV monitor for him to spy on all his underlings – looks right at home astride his empire. We ask what time the office closes and he replies 3:00pm, we explain that it is 2:15pm and he replies “Ramadan”, apologises and says come back tomorrow. We thank him for being so considerate.

We had been Ramadamned. Game-over go back to the beginning and try a new game of “Plates and ladders” tomorrow.

We return to the office at 9:00am. More paper work is undertaken by “Mr Blue Shirt” He tells us to sit down and wait. Brendan notes a lady return with 6 licenses and places these on “Mt Blue Shirt’s” desk who in turn delivers these to “Mr Corner Office” so he asks him if ours are ready. One hour has passed and we are still waiting. “Mr Corner Office” tells him to wait while he discusses our situation with “Mr Blue Shirt”. After another 30 minutes I decide to call the Police Chief. “Blue Shirt man” insists our forms are not complete, the Sheriff out at the port failed to sign a certain section. We must now go back to the port 20 km’s away and have this paper counter-signed. I realise what has occurred, we are now paying the price for not paying the enough “Baksheesh” yesterday to “Inspector man”

I confront “Mr Corner Office” and explain that we have been there for 4 days and have completed all the requirements, and have also paid lots of money to various people. He looks at me for the first time with a glance that confirms his understanding of my meaning of corruption. He says that we must return to the port and have the sheriff countersign the paper work. I explain that the chief has promised us an early departure with no more delays. He grunts and considers the situation then calls in co-conspirator, “Mr Blue Shirt”. They pretend to complete more form-filling and then “Mr Corner Office” throws our 6 licenses at “Mr Blue Shirt” and indicates that we can proceed.

I return to “Mr Blue Shirt’s” counter and sign the register for the licenses which are handed over, and we return to the plate room where on receipt of our license we are given the plates. I text the team back at the hotel who are wallowing in the pool to advise them to meet us at the port. After another 20 km drive we are finally with our bikes fitting the yellow number plates. We are now ready to ride and head north to Luxor? No not quite right, we need more paper. This time it’s a release letter from the Carnet man. This process goes seamlessly we suspect that this may be because “Carnet man” is a Christian and is not suffering the Ramadan blues. We are cleared at the gate by the guard but not before he asks for some more “Baksheesh”.

Riding at last, we travel the 30km back to Aswan and join the main highway on the Nile to Luxor. It is not long before we are stopped at one of the many Police check points. They want all tourists to travel by convoy. We are held at the check point awaiting the next convoy. Totally frustrated with the overall situation and two days of being stuffed around we agree to do a runner. On the signal we start our bikes and leave amidst shouts and gesticulations from the police.

From then on, right across Egypt we ran every police check and did not join any of their silly convoys. We got our own back.

And a footnote – getting out of Egypt we encountered the same corruption and the same hassle from the Traffic Police. Three hours to get out of a country is unacceptable.

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