The story continues in Egypt where I meet Rob, have some issues with the motorcycle and find out the true colours of KTM / Husqvarna
Before we start, I want to make a huge shout out to Jon from https://kit690.com/, later in this post it will become more clear but not only is his kit holding up to anything I throw at it, he helped me out in a way the official dealer network from KTM / Husqvarna failed to do
When exiting Israel, I was told I would probably not get into Egypt as they don't really like bikers. I found that rather strange so I asked if I could try regardless, to which they thankfully agreed. I went into the office, paid an 'exit fee' and was on my way. As a person from Europe with free travel through borders I still feel this paying to get into countries and especially paying to leave them rather odd.
At the Egyptian side, they instructed me to go to the x-ray machine and take everything off the bike to get it checked. I tried hassling them a little to not take the bags of the bike as it's quite a bit of work, but they insisted. Afterwards, they sent me into the office to get my passport stamped. Whilst in there, they told me I would have to pay for a visa. Having read a couple of books from other people traveling overland I knew things like this were going to happen and there might be lifted prices or bribing involved. I cautiously paid the money and got my passport stamped.
The last action was getting the carnet stamped at customs. At first I was a bit confused as they kept shouting 'triptik' and it was only after a while I realised they meant the carnet. It's a document with a deposit that will cover the import fees in case the owner sells it in any country. This means that in most countries around the world you won't have to pay import / export fees at the border. The carnet is an intricate thing though, it is tied to both me as a person and the motorcycle via its VIN, engine number and licence plate. Naturally, the Egyptian customs wanted to check and double check everything. Their VIN number registration method was especially archaic. Remember being a kid and tracing a coin with a piece of paper and a pencil? Well, that was the go-to method for the Egyptian customs to register VIN numbers. It was especially tricky as the VIN number on my bike is located on the steering stem. Mine (while readable) was covered up by a burly piece of aluminium holding up my navigation equipment, making it tricky to trace. It didn't help that the guy doing the tracing was practically blind and had to exam every try at 1cm from his eye. After some back and forth and me explaining that removing the full front of the motorcycle for something that ridiculous really wasn't an option, he seemed satisfied with his piece of traced paper. I looked at the paper and to my amusement I couldn't make out a single number. Humoured by this show of utter uselessness, I followed him inside. There, I was taken from office to office, in some I got some papers, in others I didn't but I had to pay at every single stop. One stop for insurance, another for an Egyptian licence, another for a set of number plates, etc. etc. After an endless stream of offices and payments, we fitted the licence plates and I was shown the way out.
It wasn't over yet though. That would be too easy. About 10 meters after the border crossing, tourist police came knocking on my door trying to find out were I was going and wanting to see I passport. I was quite fed up with the lengthy process at that point and as I'm in my full outfit, quite warm, I tried to get them to back down, but, they wouldn't. After 5 minutes in the hot sun explaining that 'The Netherlands' on my passport is actually the same as 'Holland', I got to leave. Well, for a couple of hundred meters... A military checkpoint. 'Passport!?', 'where you go!?', 'where you from!?'. The amount of times I would end up hearing those words without an 'excuse me sir', or 'please', must be in the hundreds. After getting through the military checkpoint, I was able to ride another 200m. There I had to pay for road and tourist tax and they assured me it was the last stop for a while. My experience with Egypt wasn't very positive at that point. The worst thing about this whole antagonising process was the fact they were constantly say 'welcome', 'welcome to our country' (something on actions speak louder than words). I couldn't feel anything other than being absolutely abused.
When I finally left the city of Taba and could ride for a bit, I was extremely relieved, but because of the roadblocks, I felt very limited in my freedom. This feeling was made even stronger when I was stopped at a military checkpoint, was told to wait, but their English wasn't good enough to tell me why. 5 minutes they said, which off course was code for 'we don't know how long this will take but with a bit of luck, no longer than an hour'. After 20 minutes I started roaming around and found a chiefy looking guy with a bunch of big gold stars on his shoulder. I asked him what was going on. He said I was waiting for a police escort to come pick me up and guide me down to Sharm el Sheik. I politely declined, but there was no way I could leave without the police he said. '5 minutes' he said. At that point I looked at my clock and told them I would just leave after those 5 minutes, regardless of escort. He told me that if the police car hadn't arrived by then, he would take me himself. Thankfully, a couple of minutes later the escort arrives. I start the engine and wait behind him, only to get the signal to get in front. I found it a bit odd, but I overtook the police car and got going. I pulled up next to a little bus that was also in the convoy and he was enthusiastically hinting that I should just hit it and ride off. I cautiously started riding away from the convoy, looking if the police was following me and when I was sure they weren't, I laughed in my helmet, opened up and rode off to arrive in Sharm el Sheikh that evening.
The plan was to take a ferry from Sharm to Hurghada. I found out there was supposedly a ferry at 10am and 7pm. I rocked up to the port at 9am to try to get the ferry. Unfortunately, I was blocked. The police told me I wasn't allowed into the port and a tour operator told me Egypt wasn't like my country and I couldn't just rock up to a harbour to get a ferry. Rather annoyingly I engaged plan B, mission North to Cairo.
There were two advantages to plan B, one, I was quite keen to see the pyramids and two, it would give me time to get my Sudanese visa, which was supposedly easier in Cairo than in Aswan. I got myself into an Airbnb in the outskirts town and started missioning about.
The first attempt to get the visa started to late, I came to the embassy at around 12 because I needed profile pictures taken. After standing in line for a while, I hear a somewhat old guy in a thick heavy English accent going 'would you be a chap and just give this to the lady over there please? ... Good lad...'. This was the first person I encountered who could make a grammatically correct English sentence since Israel, so I was quite keen to have a chat. A couple of seconds later I hear him mentioning to another person he's riding to Cape Town. When he got back in line I struck up a conversation and learned he was from North Wales and a rather good laugh. After a chat for about half an our, I learn my visa isn't happening that day and I need to come back tomorrow. Rob (the welsh guy) told me he was staying at a campsite in the east of Cairo and after exchanging locations and arranging a possible meet at said campsite, I ride out.
Rob and I never met at that campsite, but we did make plans to head on down to the coast a couple of days after.
Limp Pt. One
While the ride to Hurghada was, although long, rather uneventful, the next leg down to Luxor wasn't. With about 5 kilometers to go, the bike started to hold back. The engine light came on... Fuck. I stopped by the side of the road, restarted the bike a couple of times, noticed the neutral light was not working either and I had to start it with the clutch, but alas, none of the restarts worked. The bike stayed in this 'limp home mode'. A bit worried, I rode on to Luxor. Parked the bike, got myself and Rob an ice cold and much deserved beer and started problem solving. The person who sold me my rally kit (Jon) pretty much instantly replied on a social media post stating my 'gear position sensor' probably needed recalibrating and that it was a dealer procedure. My perception was that it would only be used for checking if the motorcycle was in neutral gear, but I later found out that for most of the gears, the mapping and fuel to air mixture ratio is different to comply with emissions regulations. This meant it was rather important and the bike couldn't decide what mixture to run (so it went back to a safe mode). With this new information in hand, I started trying to find a dealer. The closest and only one in the north eastern part of Africa was in Cairo. While I was hesitant to go back there, I didn't want to risk having to ride to the other dealer (Nairobi) in this limp mode so I decided heading back was the best option. The owner of the campsite arranged a car ambulance for the following morning and after a grueling 10 hour drive sitting next to someone with whom I couldn't have a conversation and he didn't speak English (and me no Arabic), I was back in Cairo.
The next morning I rode to the KTM shop, and Hassan, the owner was expecting me. He told me he had the diagnostics tool, but not for Husqvarna. I told him to connect to the bike as a KTM 690 (which is what my bike is under its hood) and that worked. The procedure for resetting the sensor was relatively straight forward. Get the bike off the sidestand, start the bike with the clutch in and while in neutral, slowly let go of the clutch and then have the computer do its thing. We tried it a few times and it kept on failing. Then I noticed the mechanic (who was actually from the next door Subary garage) didn't actually let go of the clutch at the right time. I asked Hassan if I could try to do the full procedure, he allowed and it worked. Neutral light back on, bike back on full power and a glorious victory against the ECU. Afterwards, Hassan takes me to a place where I can buy some inline fuel filters, he tells me I don't ow him anything and it's covered under guarantee and so I mission back to the hotel to ride back to Luxor the next day.
In Luxor I find a tired Rob who has changed the filters on his big majestic 4x4 MAN truck. It's an older model, and he picked up a bug in the diesel that made algae grow in there. This slowed him right down, but with the filters replaced he reckoned it should be good for a while.
The next city down from Luxor is Aswan, it's the last big city in the south of Egypt before crossing into Sudan. In Aswan we stayed at a Nubian guesthouse and this was my first encounter with the Nubians. They were the first who settled in the Nile Valley area and live mostly in the northern part of Sudan and the southern part of Egypt. The Egyptians and the Nubians couldn't be a greater contrast. At first appearance the Nubians are darker coloured than the Arabs, but the real difference is in character. The Arabs are harsh, and I felt every Egyptian conversation was a shouting match. Not the Nubians, they are soft, mellow and extremely friendly. I noticed I felt more at ease and it felt a lot more like home than the rest of Egypt. It made me anxious to get into Sudan. However.
Limp Pt. Two
On the road from Luxor to Aswan, my bike decided it didn't want to be the high powered rally machine it once was, once again. As I purchased the bike new not less than half a year ago for the sole reason of doing this trip, having these diagnostics problems annoyed me, I don't mind pulling the bike to bits to replace or fix it myself, but computer issues annoy me. However, that diagnostics thing is just a piece of software, I have my notebook, the only thing I need sent from KTM is a dongle to plugin to the bike and a new sensor, right?! No. I made two mistakes in my reasoning. The first being that all people will build software in a relatively similar way to the way I would do it. The second being that KTM had a surplus of these things laying around and they would be able / willing to send one down for a few days.
The software, as it turns out, is in constant connection to KTM in Austria. This wasn't necessarily a problem as I had a steady internet connection, but it had to be connected to a dealer account. Again, the software developer in me thought this could not be more than a 5 minute system update stating there is a dealer named Roland and he will be one for 5 days while he fixes his bike so he's not stranded in the middle of the desert. Unfortunately, KTM didn't feel the same way. While they were trying to help in the beginning by trying to see if we could bypass the sensor, I quickly got replies in the form of "we can't do any more for you". This made me weary and a bit angry as this bike had just broken down hard enough to need a dealer for the second time within the first 10000km's of it's life (not counting the times it was back at the dealer before starting my trip). After much back-and-forth KTM played the "you have bolted non-ktm things to your bike so your warranty is void" card and told me I was lucky they were even helping me at all. So far for good customer service. This story could also have been about how awesome KTM was for sending me a computer and spares down and I could continue my journey down to Cape Town on my rear wheel instead of stuck at 60kph. Instead, this is now a story of KTM not only not helping me, but even not sending new parts down as they were unable to diagnose the problem correctly...
Fortunately, Jon, the person who sold me the rally kits gave me a gentle push, told me to get my head out of my ass, stop playing the KTM angle and trying to sort things out for myself. He kindly offered to ship a sensor of his own bike down. With a lot of luck, replacing the sensor wouldn't need recalibrating and I should be on my way. As Robs visa was about to expire and we were both quite keen to get to Sudan, I told Jon to check for options to ship to Khartoum. It took some time of reflection, but I managed to park the KTM anger with a plan to talk to them once I was back and I sort of prepared myself to be limping to Nairobi. Nobody said this was going to be easy and it's the things that go wrong that will get the best stories in the end, although I certainly didn't feel that way back then (and I'm not sure I feel that way now).
The ferry to Sudan was free for me, and Rob, after some negotiating, could go on the for about a third of the price if he agreed not to have a receipt. He did and a surreal crossing over lake Nasser marked the end of Egypt.