No cellphone coverage and no international dialing capability from the hotel means I have no idea if the driver meeting me on the Egyptian side of the border is confirmed or not. Uncertainty is not always a bad thing but is generally to be avoided at international border crossings. A quick stop at a taxiphone in the town of Bardi confirms that I am being met, but where? The answer from the Egyptian driver when I finally get hold of him is unintelligible. As-Salloum is several kilometers from the Libyan border and my Libyan driver has no passport so he cannot cross no man's land with me. After my passport is stamped with the exit from Libya I am on my own. One thing is certain, I may not know the driver but there is going to be no mistaking me among this crowd. I am the only foreigner.
Immigration duly taken care of on the Libyan side we drive up to a barriered area about 100 yards prior to Libyan Customs. Another person asks to see the passport and tells Nasser in no uncertain terms that he cannot take the car across here. Nasser protests; “I have always done this”, to no avail. We take the luggage out and start to cross on foot. Halfway across, another uniformed person asks to see the passport and taking it, walks off back the way we have come – of course we can drive. Bags back in the car. Drive off – arrive on the other side. Customs is cleared immediately. Then a policeman asks to see the passport and when Nasser explains who’s who (the policceman asks if we’re married) tells Nasser to drive to the Egyptian Immigration. Nasser explains he has no passport and no papers for the car so ‘no way’. “I am going with you, don’t worry,” said the policeman as he jumped into the back seat. I figure this can only be a good thing, meanwhile Nasser is now in completely virgin territory because this has never happened before.
Sailing through officialdom I am welcomed to Egypt by yet another passport-checker in perfect English. Ushered into the arrivals hall and immediately launched to the front of the line to my acute embarrassment but secret relief, by our newly-acquired minder, I have to go to the bank for the visa stamps since I have no visa. Off we go to the tiny, grimy window of the bank where lines of men in grubby gallabiyas are handing over fistfuls of $100 bills for stacks of Egyptian pounds. Meanwhile for $15 I get two stamps for the passport and off we go back to the line through the back door where my passport is duly stamped.
This is the busiest border crossing of my trip thus far by a long chalk – the others were backwaters in comparison. People are milling around everywhere; money changers, food and drink vendors, trash rummagers and collectors, and cars and trucks stacked with people and goods are going in and out in both directions. I say goodbye to Nasser who is going back with our friend who has been of such help, and walk off towards Egyptian customs. Two uniformed customs agents are about to ask me some questions when a quick-moving man with a NY Yankees baseball cap, a checked shirt and jeans asks for my passport – I look at the customs agents and say “meen hua”? which means, “who is he?” They burst out laughing and tell me he is the police. Right, of course, I knew that.
I am asked to follow him to where three more officials are sitting, get the all-clear and am sent back out through customs again. Getting to the other side the same policeman bids me wait and takes me to a taxi. I tell him I have a driver meeting me to which he explains that yes, but the taxi driver will take me to the customs barrier as my driver cannot pass. (It is indeed fortunate that I understood any of this but I was reading my Egyptian dictionary like a novel.) I could have walked as it was not far but it was melting hot and in retrospect it was really very considerate of him to help me. He loaded the suitcase then jumped into the taxi, when we reached the other side, he unloaded the suitcase, said goodbye and took off back to the other side again with boundless energy. There is now only one last barrier to cross when a very pleasant-looking policeman in immaculate white uniform and polished black shoes holding a walkie-talkie comes towards me and says in excellent English; “Are you Carolyn? Welcome to Egypt, your driver has gone to make a phone call as there is no cellphone coverage here and will be back shortly – please wait here in the shade.”
What’s not to love about Egypt?