Border Crossing from Hell

Written by on October 14, 2012 in General, Middle East & Gulf States with 3 Comments

I’m not going to lie…I was extremely nervous about heading down to Dahab, a sleepy diving town on the Red Sea about 90kms from the Southeastern tip of Sinai, Egypt.  The US State Department warned not to travel through Sinai, except for the more expensive and package-holiday resort town of Sharm el Sheik, which would mean you’d have to fly in and out of there, and not leave.  The UK and Australia included Dahab in what they considered a safe zone in Sinai, but neither commented on the 100kms between Dahab and the port town of Nuweiba, where my ferry from Aqaba would be depositing me.  That said, I didn’t come all this way to skip out on some of the greatest diving in the world for a little travel warning…or the few kidnappings (including 3 Americans) in Sinai in the last year…or the recent bombings/violence close to the Israeli border…or the anti-American sentiment that seems to be growing as the elections draw near…or the increasing tensions in Cairo.  But, I did think long and hard about the warnings before buying my ferry ticket, as everyone hanging out with me in Aqaba can attest to.

It also didn’t help that I had not met anyone going to Egypt…or even coming from Egypt…or that everyone I talked to about going thought I was crazy.  I actually believed that I would be the only tourist on the ferry.  It didn’t help that I bought a ticket for the cheaper, slightly slower ferry.  Or that when I got to the terminal it seemed full of sketchy guys all sizing me up.  Luckily, it turned out I was in the arrivals area and everyone there was waiting for people to arrive.  After being directed to the customs area inside the terminal, I was relieved to almost immediately meet 2 Americans from San Francisco who were travelling through the Middle East for a few months after recently graduating from college.  I became fast friends with Maya and Sarah and can’t tell you how relieved I was not to be doing this leg on my own…or that I could upgrade my ticket for $10 to the faster ferry…or that there was a massive Ukranian group day-tripping from Sharm that would also be on our boat.  I’m all for travelling overland or experiencing travel as the locals do, but I was a little freaked out already, so was happy to be amongst a boat full of tourists and figured safety in numbers, etc.

We finally got on the boat just before sunset and had a nice, smooth sail to Nuweiba.

Maya and Sarah were heading to Sharm el Sheikh, but only as a transit point for a couple nights en route to Cairo, where they’d planned to take Arabic lessons.  Maya’s family was Syrian, so she already spoke some Arabic, but Sarah was eager to learn too.  I told them abut Dahab and thought they’d enjoy it much more than Sharm, even though I’ve never been there.  Either way, I told them they could check it out for the night instead of having to find a place to stay in Nuweiba, and offered to share the taxi with them.  I was happy they decided to join as again…safety in numbers.  I had arranged a taxi to pick me up from the port since the ferry was arriving too late to catch a bus and I didn’t want to get stuck in Nuweiba for the night.  I knew Dahab was going to be cheap, so felt it well worth the $30 taxi for the 90km drive. I also had thought that if I had arranged the taxi through the hotel, than at least someone would know where I was and could be held accountable should I not show up.  Yes…this was my thought process, believe it or not.

The trip took an hour longer than expected so we were a little wary that our taxi wouldn’t have waited for us. That being said, our goal was to beat the big group of Ukrainians and be the first ones out and through customs. When we got off the boat, there was zero direction.  Nothing. No signs, no stores, nothing.  It seemed like we were at some huge deserted truck stop because we were surrounded by big 18-wheelers.  And it was dark.   There were a few hustlers trying to get us to come with them, and even one that tried to pretend he was our taxi driver from the hotel that we called (which he couldn’t name). Luckily, there was someone who saw we were being bothered and pointed us in the direction of the actual arrival terminal, which was a ten-minute walk away, straight through the dimly lit ‘truck-stop’ area.  It was straight out of a bad movie…3 girls walking with backpacks straight into an area they should be in.  It felt like guys who’d been lurking in the shadows started making their way to closer to us and putting themselves in our path to the customs area.  One in particular moved into the street about 50 feet in front of us into the path we needed to walk through, pulled down his pants and started jerking off.  I kid you not.  I could not believe it.  I grabbed the girls and we turned around.  A couple Egpytian guys were behind us, saw what was happening, and tucked us in behind them on the far side of the street, providing a sort of barrier between us and the perv to our right.  Maya scolded him in Arabic and he retorted with some gross comments.  OMG!  Welcome to Egpyt!  I shouldn’t say that, as the rest of my experiences this year, and 12 years ago when I spent 3 weeks here, were nothing like this.  Still, I was already so sketched out about coming here and now this?!?

Anyway, we kept walking, past more creepos until we see the very sketchy-looking arrivals terminal.  It was actually comical. This place looked like it had been abandoned long ago. I was surprised to see the x-ray machines actually worked! We hurried along, trying to get out of the sketchiness and into the normal world. We finally saw the exit gate and headed straight for it. Some guy stopped us saying we needed to wait. Wait for what?  He couldn’t explain in English and wasn’t speaking a dialect of Arabic Maya could fully understand.  Plus, the guy was dressed in regular clothes, no uniform, no name badge, nothing. Sketch! After a while, a few more people caught up to us and he wouldn’t let them go out either, which made us feel a little at ease since he wasn’t just targeting us. Finally, some guy in uniform came out and said we could leave. What the determining factor was to allow us to leave so abruptly is beyond me. But, we were free and quickly got the hell up out of that scene.

Thankfully our taxi driver was waiting for us with a sign on the other side.  This was absolutely, hands down, the worst border crossing I’ve ever experienced.  What a nightmare!  I’m sure it would have been fine in daylight, but at night, it was horrible!  Luckily the taxi ride was uneventful, although my heart was beating faster than normal the entire way down to Dahab as there were tons of checkpoints and a couple times our taxi driver pulled over for no apparent reason.  We had shown our passports so many times in the terminal and at the exit, it would have been very easy for someone to have told someone else that 3 Americans were headed down the one road that leads to Dahab.  I know it’s horrible that I was thinking this way, but I couldn’t help it.  I’ve seen way too many movies!   Haha.  I can laugh now, as we made it to the Red Sea Relax Resort around 11p, and after I was about halfway through my first beer, my heart rate finally returned to normal.

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3 Reader Comments

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  1. Paula says:

    So glad you are safe. Paula

  2. J & S says:


  3. John P says:

    Glad to see you are having fun. Great to see you in Beirut. Love your stories. Thanks Deb. John P

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