Day 9 :Ain Suhkna to Cairo
Start Time: 9am
Narrative: Today’s cycle was a reminder of what a cycle tour with your best mate in a far away place is supposed to be like. Bombing along through great scenery with the iPod on shuffle and your buddy by your side.
The road took us eastwards, away from the Gulf of Suez across our old friend the Western Desert and plonked us on the outskirts of Cairo. We left at a civilized time, deciding to forgo the dubious pleasure of a “continental breakfast” at the resort, and made great time along the nicely undulating road through some awesome scenery.
We had imagined that the road would lead us to downtown Cairo and that we would be settled into our lodgings sometime around sunset- lovely. Instead, however, the road just petered out and offered an array of options along the fourlaned AutoStrada to cities, towns and suburbs around Cairo, but none to Downtown Cairo. We cycled up and down, scuttled across, and took several wrong slip roads off this scary highway for almost an hour as the light began to fade and trucks blared past. Eventually, we seemed to be on the right track. We cycled a full 15km before the trail went cold again and the road seemed to want to send us up on an elevated highway which looked way too dodgy. We stopped at a petrol station to ask directions but as the staff didn’t speak any English the conversation seemed futile . However, a customer overheard our plight and offered to show us the way. He hopped in his car and sped off- with us in hot pursuit. I’m sure he did his best to drive slowly but we still had to push 35kmph to keep up which is not easy after 8hours in the saddle . The road was potholed and the lighting was bad- both of us had some hairy moments as we tried to keep pace with our well intentioned stranger. At one point Simon took a foot or so of air as a step suddenly appeared from the darkness. Eventually our guide had to take a different turning, but he pointed us in the direction of where we needed to go and implored us that we couldn’t but get there very soon. We followed his directions for several lefts, rights and straight ons until we couldn’t remember anymore. We emerged from the hectic motorway into the frenetic chaos of downtown Cairo which was quite a scene.
“So this is bedlam” was all that I could think as we navigated the increasingly clogged and narrow arteries that are the lifeblood of central Cairo. Taxis cut us off, scooter drivers clipped our handle bars and pedestrians loitered in our path. Every passerby, stallholder and tout whose eye we caught called in our direction to buy their dates/pastries/leather bags, to sit in their restaurant or just tell them our name and where we were going. All of these distractions compounded the fact that we had by now absolutely no idea of where we were or where we should be headed. Finally, we slowly ground to a halt as the way became almost impassable for two bulky bikes with disorientated riders flanked by a ragtag mob of curious Egyptians. A group quickly formed around us as we drew the attention of many the passing throng. A man on a donkey stopped and stared. A child examined my trailer. An old man pointed at my forks and turned to another with a sage like manner.
A cacophony of hellos and welcomes chimed from the crowd. I turned to Si with a puzzled expression, which he echoed. Then a taxi diver added his beat up Lada to the growing congestion. It suddenly seemed so simple, why not pay him the price of a fare to act as our guide? So that’
s what we did and 25 minutes later we had arrived in the Victoria Hotel- back in the familiar unchallenging surrounds of a tired and fading Victorian colonial railway hotel. So close and yet so far fram the Cairene chaos only a stones throw away.