Its chaotic in Cairo.

 

Cairo, originally uploaded by new_dles.

Day 9 :Ain Suhkna to Cairo

Distance: 140km

Start Time: 9am

Finish 7.30pm

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.

Our route, and things, take a turn for the better.

 

Day 8: Zafrana to Ain Suhkna

Distance: 75km

Start Time: 9am

Finish: 3pm

Narrative: Things started to look up for us today. The road didn’t throw us any surprises, the weather was favorable and the going was good. As our route hugged the coast the midday temperature was kind enough to let us cycle on into the afternoon- its amazing how by comparison 34 degrees feels nice and balmy after the baking desert.With the day’s cycling over nice and early, we passed an inexpensive looking resort that we thought might make a good refuge for two weary travelers. Sure the walls could have done with a few licks of paint and the mustard yellow decor was reminiscent of Rodney and Delboy’s flat in “Only Fools and Horses” but it was right on the coast and our legs were pleading “no further”.

We should have known something wasn’t right when the guy at the desk wanted to keep our passports, even after we had paid upfront. Alarm bells should also have gone off when he suggested that we lock our bikes to the dilapidated fountain in the middle hotel lobby. The resort was a relic, evidently inspired by the “if you build it they will come” maxim- only, they didn’t come. It had an eerie feel to it, Simon whispered “here’s Johnny” on our way to the room which was oddly, though perfectly, appropriate. It also had a faint whiff of damp which is quite an achievement given the climate.The fawlty towers escapades of the staff made for an entertaining evening- from the chiseling and grouting D.I.Y antics of the mute bell boy who insisted on replacing the shower hook at half eleven, to the 6 course meal, each served when we were only half finished the last, eaten in the cavernous dining room still proudly displaying its tired Christmas decorations.

Simon- attending to business, somewhere in the eastern desert between Ras Ghareb and Zafarana.

.flickr-photo { border: solid 2px #000000; } .flickr-yourcomment { } .flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; } .flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; }

Simon- attending to business, somewhere in the eastern desert between Zafarana and Ain Sukheir, originally uploaded by new_dles.

Day 7

Distance:110km

Start Time: 7am

Finish Time: 6am

Narrative: After Friday’s punishment we were under no illusions that today was going to be easy. As soon as we passed the Police check point at the edge of town the road pointed straight out into the dusty distance and that wind began to push on our hunched shoulders.

We had learned from Friday’s mistakes and were both carrying plenty of food and water(about 9litres each). We had no intention of “hot boxing” it through the midday heat in the tent again so we pedalled on until 11 and passed the afternoon at a truck stop at the 60kms point.

As we headed on into the breach once more at 3.30 with 50km still to do it was apparent to both of us that Friday’s memory was still with us. Both in our leaden legs and not so perky spirit.

We made it 20km down the road before the sun began to set at 6. And pushed on for another sketchy 30km, which took another 3 hours, before falling into a cheap motel at Zafarana- grumpy, tired and weak.

This stopped being fun about two days ago. both myself and Si are at the edge of our tolerances. The unchanging landscape; brown and flat , bland food; dry bread and beans, the relentless heat and energy sapping wind, and the fact that we have never been more than 5m apart for the last 7 days have all added up to make us irritable, down and snappy. Neither of us have laughed since leaving Safaga. Little things have suddenly grown to become the most acute irritants imaginable.

As Si put it today, its the lack of stimulus that’s getting us down the most. The landscape and the weather are the same as it was yesterday and the day before. Each day we get up and do the same thing- cycle into that demoralising head wind. We stop at lunch and eat dry bread and beans. Then we arrive at our destination and go to sleep. our conversation material dried up long ago and aside from the invetable “whats your name, what nationality are you? what is your profession” conversations that we have in broken English with the friendly people that we meet each day, we are devoid of cerebral stimulation. There isn’t even any eye candy as all of the, I can only imagine, lovely girls are wrapped up like bundles of curveless sheets.  

Hopefully, it’ll get better tomorrow. Hopefully it’ll start to be fun again.            

The revolution team-tired , in Ras Ghareb.

.flickr-photo { border: solid 2px #000000; } .flickr-yourcomment { } .flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; } .flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; }

The revolution team-tired , in Ras Ghareb., originally uploaded by new_dles.

Day 6

Ras Ghareb

As we were preparing to leave this morning it soon became apparent that the 6 hour sleep was nowhere near enough to recharge yeaterday’s spent batteries, so we grudgingly/gladly agreed to take a rest day. As we climbed back into our beds at 7am I instantly knew that we’d made the right decision- as I fell back asleep within seconds of my head hitting the pillow. When we finally emerged from the nest at midday all that was on our minds was food and lots of it.    

Unfortunately, for this blog, that was the sum total of our day’s activities; eating sleeping and staring bleary eyed at tomorrow’s 110km, thankfully the last along the desert road, to Zafarana. After which it it should be a little easier going.    

More mad dogs, and Irish men in the midday sun.

.flickr-photo { border: solid 2px #000000; } .flickr-yourcomment { } .flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; } .flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; }

tent eastern dessert, originally uploaded by new_dles.

Friday: Hurghada to Ras Ghareb

Day 5

Distance 100km

Duration: 5am to 9pm

Narrative: Today was by far the hardest yet. As we left Hurghada we were immediately hit by the hot and dusty head wind that was to plague us for the next 16hrs. It was relentless buffeting our bodies- drying our mouths out within minutes supping from our water bottles.

The terrain was a depressing monochrome of dusty brown, and pancake flat. Objects, trucks and deserted buildings, would gradually appear on the hazy horizon 5 kilometres in the distance and gradually grow larger and clearer until they would slowly struggle past. Even the sound of a truck not making an impact on the constant soundtrack of the gusting gale.

Psychologically, the landscape and climate were demoralising. The unchanging flat sandy dunes giving little impression of progress and the wind sapping any energy or spirit to go further.

By 11am we knew we were in trouble. We had covered only 70km, and had not encountered any signs of civilisation. As it was becoming to hot to cycle, and there was no sign of any shade, we decided to pitch the tent and wait out the midday sun in its shade. This is, in theory a great idea, but in practice the tent became even hotter than the 38/9 degree heat outside.

We passed 5hrs huddled in the suana like tent that seemed likely to become airborne at any moment. The heat took a toll on our water supplies and more importantly on our energy and morale. At 4pm we packed up our gear and pushed on in earnest.

20km onwards we encountered our first signs of humanity- a grubby truck stop, where we had a plate of stewed fava beans and bread. We also discovered from one of the truckers that our destination, which appeared to be a town on the map, was in-fact only an oil refinery. So, we would have to continue on an extra 30km to Ras Ghareb to find food, water and a bed for the night.

As we donned our head lamps and set off into the pitch of the night we wear weary and dispirited and had a cycle of around 70km ahead of us. We battled on for two hours more.  Suddenly a pack of dogs appeared on a ledge above the road. They wear snarling growling wildly. All we could see was the reflections of their beady eyes as the flinching beams of our lights passed across them. We stepped on the pedals to outrun them, accelerating using our last reserves of energy. When we were at a safe distance we fell off our bikes and sat wheezing by the roadside. Our situation seemed stark, we were totally spent.

We decided to flag down a passing truck to Ras Ghareb. It was only when we were ensconced in the dimly lit cab of the six axled lorry that we released how tired we actually were. The truck driver admonished us for being out so far at night. It was “very dangerous place” he said with wolves and other animals.

We were just glad to be going somewhere.

We arrived in Ras Ghareb and after a Spanish inquisition by the police, they seemed particularly interested in our father’s first names and what our jobs were, we were allowed to check into a spartan hotel by the bus station.

No way past!!

.flickr-photo { border: solid 2px #000000; } .flickr-yourcomment { } .flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; } .flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; }

Eastern desert, originally uploaded by new_dles.

Luxor to Hurghada

Day 4

Distance: 60km

Start time:3pm

Finish:9pm

Narrative:Today the final halt that we had been dreading at each police check point came true. As we left Luxor we were stopped at the first check point brusquely told that we could travel no further along the Nile by bicycle and politely told to get a bus to the coast- where it was safer for tourists to travel.

We hitchted a ride to Saffaga, arriving at lunch time, and waited in the bus station until the the heat became bearable enough for cycling- paying the manager a baksheesh for the privilege.

As the prospect of being forbidden passage along the Nile only became apparent quite recently we hadn’t done in-depth research about our alternate route. So, we got a nasty surprise when we encountered the strong headwind and deserted wasteland that makes up Egypt’s Red Sea coast.

As a result of the strong wind it took us almost six hours to cover a distance that would usually have taken less than three. We arrived in Hurghada tired and hungry and spent almost an hour trying to navigate its touristy streets to find a suitable budget hotel. Eventually we stumbled upon a gated resort we agreed to have us- at a price. It was one of those all inclusive packages, the chipper concierge pointed out, which included breakfast, lunch, and the use of the resort’s facilities until 12 the next day.

As we were leaving 5,before breakfast started, we enjoyed none of the above.

here comes the sun- on the road to Luxor

.flickr-photo { border: solid 2px #000000; } .flickr-yourcomment { } .flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; } .flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; }

here comes the sun- on the road to Luxor, originally uploaded by new_dles.

Day 2
Edfu to Luxor
Distance: 125km
Start Time: 4.45am
Finish Time: 12.00pm
Narrative: The day began with another nervous 15mins as the police at Edfu radioed headquarters to decide our fate. Again we were waved on our way. After cycling about 10km we had our first bit of excitement for the day, one that blew away any sleepy cobwebs remaining from the early start, when we encountered a pack of feral dogs- and they gave chase. On got dangerously close to taking a tasty morsel from my right calf(ferg)! We had to accelerate to 40kmph, according to our speedometer, to escape their hungry fangs.

Tomorrow we will have a rest day in Luxor and will spend it sight seeing, eating and sleeping. Then its on to Qena.