Cairo to Tanta
Start time 10.00am
Finish Time 3.00pm
Narrative: Today began with the traffic nightmare that is Cairo. We chartered a taxi again to lead us to the correct road. After about 5km and evidently nowhere near the main road to Tanta he pulled over and pointed straight ahead saying Tanta and put his hand out for his already extortionate, by local standards, fee. He was shaking us down, we knew it, and he knew we knew it. He wanted an extra 20 pounds (2.80 euro) to drive any further. It was so tempting to just cycle off and give him nothing, except perhaps the middle phalanges that he deserved, but that would have inevitably have meant a hectic morning cycling around the warren of city streets and asking several of Cairo’s 20 million population for directions in broken Arabic. So we caved to the driver’s demands and let ourselves be hustled.
Once on the correct road we had heavy traffic to contend with. We had an ominous start as we passed a traffic accident and I spied a corpse covered with an old sheet and some newspapers. Flies buzzed about and a waxy toe poked from beneath the grubby sheet with slight crimson dappling. It was an odd and macabre scene as two police men lolled on either side, one leaning on one leg against the ambulance and the other sitting on the bonnet of his car, smoking cigarettes and chatting.
Both of us had been a little nervous about taking the road in question, and the sight of a car wreck brought the real dangers of being on the road in Egypt to life. There was nothing for it than to turn on the ipods a full volume, ignore the heavy trucks with bouncing trailers and chest high wheels as they passed within touching distance, and try and reach our destination, Tanta, as fast as possible.
We did so in good time, we even stopped for an illicit lunch in a truck stop along the way. The owner opened the cafe especially for us, as during the month of Ramadan most of the Egyptian population fast from sun up until sunset. He did insist, however, that we eat inside, as he didn’t want to attract any negative attention from passers by.
The month of Ramadan has made our trip more arduous as we have found it difficult to find decent food during daylight hours. Today’s hot meal of soup, shish kebabs, salads and freshly baked bread all washed down with a couple of cool Pepsis thanks to globalisation, was a reminder of how much easier it is to cycle when there is a readily available supply of good food. We started back on the road after lunch with high spirits and fully re-fueled.
We arrived in Tanta nice and early. It’s the largest city in the Nile delta. An industrial hub it’s definitely not on the tourist trail. We found the people to be the friendliest we had encountered so far. A sweet shop owner refused to let us pay for our chocolates, and we were chatted to by several groups of inquisitive locals with surprisingly good English and thankfully no relations who owned papyrus factories/carpet shops/restaurants/ etc that they would like us to see. It was refreshing to feel that we were chatting to people with a general interest in us rather than a specific interest in the contents of our wallets, for a change.