08 February 2008

CYCLING EGYPT - Aswan to Suez

27 - 29 December 2007 - Aswan

The ferry arrived in Aswan, Egypt at around 9h00, however, we only managed to get off at around 11h00 - still don't know what the holdup was all about. We cycled the 20km into Aswan and what a culture shock after a month in Sudan!!! Suddenly there were bus loads of tourists, large passenger liners lying 4 deep on the Nile, hotels, stalls, curio shops, etc. You also have to bargain hard for anything from toilet paper to food!!

The first thing on our minds were to find a hotel with a hot shower and then off to have a beer!! We stayed at the Nubian Oasis Hotel which was cheap but central for 3 days before we eventually left for Edfu.

30 December – Aswan - Edfu - 116km

So it was 30 December and many Stellas later that we got on the road to Edfu, a good tarmac road. What a difference from our previous cycling days. Green crops everywhere, sugar cane plantations, corn, etc. We cycled close to the palm lined Nile and had excellent views more or less the entire day. From Aswan it was one endless village and we were hardly ever on an open road. Halfway the police decided to escort us and followed us all the way to Edfu. Once there, we asked directions to a cheap hotel and once again we were escorted, this time with sirens and all.

31/2 December 2007 – Edfu - Luxor - 122km

The last day of 2007, I can't believe that I have been on the road for 9 months and another good day on the road. We still followed the Nile and managed to escape the police escort this time. We reached Luxor just as the sun was setting. We missed the campsite and thought that it was on the other side of the river, so we took a ferry boat across to the West bank just to find out that it was actually on the Eastern side where we came from. So another ferry boat ride across the river and by that time we gave up on the campsite and took a cheap hostel, the New Everest Hotel, which I'm sure refers to the stairs that one has to climb.

We stayed in Luxor for 3 days and enjoyed all the tourist attractions in the area, including the Temple of Luxor, Temple of Karnak and the Valley of the Kings.

3 January – Luxor – Qena – 72km

We left Luxor for Qena, a 70km ride with numerous police road blocks. We managed to escape all the convoys and reached Qena quite early, found a hotel and walked the streets to find local food, all reasonably priced (no tourists around here)

4 January – Qena – 84km

From Qena we turned away from the Nile and headed for the Red Sea. Ernest was not feeling too well - must have been the local cuisine. So after about 84km we reached a small village with a police checkpoint and some shops, so we camped just off the road which was a bit noisy with all the traffic.

5 January – Safaga – 84km

The next day was another 84km to Safaga. The scenery was quite dramatic as it is a mountain desert, and by the time we reached Safaga the wind was nearly gale force. so we headed for the nearest cheap hotel and thought it may be better in the morning, but definitely not.

6 January – Safaga – Hurghada – 64km

By the time we left, the wind nearly blew me off my bike. What a battle! I lost my sense of humor and swore I was going to take a bus to Cairo (like where am I going to get a bus?) At last we reached Hurghada, which was only 64km away. What a nightmare, 1000's of tourist resorts, one as ugly as the other, so we cycled on to the old part of town and found a cheap hotel for about R55.00 for the room. Ernest is definitely better as he is enjoying the local Stella beers again.

7 -8 January - Hurghada

There was very little to do in Hurghada other than scuba-diving, and with the weather being cold and windy all we could do was eat and drink (and that's exactly what we did). Ernest was still not feeling well so we stayed and extra day and only left on 9 January.

9 January - Hurghada - Desert Camp - 106km

The wind was not as bad as previous days so we managed to do 106km before we setting up camp in the desert again. The sun sets early and it is dark by 18h00, so there is not much cycling time, specially if a person leaves as late as we do.

10 January - Desert Camp - Ras Gharib - 52km

We carried on to Ras Gharib in gale fore wind again, it was only 52km to this town, but I'd had enough for the day. We found another cheap hotel which was clean and warm, and that's all we needed.

11 January - Ras Gharib - Desert Camp - 72km

We battled into the wind again. After 72km we'd had enough and found a large sand dune as shelter from the wind. However, everything still got full of sand, the tent, sleeping bag and food!!!

12 January - Desert Camp - Zafarana - 40km

From there it was only approximately 38km to Zafarana, which is not really a village, more like a truck stop. I could not believe that the wind was even stronger than the previous days, I truly did not believe it was possible!! I complained like hell, Ernest never said a word, he just had his head down and peddled on with me in his wake moaning non-stop (don't think he even heard me).

13 January - Zafarana - Desert Camp - 84km

It was with great reluctance that I got on the bike again, but the day held a surprise both in meeting up with Tour D'Afrique along the way (flying down the road with a tail wind). Wimpy, Errol and Thor, from our 2005 tour were still with the "Tour", and it was great to see them again. The other surprise was that as soon as we reached Sukhna and turned onto the new highway, we had a tail wind!!! We carried on for a few more km and camped in the desert, hoping that the wind direction will not change during the night.

14 -20 January - Desert Camp - Cairo - 130km

The next morning the wind was still behind us and we quickly packed up and got on the road before it decided to change direction. So we reached Cairo after about 130km in rush hour traffic!!! We ducked and dived and eventually reached downtown in one piece. It was getting quite late so we took the first cheap hotel and after a shower it was off for a beer, which Ernest rightly deserved on reaching one of his first goals.

We stayed in Cairo an entire week of which we spend the first two days trying to get visas for Europe but without any luck. Then we tried to extend our Egyptian visas which was also not as easy as it sounded, and after many filling in of forms we were told it will take 10 days!!!

So the next few days we spent visiting all the well known sights around Cairo including the Great Pyramids of Giza, the Stepped Pyramid south of Cairo, as well as the well known Bent- and Red Pyramids. As no one can leave Cairo without visiting the Cairo Museum we spent an entire morning wondering around the museum and one can only stare at amazement at all the items recovered from Tutankhamun's tomb. Then it was off to our favorite drinking hole where a beer is only 7 pounds and it comes with a plate of hot fuul and some salad.

21 January - Cairo - Desert Camp - 122km

It was time to leave Cairo behind as we were starting to get itchy feet. Just getting out of Cairo took two hours, but then we were on a toll road which is nice and wide with a good shoulder to cycle on. We headed north towards Alexandria and after about 120km we camped at the roadside in the vicinity of an unknown town.

22 January Desert Camp - Amriah - 97km

It actually started raining in the night, who can believe it ever rains in the desert, although this part of Egypt is not so much desert as we were approaching the Mediterranean. There is also a lot of agricultural activity in that part. Along the way were many pigeon lofts, as grilled pigeon is a local speciality and one can find it on most local menus.

23/25 January - Amriah - Alexandria - 42km

The next day was a short ride into Alexandria so we left quite late. We even saw a McDonald's along the way and just had to stop for a cup of coffee. Ernest's stove was playing up and I was out of gas so we had no coffee that morning. On entering Alexandria we found a large shopping center and could even find gas for the stove.

Alexandria is quite a large city on the Mediterranean coast, formerly home to one of the wonders of the ancient world, a 120m high light house, built by Alexander the Great. There is however no sign of it today except for a few terracotta lamps in the local museum. The traffic in Alexandria is no better than in Cairo and it is half impossible to cross the road on foot and even more difficult on a bike.

As Alexandria is a very laid back city we stayed and stayed and did not do much other than eating and drinking, what a hell of a life!!!!

26 January

We took the express train back to Cairo to fetch our visa extensions (which we eventually received after threatening to camp in the corridors of the building).

27 - 30 January - Alexandria

A vicious storm picked up and the wind blew at over 30 miles per hour, accompanied by lashing rain, so Ernest and myself stayed put and waited out the storm, day after day the storm continued without any sign of abating. We cleaned and oiled our bikes (let me rephrase that: Ernest cleaned the bikes), we repacked our bags, read books and watched the same movies on TV over and over again. One day we took the express train to Cairo to fetch our visa extensions, and were back again that same night (the train covers the 250 + km in under 3 hours).

1 February Alexandria - Baltim - 140km

The stormy weather cleared and we could be on our way. We took the coastal road East in the direction of Port Said and cycled 140km on a very flat road with a tail wind!!! At last!!! The road passed over the Nile delta with mostly farmlands along the canals. We reached Baltim in good time, a predominantly holiday resort in summer, but now deserted with not a soul in sight. We found a hotel, the room was a bit dusty and one could see the hotel has not been in use for a while.

2 February Baltim - Port Said - 140km

The weather was still good and the breeze still in the same direction so we were keen to get going and it was once again a pleasant day's riding into Port Said, again about 140km.

However, we only arrived after sunset, stopped for tea too often and took the first available accommodation. It was a bit too pricey for our pockets.

3 - 4 February - Port Said

We moved on to the Youth Hostel and at 40 pounds for the two of us (including breakfast) it was more to our liking. We wondered along the Cornice and watched the large cargo ships and tankers move through the Suez Canal, quite a sight. Ernest has always been fascinated by ships so we stayed another day just to watch the giant ships going in and out the canal.

5 February - Port Said - Ismailia 87km

We left Port Said for Ismailia, a beautiful sunny day and cycled along (still with a slight breeze from behind) and opted to stay in Ismailia as Suez was still more than a 100km away and camping along the road was not that easy as the land is being farmed intensively (with lots of people around).

6 February Ismailia - Zuez - 115km

We left Ismailia early, which was not all that difficult, as the room must have been one of the most filthy rooms in Egypt so far (it has not seen a broom or cloth for many a year). The custom is also not to change bed sheets regularly!! We were on the road before 9h00 and the streets were therefore still very quite, people sleep very late and most business seems to be done after sunset. We tried to cycle along the canal but there was a police road block and they would not let allow us on the canal road, so it was back to the highway and on to Suez were we stayed in another cheapy but this time slightly more clean. We took another walk along the canal and then off to the local (and only) pub for a beer. As a women I feel very odd going into these places as the customers are all men, and being the only women in these places it is no surprise that everyone stares at you. (Hasn't put me off yet).

7 February - Suez

As both Ernest and myself were still down with a cold we spent the day watching more ships passing through the canal and stocked up with some flu tablets and anti-inflammatories for Ernest's knee, which is also playing up (I think we're just packing up).

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