Egypt: along the Red Sea to Cairo
“Only with police escort” or “Under constant surveillance”
This was my last stage through Africa which I really wanted to enjoy! But I expected more police escorts and headwinds.
I had an excellent breakfast, followed by coffee with the Les Doudz, and then left Luxor. For as long as possible I wanted to stay along the Nile. It was a very remote rural area which saved me from the police escort. Until I was back on the main road.
It was about 70 miles to Qena and there was no reason to rush. The policemen were very nice. They gave me cover from the headwinds by driving ahead of me. I thanked the heavily armed men on the pickup truck by singing Christmas carols. Once again, they asked me how old I was.
During a change-over of escorts, I got a lot of information about places to sleep and get water on the way through the desert to Safaga.
Once again, everything turned out different than expected.
Shortly before Qena, the Les Doudz were behind me. They had wanted to take a route on the west bank of the Nile but the police sent them back to this side. They didn’t want to continue along the Nile because of the heavy traffic. Would I be interested to go with them to Safaga on the Red Sea? Of course!
They sprang me from the police escort. In the beginning they also got an escort which was convenient on the way through Qena. We didn’t need a GPS.
We were on our own once we got to the desert. When it got dark, we looked for a place to camp. Heaven! I didn’t think that I’d get the chance to sleep under the stars in Egypt.
And the friends cooked for me, how nice they were.
Once again, I noticed that I didn’t like riding in a vehicle. The few hours during the afternoon had been enough for me. You sit still and chat, nothing else to do. We said goodbye in the morning.
I continued by bike.
It was incredible.
The four-lane highway was completely empty and I enjoyed the quiet of the desert.
It was sad that the police discovered me in Safaga on the Red Sea. At the entrance to town, they asked what I wanted there, what I looked for, what hotel…
In the beginning they didn’t understand that I wasn’t looking for anything in particular and just wanted to visit the town. For that I really didn’t need the police.
To my surprise, they let me pass.
South of Safaga the coastline was supposed to be beautiful but I headed north. It wasn’t even 70 kilometers to Hurghada.
First there were small holiday villages and then the hotels of the tourism hub started. I couldn’t get to the water and there was a strong wind.
The number of tourists was very small compared to the number of beds.
I had a date with Colleen and Peter McNulty, a couple from Cape Town, which was on their way home from Cairo.
The long discussions and exchange of information were only interrupted by eating.
For our get-together, I didn’t mind to forego the swim. There were only a few paid-for beaches in the city.
Colleen and Peter were swept to the South by tailwinds while I had a strong headwind.
But the road was tip top.
I’m sure they counted on a lot of tourists when the road was built.
There wasn’t much besides the desert and a few more holiday resorts.
The police discovered me after 70 kilometers. Colleen and Peter had told me that there was a police station after another 12 kilometers where I could camp. Otherwise there were only gas pipelines and factories.
Next to the police station was a small gas station and a coffee shop. I wanted to quickly buy something to eat but even for those 30 meters, a cop walked with me.
It got really annoying the next morning. There was a forecast for headwinds starting at 9 am and I got up very early. I was ready to roll at 7:30. But no chance to get going. I had to wait for over an hour until my escort arrived. And the headwinds came with them.
This crew didn’t protect me from the wind by driving in front of me. Even so I pleaded, they stayed behind me and claimed the other way was too dangerous.
Along the Nile, the escort consisted of four guys. Two sat in the back and had me in sight. Along the Red Sea, they were only two and they sat in the front.
I didn’t know if they were there to protect me or check on me? With all the gas pipelines and industry, the latter wasn’t out of the question. I could have started a fire.
With their equipment and attitude, it was hard to believe that they could protect me. When the engine stopped, they had a hard time to get it going again. It was almost a slapstick comedy and I had to stop myself from laughing.
Close to Suez, which wasn’t far from Cairo, there were once again big hotels.
Unbelievable and virtually deserted. I’d like to know how many beds there were. And construction continued.
It was surprising how factories, refineries, and resorts were next to each other. Who wanted to spend their holidays here? And the accommodation was very expensive.
Bevor I reached Cairo, I wanted to go to the Mediterranean to close the circle. I thought there would be a road along the Suez Canal on which I could reach the water. Wrong again. Everything was on lockdown after the revolution of 2011. From far away, I could see the top of container ships. Everything was behind walls and watch towers.
On the way to Port Said, I stopped at a mosque. There wasn’t anything there but a lovely bench in the shade.
A few meters away, a man and a woman were cutting reeds.
I waved and made a sign that everything was okay. The young woman came and asked whether I needed water. No thank you, I had just filled my bottles.
She left and returned soon afterwards with a package of home-made cookies. Thank you!
She pointed in the direction of the mosque and said toilette, which I also didn’t need.
She left and returned.
Yes, please. I was escorted to the back of the large house. The imam, in his long black outfit, appeared. Both of them spoke little English. Nevertheless, the conversation was relaxed and humorous.
It got later and later and when they offered me dinner, I realized that I didn’t have a place to sleep. If I could pitch my tent in their large garden?
Instead they offered me a large room in the house.
It was surprises like these which make traveling so amazing.
For a change there was no headwind on the way to Port Said. The first impression of this port city wasn’t favorable: a lot of traffic, a lot of trash, and old crumbling houses.
I quickly went to the Mediterranean and took a photo. Then I found a hotel. Later I went back to the city and thought it wasn’t so bad. Sometimes it takes a second look to discover the beauty of a place.
It wasn’t nice to wake up. It didn’t happen often that I thought, I can’t get up. Nevertheless, I rose but didn’t feel well. After breakfast I made the decision to stay. After I left Luxor, I had cycled non-stop for ten days. If I arrived in Cairo a day earlier or later didn’t matter.
I had enough things to do and could take another stroll in the city.
Old houses were being nicely restored or newly built.
Egypt is predominately Muslim but there were a few Christian churches. All of them under police protection. If one wanted to visit, one had to pass through several controls. Only recently, churches had once again come under attack.
When I got to the estuary, I finally saw the Suez Canal.
I had a relaxing day, had recovered, and could continue to Cairo.
I retraced my way for the first few kilometers and turned at Ismailia in the direction of Cairo.
In the beginning, I traveled through the desert and it was quiet. I really wanted to camp during my last night before getting to Cairo. But the desert wasn’t so empty that I could simply pitch my tent. Vast stretches were occupied by the military.
When I turned off the highway, an ambulance stopped and the crew suggested that I should follow them to the station.
Along the main roads, there were periodic stations where ambulances waited to be called out. They didn’t treat accident victims at there but took them to the nearest hospital.
They offered me a room at the station but I wanted to camp. “My tent is my home” which most people understood.
Of course, I didn’t decline the invitation for dinner.
The last stretch soon turned into quite an adventure. There is enormous traffic in the city of 20 million people.
For a few weeks, I had been in contact with a cyclist from Cairo. He wanted to meet me and guide me into the city.
It didn’t take long and I saw him coming. Taking life into his own hands, Mostafa crossed the multi-lane highway.
Really, there were nicer areas and roads for cycling!
At the city limit, he said that now it’d be too dangerous. He’d prefer to cycle to his mother and then he could give me a lift by car to the city center. I agreed.
That way, we arrived safely. It took a while until I found accommodation. As usual I hadn’t pre-booked but only checked options on the internet. As I discovered, there was a big gap between the information on the net and the actual prices and rooms.
Finally, I got a tiny room in Dahab Hostel. I didn’t mind because I would only sleep there and the rooftop terrace had wonderful areas to rest.
A day later, Maria and Tico, whom I had met in Malawi, arrived. I toured with them for the next few days. They didn’t have bikes and so mine stayed at the hostel. It was easy to get around Cairo by Uber and metro. And it was a lot of fun.
First, we went to the pyramid of Sakkara.
The area was beautiful but I had expected more from the pyramid and the burial grounds. One couldn’t visit the pyramid. It was dilapidated and a real labyrinth. Perhaps a precaution against grave robbers.
Compared to the burial chambers in the Valley of the Kings, these were small and colorless.
It would be advisable to visit Egypt from North to South. In that direction the sights got more and more interesting.
Afterwards we went to the Great Pyramid of Giza.
One can visit the largest one but the entrance fee was quite expensive. I got claustrophobic when I had visited the burial chambers. Therefore, I wasn’t very tempted to go inside the pyramid where apparently there wasn’t much to see.
Tico went inside but returned quickly. He confirmed that we hadn’t really missed anything.
At sunset everyone went to the viewing point from which one could see the three pyramids in one line. Of course, one didn’t need to cover the distance on foot. There was a big choice of horses, donkeys, carriages, and camels. We refused all offers because we wanted to walk.
While everyone took photos of the pyramids, I took pictures of the surrounding area.
Many say the oceans were full of plastic but the desert hardly looked any better.
We had to leave the area after sunset. The police herded everyone to the exit which was far. Some young camel drivers were leading their camels back to the exit. They asked if we didn’t want a ride.
Even so I had told myself that I’d never ride a camel, I found myself on top of one.
(credits to Tico. Several of the photos in which I feature were taken by him).
I prefer my bike but in sand, this was a good solution.
The guys were in a great mood and we had a lot of fun. Usually one got ripped of by the tourist guides. One had to negotiate the exact price at the start and then insist on it. But these guys were different. They refused to take our money. There were always surprises!
Enough of temples and graves. Next, we visited the Khan el-Khalili market. I hadn’t much read up about the city and its sights and didn’t know about this market. Therefore the surprise was all the bigger.
It was just wonderful. Apparently, it was the largest market in Africa. Everything was for sale: lamps, bags, material, t-shirts, musical instruments, etc.
The market was in one of the oldest neighborhoods of Cairo, between mosques, hammams (bath houses), and madrassas (Islamic schools).
It was an incredible atmosphere. I only read afterwards that in 2007 and 2008 there had been terror attacks with several dead. This could be an explanation why there were so few western tourists.
Like elsewhere in Cairo, we could refresh ourselves with freshly pressed juice.
(again, thanks to Tico)
The sky was full of oranges.
At the end, and because it was part of the experience, I wanted to go to a shisha bar.
(who took this photo? Yes, Tico)
None of us had tried it before or knew how it worked. We had fun and so did the nice waiter.
Once again, it was time for good-byes. Maria and Tico went on to Luxor and I had to say farewell to Africa. Once more, Mostafa was very helpful, he brought a bike box for me, and took me to the airport.
I had spent a year and eleven months on the African continent and cycled 38,224 kilometers. What a tour it had been.