(35) ‘ello Giza!
Friday 30th November
We woke in our room in Alexandria and felt so pleased to have made it to Egypt. It was noisy and dusty outside and it felt like it would take a while to adapt to our new surroundings even though we’d been to Egypt twice before.
The view of the Med from our room
We had been told about a demonstration against President Morsi that was happening in Alexandria that day and it was due to happen only a few hundred metres from our hotel. The guys at the hotel told us not to worry, just to stay away from the area especially after sunset. About a week prior, President Morsi issued a declaration to protect the work of the constituent assembly drafting the new constitution free from judicial interference. In effect, this declaration immunises his actions from any legal challenge. The people here are concerned that it would return the country to a dictatorship.
We headed out after a while to buy fruit and water. We found a great restaurant and filled ourselves with yummy Egyptian food. We headed back to start building up the bikes and unpacking and repacking! Hours later, both bikes were assembled and the panniers were in order. We did discover however that we’d lost a bottle cage and Swiss army knife in transit which was annoying. We think they must have broken lose and fallen out of a hole that had formed during the journey. We spent the rest of the evening using the internet to speak to home and catch up on emails. We went to bed shattered and considered staying another night.
Saturday 1st December
We woke up and decided to stay as we needed more time to get up to speed with everything. We had good internet connection and were keen to post our Cyprus adventures on the blog. It would also give us chance to email some photos to people we had stayed with.
We ventured out to find a new bottle cage and asked a young guy for directions. He said he could show us as it was in the direction he was heading. We chatted to him as we walked and arrived at a road full of bike shops within about 10 minutes. He disappeared off saying if the owner saw us he would ask a tourist price. He came back saying it would cost £10 which is more than an English price! When we said no he looked disappointed and took us to another shop. We haggled hard and eventually bought one for £2.50 and it wasn’t a great one. The young guy stopped talking to us then and it seemed a little strange. We headed back via the supermarket and said we could manage from now on but he stayed with us. We got back near to where we had met him and he asked us for money saying this was normal in Egypt. We explained that if he’d made it clear at the beginning he wanted paying in exchange for taking us we would have said no. It became clear he was trying to make money on the bottle cage. We eventually walked away without giving him anything. We were sad this had happened but reassured ourselves this was a tourist area. We were told later by a local guy at the hotel that this was a regular scam.
Hanging washing in the streets
We headed back to the restaurant we went to the day before for dinner and were pleased we had had a productive day. We slept well but were anxious about getting on the road again – it had been a while.
Sunday 2nd December
After a good night’s sleep and not hearing the alarm we woke around 9am. Fortunately we had managed to pack most of our things the night before. We checked the room and loaded the lift with our panniers. Sharon waited at the bottom with the bags while Tim went back up for the bikes. He got one down before the lift was high-jacked by the other residents so he carried the last one down the 4 flights of stairs.
We both felt nervous about the busy roads and made our way along the sea front taking a picture before joining the desert road. It was the beginning of a very long continent!
Us at the start of Africa!
We were on the right road for about 10 minutes when it dropped into a tunnel. Sharon who was in front panicked due to the heavy traffic and took the side road which ran next to it. It wasn’t long before we realised it was taking us the wrong way. Before we knew it we ended up in a large crowd of people and got a feeling that it was a the edge of a demonstration. A guy approached us who spoke English and fortunately knew the way back to the desert road. Feeling nervous we rode on through them. They were fine but it highlighted how easy it could have been to get into trouble. We managed to join the road which remained busy. We had assumed as the road was called ‘the desert road’ it would be quiet. As Sharon rode past a truck that was slowly edging out onto the road, a small pickup truck who was travelling at quite a speed brushed her front pannier. She appeared around looking a bit shocked, so we stopped for a cold drink to have a break from it all.
Tuk tuk’s just off the highway
Although we had been to Egypt before it was still massive change from Europe, with intense traffic, dust and heavy pollution. After about 30 miles the farm land started to appear but not as we expected – with rubbish strewn along the highway and a thick layer of fine dust in the air mixed with traffic fumes it didn’t make for an exciting ride. We crossed a bridge and spotted a fruit and veg market below so we headed there in search of goodies. We picked up 2 pitta breads for 5 pence, 6 satsumas for 40 pence and were given 2 tomatoes and a handful of chillies for free – we were still on the receiving end of the generousity of people.
We rode on over the rubbish and found a quiet spot to have lunch. It was too hot for tea so we just made cheese and tomato wraps with yoghurt and cake for pud. We rejoined the highway and after another 15 miles we stopped by a small stall and had chi with some locals. They proudly showed us a video of them at a family wedding, firing semi-automatic weapons into the air as part of the celebrations. They giggled amongst themselves and showed us another video of an older lady firing single shots – it was their mother.
Tim blending in with the locals
They were very friendly and said we could camp behind their hut but needing to do a few more miles, we said our thanks and rode on. After another 10 miles we spotted a place next to some trees about 300 mtetres off the road out of sight. It was perfect and would be the first time we had used our new tent. It was almost dark and so it took a bit longer to pitch it and we were pleased we had ‘test pitched’ it at the hotel in Cyprus. We cooked tea and by the time we got to bed it was a very late 8:45 : ) It was interesting watching the traffic move along the highway. With the multi coloured lights covering the vehicles it was like a carnival put in fast forward! The road remained busy and as they drive with their horns not their brakes, it made it hard to sleep.
Monday 3rd December
After a bad night’s sleep the alarm woke us. Feeling shattered Tim had 15 more minutes before we packed away our tent with only a few drops of condensation on the fly sheet and none in the inner part 😃
Pleased with our new tent (the outer is green!)
We sat and had the remainder of our dinner for breakfast – cold pasta with apricot jam, we wouldn’t recommend it. A farmer came over and invited us for chi but with the morning getting away from us we had to get going.
The road remained flat with only the slightest climb and we both commented on how we ached from being in the same position for hours on end. We stopped at a small shop and picked up a few bits before riding on to find somewhere to have lunch. We had covered 35 miles by this point so were pleased with our progress. After lunch we got going and when the odd car would wave and beep at us, all the cars behind would do the same like a domino effect which made us laugh.
Shaz riding along the highway
Shaz about to be over-taken by a bush…
We stopped at a supermarket to pick up an ice cream each and some oranges and with the light now fading we started to look for somewhere to camp. We could see it was starting to become built up as we were nearing Cairo so were worried about finding a place to sleep. With the added tension of the demonstrations that were happening in Cairo – on a much larger scale than Alexandria – we wanted to find somewhere safe and didn’t want to end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. A man waved as we passed what looked like a golf club and we pulled over to ask if there was somewhere to camp. Him introduced himself as Alaa and told us it was a VIP complex and kindly called the hotel within the grounds. With a discount he was quoted $160 for a night. We explained that we couldn’t affort it due to the length of our trip and he offered us a space to could camp outside his villa.
We followed his Jaguar to the villa and found a grassy spot out the front to pitch the tent. We met Alaa’s wife Vicky who offered us a hot drink. We met their 5 year old twin daughters who spoke perfect English. They went to the school in the complex. Vicky was so generous and offered us a hot meal which was delicious, with yoghurts and fresh papaya juice. It was great not to have to get the stove out as there were plenty of mozzies waiting for us! We were also offered a shower followed by a beer. Their hospitality was the perfect end to our day.
Tuesday 4th December
Sleeping a lot better knowing we didn’t have to worry about where we were, we were packing our things when Vicky came out with the girls to send them off to school. We said good bye to them and were invited in for a hot breakfast. Vicky and Alaa helped us locate the Ethiopian Embassy in Cairo and told us the way to Giza where we would stay avoiding the centre of Cairo where the demonstrations were. Cath (Sharon’s sister) had been texting with updates which was so helpful as we hadn’t had access to the internet. Vicky and Alaa sent us off with a packed lunch and we felt so fortunate to have met them. Alaa gave us his telephone number to ring him if we had any problems.
Shaz with Vicky and Alaa
We joined the highway and waved to many friendly drivers. We noticed the trick of stopping straight away when a dog chased us worked for the Egyptian dogs too. We covered about 15 miles when we crested a brow to see the first sight of the Giza pyramids. We couldn’t believe we had ridden here from Norway and still can’t. Like Istanbul it was a major landmark we were aiming for and having been here before we knew just how far away from home it was. It took a while to reach the sight and all the time they kept being hidden by trees or buildings and on the old occasion would pop out in front of us only to be hidden again. We rode towards the entrance and a group of young lads stopped us asking to see our tickets. Knowing it was a scam we rode through them and on to the main entrance avoiding a few others trying to make a bit of money out of the unexpecting tourist.
What is the camel thinking???
We got to the entrance where we had to buy a ticket only to be told we couldn’t take our bikes in. We explained what we were doing and after a sniffer dog checked out our bikes (walking off holding its nose) we were allowed in. We made our way to the base of the first pyramid and were immediately hassled to buy things. All we wanted to do was take a 10 minute break. After a while of constant hassle Tim asked them to go by literally herding them away. It was an indication of how desperate people are to gain an income – there are very few tourists here which has such an impact on the local people.
We rode out to the rear of the site to have a great view of all three pyramids and get some pictures before leaving. It would have been nice to stay longer but without anywhere to stay and knowing how early it gets dark plus with the trouble building in Tahir square and spreading to other areas, it wasn’t safe to leave it too long.
Picking up a signal on the move
One of the the Great Pyramids – notice how small the person is at the bottom of the photo
We had arrived!!!
A bit about the Pyramids – The Pyramids of Giza consist of 3 Pyramids. The largest is known as the Great Pyramid, Pyramid of Cheops or Khufu, the somewhat smaller Pyramid of Khafre (or Chephren) which is a few hundred meters to the south-west, and the relatively modest-sized Pyramid of Menkaure (or Mykerinos) a few hundred meters further south-west. The Great Sphinx lies on the east side of the complex. Current consensus among Egyptologists is that the head of the Great Sphinx is that of Khafre. Along with these major monuments are a number of smaller satellite edifices, known as “queens” pyramids, causeways and valley pyramids. The general consensus it that they were built as tombs but there are many theories about why they exist!
We looked around Giza and Sharon asked in a hotel but they wanted £35 a night. A man appeared from his shop and said he would help. His name was Hassan and he led us to a room for rent. It was on the top floor and as Tim went to check out the room, there were the pyramids right in front of him. We got the price down to £10 a night and were also invited to tea at Hassan’s house. We needed to get Internet first so we found a cafe and skyped home but with a slow speed it wasn’t great. We brought some bread to add to the meal and went to Hassan’s house and had a lovely evening with him and his family. He had 4 daughters and a young son. One of his daughters wanted to practice her English and we learned some Arabic in exchange.
Wednesday 5th December
We slept well in a comfy bed. Sharon was up early and had done some washing and got the kettle on before Tim woke. Sharon rang the Ethiopian embassy to confirm where it was as Cath (Sharon’s sister) had researched it for us and had found 2 different addresses. The address we were given was different again but at least in the same district. We met an Australian guy called Mark at the hotel who sorted out a taxi for us as he had a reliable contact. We felt nervous about getting the visa as we had known of quite a few cycle tourists who had been told they could only apply for the visa in their home country.
After a 45 minute taxi ride which cost £3.50, we arrived at the gates of the Embassy. A small flap in the steel gates opened and a man asked what we wanted. We told him to which he handed us 2 forms and asked us to fill them in. We entered a small hut to complete the forms laughing.
Completing the forms – notice the colours of the Ethiopian flag!
They also asked for a passport photo each and $30 per visa – this was looking promising. The next challenge was to find a bank with some US dollars. 45 minutes and 3 banks later we had our dollars and returned to the Embassy. The hatch opened once again and we handed everything over. We were told to return the following day after 2pm. With smiles on our faces we tried not to celebrate too early and spotted a shoe repair place as Tim’s cycling shoes were starting to come apart. While in there we had our backpack sewn up too for the reasonable price of £1.50.
Why don’t we do more of this in England??
We decided to catch the bus back. It cost us 10 pence each to get to Giza square – about 15 minutes away and we had to change buses to take us close to the pyramids and our hotel for another 30 pence. We walked along some back streets hoping it would be a short cut and found it was quite an eye opener especially being so close to the pyramids. People lived in such a mess, there was rubbish everywhere and kids running around bare foot amongst horse and camel manure.
We eventually found our hotel – stopping for a cheeky meal in KFC – what a contrast to what we had just seen. We relaxed at the hotel for the evening and cooked potatoes, tomatoes and tuna for tea. Soon after we heard loud music coming from the square and looked out to see flashing lights and a large crowd dancing. It was wedding celebrations Egyptian style! We later heard a series of gun shots from a semi-automatic gun, which fortunately we knew was part of the celebrations. The music went on late into the night stopping only for the call for prayers.
Thursday 6th December
Mark the guy we had met previously let us use his internet connection so we could update the blog and catch up on emails – what a star. He was such a great guy and we enjoyed hanging out with him and putting the world to rights! After having a relaxing morning, we headed out to the Ethiopian Embassy hopeful to get our visas. We decided to take the bus again and made the mistake of getting off one stop early. We were a few kilometres away so popped onto a tuk tuk for part of the journey before crossing a railway line which put us on the correct road. We passed through an amazing market selling all sorts and stopped to buy some cake.
It took a while to hone in on the exact location of the Embassy from the GPS co-ordinates so we were grateful to arrive before they closed. We knocked on the gate and as before, the hatch opened. We waited a few moments before being handed our visas and were wished a good trip to Ethiopia. They had given us 3 months – hopefully it won’t take that long to cycle through the country! Thrilled with how easy it was, we headed off and did a supermarket shop in preperation for heading off the next day. The journey back to the hotel was smoother. We met 3 students who helped us with getting the connecting bus in Giza. They bought us a corn on the cob each and even paid for our bus journey. It was so kind.
We were pleased that the whole time we were in Cairo we hadn’t felt uneasy and wouldn’t have known about the demonstrations. We heard that there had been been clashes between the pro and anti supporters of the two groups at the demonstrations. With the hustle and bustle of normal life and the local banter we were made to feel safe and welcome. We arrived back at our room and relaxed to the evenings sound and light display of the pyramids in 3 different langauges. This happened every night and the commentary boomed over the town. One person we met had been listening to the same display every night for 42 years with only 10 days off during the revolution. We packed as much as we could and fell asleep excited to be heading off the following morning.
Thanks for reading!