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(38) It’s a pharaoh way

December 31, 2012

Tuesday 11th December (Shaz’s birthday!)

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Preparing Shaz’s birthday cuppa

We were woken by a ‘good morning’ from one of the policemen outside the tent only to see it was still dark – it was 5.30am. We looked at each other and decided to ignore his next good morning. He must have got the message as we woke at 7am with the sun on the tent. Tim wished a Happy Birthday to Sharon and chucked a load of kit out the tent before lighting the stove for a birthday cuppa  We cleared the tent and sat eating the wafers we had bought to get us through to where we could restock on supplies.  As we sat having breakfast one of the policemen said ‘y’alla’ meaning ‘let’s go’. We decided not to rush and they came down and looked at our kit. They showed us snake holes in the sand next to us which made us feel happy we were in a tent. We pushed the bikes up the slope and they asked which way we were heading. We said to the Nile as we needed supplies. There was a load of discussion between them as we think they had organised police to accompany us along the desert road.

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How many policemen does it take to guide 2 cyclists??

We set off in the direction of Cairo as a joke to the surprise of the officer who shouted where are you going? Tim shouted Cairo and he lept out of his truck, to which we turned and said “only joking” They all laughed and we set off. We tried telling them we didn’t want the police but they insisted and drove 10 metres behind.  As Tim rode over a bump his back light came off, he went back to get it and noticed that the 2 police cars following were in fact one towing the other and that the rope had snapped between them. It was our chance to escape but before long with the shouts from the driver to his mate to hurry up they were behind us once again. It was hard to relax with a police car so close behind us.

We stopped in a small village at a shop and the police insisted on going in with Sharon. As we had arrived in the village with police sirens blaring, a crowd was forming around us. Sharon wanted to make best use of the police and so asked one to reach a tin of tuna from a high shelf. He said ‘me policeman’ and Sharon replied ‘yes, very good policeman’ whilst pointing to the tuna. To which he turned and fetched the tin from the shelf. He kindly added it all up for us and loaded the carrier bags. With enough food we joined the highway and decided to stop for a tea break. They asked us what we were doing and replied “we’re drinking tea”  They stopped the truck and wondered around with their guns while we sat by the river drinking tea and eating bread and jam. We got going and they were now starting to drive us mad by driving so close behind. They would sit in the middle of the road and use their sirens for the smallest thing. There was no other choice – we had to hide. As we neared a town the traffic came to a standstill so we darted off between the cars and ducked down a side alley. We waited for a while hearing their sirens getting louder only to be spotted as they passed us.  They asked what we were doing and we sheepishly told them “taking a picture”. Happy with our reply the convoy continued. We swapped police again and again as we passed through different districts and kept insisting we didn’t need them. They would say ok then 5 minutes later were right behind us once again.

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The police ensuring we have enough road space

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Crossing a canal in the Nile Valley

We arrived in the next town and this time we managed to hide behind a parked lorry. They passed us and we rode on happy, only to find them coming the other way. We stopped yet again at a police check point this time in the town of Asyut. We decided to use having them to our advantage and asked them to show us an Internet cafe. We rode on to town happy to follow as they now had a use and after 20 minutes we got to a cafe. We needed to check emails to get a reliable delivery address in Sudan, and order the parts to fix Tim’s wheels as the bearings were almost gone on the front wheel and a spoke had broken a chunk off the back. 2 hours later after a few phone calls and an address sorted we left the cafe to find somewhere to stay.

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Sunset over the fields

As we rode along we passed a cake stall – Tim saw this as a perfect opportunity to buy a birthday cake. We asked the man for the cake as the police got out of their car and one of them brought some cake for himself. We asked if they could carry Sharon’s new cake in the car. They were more then happy so with it now under armed protection we knew it was safe. After much discussion and 2 more police cars we arrived in a police compound with the cake unharmed and shown where we could sleep the night. We spent the evening drinking tea, smoking shesha and eating birthday cake. They were a friendly bunch and we ended up sleeping on the floor of the Chief’s office and watched a movie with the resident mozzies. How else would you treat a girl on her birthday?

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Shaz demonstrating that she can still multi-task at the age of 37

Wednesday 12th December

We woke up in the night to a squadron of mossies all in various stages of dinner.  We both spent 20 minutes swatting the little beasts until it seemed like we had won the battle. We sprayed on a little repellant and slept until the alarm went off.We got up and packed our things most of which were on the bikes outside. We had breakfast which consisted of bread and jam and another section of birthday cake washed down with a cuppa.

Shaz enjoying breakfast
Shaz starting to struggle to finish her birthday cake
We got on the road after saying goodbye to the police and were joined by the next bunch of bored policemen on the road. We tried keeping them on their toes by whizzng through busy traffic to see them look releaved they hadn’t lost us. We stopped for a tea break while they found a nice spot to smoke shesha. The road was good and flat making it easy going but it is better to have an undulating road to be able to change riding position.
Riding along the Nile Valley
Riding along the Nile Valley
We covered 40 miles before we stopped for lunch which just happened to be at a police checkpoint. They seemed quite happy to sit around having fun with their mates while we made the most of the time relaxing. We rejoined the road and with them always being 10 metres or closer behind we would take it in turns to ride on and have a break from them. We made it to a small town to find they had disappeared. We grabbed the moment and ducked into a cafe, hid the bikes and drank tea, feeling like our police dad and mum might worry. We saw them pass and waited a while before joining the road once again. We picked up some fruit and within 10 minutes we spotted them coming towards us. They stuck to us like glue from then on.

A pretty mosque

A pretty Mosque

Colours along the road

Colours along the road

We stopped at a shop to pick up supplies and the 4 policemen looked on bored waiting for Sharon to finish choosing our tea. We rode on and after a long day of 72 miles we reached the town of El Balyana. We asked where we could stay and they said a hotel. Sharon replied we prefer somewhere free like the police compound. They said no at first but finally agreed and lead us through town into the compound. We pitched the tent in the hallway under some stairs (as the tent is free-standing) to keep the mozzies out. We kept the police guys amused with our cooking skills and a few videos taken from the go-pro before heading to bed.

Thursday 13th December

Our camp under the stairs

Our camp under the stairs

We were woken by police arriving at the station. We packed up and got on the road. We were keen to get to Luxor by the end of the day – about 70 miles. We had spotted a road that cut ‘the corner’ and saved us about 40 miles and would mean we were on target for getting to Aswan to buy a ferry ticket to Sudan. The Egypt/Sudan road border was closed so the only way to enter the country was via overnight ferry from Aswan to Wadi Halfa.

We headed off with our police escort, resigned to the fact that we were stuck with them and we did understand they had a job to do.

A village along the way

A village along the way

All was well until we reached a police compound about 30 miles on. We showed them where we wanted to go and they said there was no police escort in that area. What a result! However our joy was short-lived as they told us we were not allowed to cycle it on our own. We took a deep breath and spent the next hour discussing and waiting to hear if they would take us. Finally they agreed as we said we would go anyway (they couldn’t answer what would be the consequences to that!)

We showed the driver the road on the map and we set off. Tim kept checking the direction we were heading and all seemed well for a couple of hours.

On the desert road

Riding along the wrong road 

Suddenly Tim pulled over and asked the driver where we were. We were going the wrong way despite them knowing which way we wanted to go. We felt so frustrated as we were running behind already. Tim started to ride back in the direction we had come ignoring the shouts from our current escort. Just then another police car arrived. Thank goodness one of the guys spoke English. We explained what had happened and that Tim had the map so we chased him down.

The policeman was called Hassan and was clearly going to help us get on the right road. We followed his truck to what we thought was the the right road and found it was closed. Hassan said he would take us back the way we came to try and find another road to cross the desert. We put the bikes in the back of the police truck feeling incredibly frustrated. Hassan drove fast back along the road and Tim kept an eye on our position from his GPS. We stopped Hassan and asked some locals as it seemed we were going in the wrong direction. By this point we were so hungry as it was mid afternoon and we hadn’t had any lunch. Hassan kindly offered to pay for our lunch to apologise for the mix up and before we knew it we were eating plates of rice, chicken, salad and bread. We had time to reflect and decided to ride the longer way so as not to waste time looking for the road across the desert as we didn’t want to set off into the desert late in the afternoon.

We used the GPS for Hassan to drive us back to the point where he had met us first – this was 3 hours previously. The sun was setting and we felt tired and annoyed, knowing we could have been in Luxor by now. We headed north-East for a couple of hours and arrived in the town of Qena.

Riding into the sunset

Riding into the night 

We were shattered and it was dark and would have been the ideal place to stop but we decided to carry on in the direction of Luxor and see how far we got. We said goodbye to Hassan as we were leaving his area and rode on into the night with no police escort which seemed ironic as the most hassle we got was usuallyafter dark.

The going was good and we made good progress. We were soon within 20 miles of Luxor and stopped for a cup of tea and snack at the side of the road. We felt tired but were keen to head on. A couple of times we had kids chase and try and grab the bikes and we would shout at them. We finally arrived in Luxor after 110 miles and asked a guy where a cheap hotel was. He showed us down a back street and it was perfect. Clean (for Egypt) and £7 for a double room. It also had good Internet connection. We fell asleep exhausted but chuffed to have survived the day.

Friday 14th December

Waking up feeling like we had only just gone to bed we got up and ordered breakfast. We left the hotel at around 12 feeling like we had rested enough but with another long distance to cover it was going to be a long day. We popped over to Luxor temple to take a few pictures but having been in before and having limited time we had to get going. We chatted to a German couple who lived in Egypt for the winter before heading on.
Luxor Temple
The stunning Luxor Temple
We crossed over the Nile which was the opposite to what the map said and continued towards Isna.  Sharon had a few kids jump out in front of her almost taking her off her bike and we wished for a second the police would start hounding us again. We stopped at a small shop for lunch and the owner was lovely. She would tell any kids who got too close to the bikes to go away.

A Felucca boat on the Nile

A Felucca boat on the Nile

Donkey and cart

Donkey and cart along the stunning Nile valley

We continued on and Tim got chatting to a man on a moped who was a teacher. He asked him how far it was to Isna and he replied 7km. We continued on for another 45 minutes chatting to the man when we arrived in a built up area. Tim asked is this Isna? to which the man replied no, it’s about 7km. We finally arrived in Isna and he invited us to his house.
Tim chatting with a local school teacher

 Tim chatting to a local school teacher

This wasn’t the first time we had been offered to stay or eat at a person’s house but it was always the wrong time of the day or we needed to get somewhere. As a result we hadn’t seen much of people’s kindness and had seen more of people trying to beg or make a dishonest pound.
We crossed over the Nile again which was again different to the map and by this time it was dark. The police had tried to follow us after a conversation at a check point but we told them we were fine. With another 30 miles still to ride we were tired but with the road flat it made all the difference. It was a shame not to see our surroundings in the light but with the lost half day yesterday it was something we needed to do.  We stopped for a snack as Sharon was struggling and a man pulled over with his 2 sons and asked if we wanted to go with them to their house to eat. We really wanted to but we had to press on. Saying thanks we got our heads down.  A few hours later we finally arrived in Idfu and passed a delicious smelling cafe. We couldn’t resist as the thought of getting the stove out at 10.30pm having ridden over 80 miles was not appealing in the slightest.
We sat down to eat roast chicken, salad, rice and bread. We chatted with the owner who liked cats and had many at the restaurant – so was instantly a hit with Sharon. However when we got up to leave he asked us for 100 EP (£10) which was ridiculous for what we’d had. Feeling deflated we bargained the price down, although still over-paid and headed off. Over an hour later we finally got to a hotel room which looked like it had never been cleaned. All the other places we saw were over-priced. We put our thermarests on the bed to even out the mattresses and fell asleep wishing we were in the tent.

Saturday 15th December

We woke tired after 2 long days. We packed our stuff and left our room that was probably one of the worst we had stayed in and loaded the bikes. We still owed £1 as we only had a big note. The guy took it and came back with change. As he handed it to us he asked for a tip. For not doing anything we thought the only tip we could give him was clean the place up, he may get more customers.
We went to Rasmos temple but again with a long day ahead and having been there before we just took a picture at the entrance. A few kids tried cutting us up, so with a stern look and a ‘don’t even think about’ it they went to look for someone else to annoy. We crossed the bridge back to the highway but with a rough road it was hard to tell if it was the right road. We asked a couple of people who assured us it was. We stopped at a small shop and brought snacks and the owner made us a cup of tea. We felt hungry from a combination of long days and not much food. We said goodbye and got our heads down.
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Heading towards Aswan
A young guy in a tuk tuk rode alongside Sharon asking for her telephone number and when she said no and forced her off the road. She shouted at him as he grabbed her before quickly turning and disappearing before Tim could get to him. Annoyed she hadn’t pulled her stick out to warn him off we rode on. Then another tuk tuk started driving close to Tim who was in front. Tim told them to go away as they started to get too close to his bike. He started to chase them but they persisted to ride in front slowing down, then speeding up for the next 5 miles or so. They over took a horse and cart and pulled off and stopped at a junction. Tim furious by now went over and took the keys out and threw them to the ground. The driver was looking quite worried as a man came over and said it was ok. Tim replied it wasn’t as they were being dangerous. A police car approached and so we pointed out the kid and told them to speak with him. With a bit of justice done, we rode on and spotted a nice mosque.
We had lunch outside and enjoyed the quiet. We chatted about how Egypt was an incredible place and how advanced they were in their time. Where had all that knowledge gone, with wonky concrete structures and buildings falling down. We also found it hard to fall in love with the people. There were many that had kind good faces you could trust with anything, great family values and most worked very hard. This all seemed to be over-shadowed by people who wanted money for nothing or for the smallest thing, making their kindest hard to trust. We continued on and after 60 miles we arrived on the outskirts of Aswan. Spotting a stall selling syrup pastries and tart we brought half a kg ordered a cup of tea and sat down to devour the lot. We went to pay and found a local guy had paid for our tea. We said our thanks and goodbye, picking up supplies before reaching the centre. We checked out a couple of hotels and found a good clean one to spend the next couple of nights. We had picked up a couple beers to celebrate only to find they were non alcoholic, oh well. It’s the thought that counts.

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Sunday 16th December

With a good night’s sleep after long days in the saddle we went downstairs to have breakfast. We soon headed out of the door to try and secure our ferry tickets to Sudan. We had been unable to reserve them in advance but were confident we would get them. We searched the town going round in circles to finally find the office in what looked like a disused arcade. We noticed movement inside but the door was locked so we knocked and were told to return in 30 minutes.
We searched for the post office which was almost as hard to find and posted some postcards.  We returned to the office half an hour later and saw a young English couple waiting for their tickets. We said our hellos before turning our attention to the man behind the desk who asked us what we wanted. We said ‘we would like 2 tickets to Sudan please’. He then bluntly replied ‘the ferry is full, come back on Tuesday and you can have a ticket for next week’. We explained that we had ridden really long days to get there on time but he again replied ‘come back Tuesday’. He added, ‘we don’t work with feelings, just numbers’. We left the office gutted and stood outside trying to work out what to do next.  We didn’t want to wait 9 days for the next ferry. After 10 minutes of discussion the man appeared out of the office and said ‘you are very lucky 2 tickets have come available.’ We couldn’t believe it and were so happy. We filled in the forms and darted off to get the money before he changed his mind. All that effort hadn’t gone to waste after all. Needing to pack we picked up supplies for the ferry and went back to the hotel happy.
Monday 17th December
We woke at 6.45 and packed our things. It was about 15 miles to the Port and with a recommended time of arrival of 9am we needed to get going. We had breakfast and got on the road by 8am picking up a few snacks along the way. We started to climb and reached the first dam. We were stopped and told we couldn’t cross by bike, we explained that we had to. We couldn’t argue with armed guards and we had to make it to the ferry so in the end they flagged down a pickup who took us across. We were getting annoyed now we just wanted to leave Egypt. We were dropped off on the other side, 100 metres on  and continued to climb. We reached the 2nd dam and had to cross by vehicle again so finding another pickup we arrived at the other end and cycled to the port.
It was crazy with everyone pushing and shoving, we joined in the mayhem and with our bikes fully laden it was mad with women pushing through, climbing over the bikes into small corners and looking at us to say why aren’t you pushing? With a lot of waiting slowly moving forward with hundreds of people trying to get through like their life depended on it we were out the other side into the next mad crush. With large raised flower beds and trees planted in the middle of where we were queuing, big trolleys loaded with everything from freezers to huge bags of rice and liquidisers and TV’s; it was chaos. We paid 50 Egyptian Pounds to have our bikes loaded on the boat then loaded them ourselves.  We found that there was space at the front for foreigners so we set up camp with the rest of them. There were a couple of motorcyclists from England called Tom and Richard, a Dutch guy called Bart and an English couple called James and Anna who were driving from London to Cape Town.  We made a cupper and chatted until the sun set then set about trying to claim our free meal. which came with our ticket.  It took a while but we soon succeeded. We laid our sleeping mats out and settled down for the long crossing of around 18 – 24 hours.

Chaos at the port

Chaos at the port

Thanks for reading and for all your comments – it really keeps us going. Hope you’ve enjoyed this post.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 31, 2012 9:48 pm

    They showed us snake holes in the sand next to us which made us feel happy we were in a tent.

    GULP! Now that’s going to give me nightmares.

    Your tales from Egypt are a complete contrast to your previous experiences – such a shame but sadly no different to many other accounts I’ve read in recent years. Here’s hoping the miles to come are less chaotic.

    Happy New Year to you both – can’t believe you’ve been on the road for six months now.

  2. stephanie permalink
    January 1, 2013 2:07 pm

    Happy new year you two! Sounds like it was a few days of really rough going in Egypt but I do hope that it will get better for you as you venture to a new place. Your fortitude is amazing and you are doing great! So much perspective. YOU CAN DO IT! Here’s to fabulous new adventures in Sudan. Happy belated birthday Sharon!

  3. Elaine permalink
    January 1, 2013 6:09 pm

    Well done guys- what a struggle, but you made it. Happy New Year- was actually emailing you on xmas day, but fell asleep and lost it 😉 . Anyway, hope you has a relaxing xmas too… xxx

  4. Janx permalink
    January 2, 2013 7:00 pm

    Happy belated Birthday Sharon and hope 2013 brings you all you wish for. Well done for making it do far. Its so hard when poverty and strife causes such desperation from people. Good luck with further travels, I will be following you! Janx

  5. Sara permalink
    January 2, 2013 8:30 pm

    Hey travelling buddies, what a trip, you knew Africa would be a challenge and your perseverance and determination is what makes the difference. You capture the highs and lows of each country well. Glad you had a birthday cake Sharon what a face!! Keep on pedalling each mile is another nearer Patagonia so we can travel together again. Loads of love and Happy New Year xxx

  6. January 5, 2013 5:25 am

    Belated happy birthday to Sharon and a very happy and safe new year. What an adventure in Egypt, we hope Sudan is treating you better and you get some time to breathe again! Take care of yourselves. Best, Baerbel and Johan

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