Around the world by bike
Egypt & Sinai Desert
(2 332km - 46days)
27 - 29 December 2007 - Aswan
Our ferry arrived in Aswan, Egypt at around 9h00, however, we only managed to place our feet on Egyptian soil at 11h00. It is true what they say, “Egypt is like a visit back into history” in more ways than one.
We cycled the 20 km into Aswan, and the first thing on our minds was not the history, or the magnificent monuments and sand covered tombs, but finding a hotel with a hot shower and a beer! What a culture shock Egypt turned out after a month in Sudan! Suddenly there were busloads of tourists, large passenger liners lying 4-deep on the Nile, hotels, stalls, curio shops, touts selling felucca rides (Feluccas are simple traditional Egyptian sailboats, a popular means of transport on the Nile) and more. You had to bargain hard for anything from toilet paper to food and the first price quoted could be as high as five times what one should pay.
Ernest and I clung to each other and looked at the madness wide-eyed! The first day I mostly stayed in my room looking at the chaos through the window and after three days of mostly eating drinking we were more accustomed to Egypt and felt brave enough to face the Egyptians head on.
30 December – Aswan - Edfu - 116km
It was 30 December and many Stellas (the local beer) later that we finally got on the road for the 116 km ride to Edfu. We followed a well-maintained tarmac road that ran next to the Nile. The scenery was in stark contrast to Sudan with green crops of sugarcane, corn, rice, clover and even mint. We cycled close to the palm-lined Nile and had excellent views more or less the entire day. From Aswan, it felt like one endless village, and we were hardly ever on an open road, the exact opposite to Sudan. Halfway the police insisted on escorting us and followed us all the way to Edfu. Once there, we asked directions to a local hotel we had in mind, and once again we were escorted, this time with sirens and all. The Egyptians can make a meal out of just about anything. With sirens blaring and like two Egyptian gods we arrive in Edfu known for its ancient Edfu Temple. The Edfu Temple was constructed between 237 & 257 B.C. and dedicated to Horus, the falcon-headed god. The Ancient Egyptians believed that the temple was built on the site where the battle between the gods Horus and Seth took place.
31 December – 2 January 2008 - Edfu - Luxor – 122 km
The last day of 2007 arrived, I could not believe that I had been on the road for nine months. We still followed the Nile and managed to escape the police escort by turning off onto a small road. it was not that they did not notice us it more a case that we did not pass in front of them and it was therefore not their problem.
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, and we took a ferry across to the West bank (at quite a cost) just to find out that it was actually on the Eastern side where we came from. Another ferry boat ride (this time on the public ferry at a fraction of the cost) across the river and by that time we gave up on the campsite and took a hostel bed at the New Everest Hotel, I’m sure referred to the stairs that one had to climb.
We stayed in Luxor for three days and enjoyed all the tourist attractions in the area, including the Temple of Luxor, Temple of Karnak and the Valley of the Kings. Luxor is rightly known as the biggest open-air museum in the world, and it is said to contain a third of the world’s most important antiquities. Although we spent three days in the area, it would take a substantial amount of time to visit everything Luxor has to offer.
I found The Temple of Luxor among the most beautiful Temples in Egypt. The Luxor Temple consists of a temple complex, constructed approximately 1400 BCE. The temple is one of the best preserved of all of the ancient monuments with large amounts of the structure, and relief carvings still intact. Construction of the temple was begun by the pharaoh Amenhotep III (1390-52 BC) and was completed by Tutankhamen (1336-27 BC) and Horemheb (1323-1295 BC) and then added to by Rameses II (1279-13 BC).
The Karnak Temple is equally impressive and dates to around 2055 BC -100 AD. The Karnak temple is also the largest religious building ever constructed measuring 1.5 km by 0.8 km. The Hypostyle Hall, at 16,459 square meters and featuring 134 columns, is still the largest room of any religious building in the world. In addition to the main sanctuary, there are several smaller temples and a vast sacred lake measuring 129 x 77 meters. One cannot help but stand in awe of these magnificent structures. They sure had a large about of manpower time and money in those days.
The Valley of the Kings did not disappoint either; the ancient Egyptians did not only build massive public monuments to their pharaohs but also went to great lengths to create hidden underground mausoleums. The Valley of the kings is such a place. As a royal burial ground for pharaohs, it is most famous for the tombs of Tutankhamun, Seti I, and Ramses II and we walked around and crawled into dusty tomes admiring what remains today. Even with all the tourist I still felt like a bit of an explorer.
We left Luxor for Qena, a 70-km ride with numerous police roadblocks. 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 as we were out of the touristy area. We were by then into the local staple of “ful, or foul and Aysh” an earthy brown broad bean dish eaten with a type of local pita bread.
Qena is mostly known for its proximity to the ruins of Dendaralat, but we did not visit it as we were all ruined out by then.
4 January – Qena – 84km
From Qena we planned on turning away from the Nile in the direction of the Red Sea. Ernest was not feeling well, possibly due to the local cuisine. After about 84 km, we reached a small village with a police checkpoint and a few shops where we camped just off the main road. It turned out somewhat noisy with all the traffic, to say the least.
The next day was another 84 km to Safaga through what is known as the Eastern Desert or the Arabian Desert. The area is a mountain desert with astonishing and dramatic scenery and colours. The wind picked up again, and by the time we reached the port town of Safaga the wind was nearly gale force. No wonder it is such a popular destination amongst kite and windsurfers. We headed for the nearest hotel hoping it may be better in the morning, but that was unfortunately not the case.
The Red Sea coast is an unforgiving arid and windswept coast and we were travelling into the prevailing wind, which, judging by the wind farms going ten to a dozen is constant and strong.
6 January – Safaga – Hurghada – 64km
By the time we left, the following morning the wind nearly blew me off my bike. We battled into the wind, and I lost my sense of humour somewhere between Safaga and Hurghada and did not find it again until we turned n a westerly direction. We struggled on until we reached Hurghada, which was only 64 km away, but took just about the entire day. Hurghada turned out somewhat of a nightmare. Until the 1980’s Hurghada was a small fishing village today, however, Hurghada stretches for about 40 km along the coast that is now lined with 1000's of tourist resorts. Ramped development by both Egyptians and foreign investors left the coast with a multitude of unsightly developments (according to me). We cycled on to the old part of town and found a hotel room for about R55.00. Ernest was most definitely better as he was enjoying the local Stellas 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 was precisely what we did). Ernest claimed that he was still not feeling well, and we stayed an extra day and only left on 9 January, maybe he had a case of the “wine-flu”.
The wind was not as bad as the previous days, and we managed to do 106 km before setting up camp in the desert. It was a time of year that the sun set, early and by 18h00 it was already dark, making for short cycling days, especially with us always leaving late.
10 January - Desert Camp - Ras Gharib - 52km
We carried on to Ras Gharib, an oil production town along the Dead Sea coast. The wind was of gale force strength, and although it was only 52 km to this town, I had enough for the day. We found a relatively inexpensive hotel that was, clean and warm, and that was all we needed.
11 January - Ras Gharib - Desert Camp - 72km
I subsequently found that this was a typical mindset amongst cycle tourers early on in their journey. Many cycle tourers are at first very destination oriented and time and distance become all important, leaving little time for sightseeing and exploring. That said everyone cycles in their own way, some people go slow, exploring and experiencing new cultures, food and sights, others go fast and challenge themselves. For Ernest, it was still very much about the cycling and very little about the touring. These are small differences that if not discussed can ruin a relationship.
72 Km was all we could manage for the day, and at the end of the day, we found a large dune as shelter from the wind. The dune did little to stop the wind, and in no time at all the tents and sleeping bags were covered in sand. Ernest managed to light the stove and cook some food which, as expected, was also full of sand. We chewed on our grainy food, which I was grateful for, and crawled into our sandy beds.
From our sandy home, it was only approximately 38 km to Zaafarana, which is not really a village, but more like a truck stop. I could not believe that the wind was even stronger than the previous days, I honestly did not think it possible!
I complained nonstop, Ernest never said a word, he just had his head down and pedaled on with me following in his wake swearing to the wind (don't think he even heard me).
I later read somewhere that the wind farms of Zaafarana and El-tur are the windiest stations in Egypt, I surmised something like that!
13 January - Zafarana - Desert Camp - 84km
It was with great reluctance that I got on the bike the following morning, but the day held a surprise both in meeting up with Tour D'Afrique along the way (flying down the road with a tailwind). 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 heading west, we had a tailwind!
Grinning from ear to ear we carried on for a few more km and then camped in the desert, hoping that the wind direction would not change during the night. That night I made sure to toast the wind and performed a little wind dance.
14 -20 January - Desert Camp - Cairo - 130km
It worked as the next morning the wind was still behind us, and we quickly packed up and got on the road before it changed direction.
We reached Cairo after about 130 km in rush hour traffic! Trust me you do not want to be in Cairo in with its 9.5 million inhabitants in rush hour traffic, especially not on a bicycle. We ducked and dived, and miraculously reached downtown in one piece (or s that two pieces?).
We stayed in Cairo an entire week of which we spend the first two days trying to obtain visas for Europe but without any luck. With that option out the way we applied for an Egyptian visas extension, an arduous task, and after many filling in of forms, and being shunted from office to office we were informed that the process takes ten days. Phew!
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, in my mind, no one can leave Cairo without visiting the Cairo Museum, I dragged a very reluctant Ernest to the museum where we spent an entire morning wandering around. The museum is mind-boggling, and it is best to hire a guide. One can only stare in amazement at all the items on display from the famous Rosetta stone to all the items recovered from Tutankhamun's tomb. It is quite amazing what they thought is necessary for the afterlife. Then it was off to our favourite drinking hole where a beer cost only 7 pounds, and it came with a plate of hot ful and salad.
It was 21 January by the time we cycled out of Cairo. Just getting out of Cairo took two hours, after which we got onto the main road with an excellent shoulder to cycle on.
22 January - 97km
We cycled past farmlands and a multitude of pigeon lofts, as grilled pigeon is a local specialty that can be found on most local menus.
23 - 25 January - Alexandria - 42km
Finally, we reached the Mediterranean coast and cycled into Alexandria a large and ancient city, formerly home to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, a 120m high lighthouse, built by Alexander the Great. There is, however, no sign of it today except for a few terracotta lamps in the local museum. Alexandria was also famous for its Great Library that was considered the archive of ancient knowledge. Today there is no sign of its past grandeur. Instead, we found the traffic in Alexandria even more hectic than in Cairo, and it was near impossible to cross the road on foot and even more difficult by bike.
A vicious storm picked up, and the wind blew at over 30 miles per hour, accompanied by lashing rain. Ernest and I 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 and oiled the bikes), we repacked our bags, read books and watched the same movies on TV over and over.
By that time our visa extensions were ready, and we took the express train to Cairo to collect it and were back again that same evening (the train covered the 250 + km in under 3 hours).
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 140 km on a very flat road with a tailwind! At last, I knew it was going to happen one day!
The road passed over the Nile delta with mostly farmlands along the canals.
2-4 February Baltim - Port Said - 136km
The next day the weather was mild and the breeze still in our favour, and we were keen to get going. It was once again a pleasant day's cycling into Port Said, about 140 km.
We wandered along the Cornice and watched the large cargo ships and tankers move through the Suez Canal, which was impressive by anyone’s standards. Ernest had always been fascinated by ships, and we stayed another day just to watch the giant ships going in and out the canal.
5 February - Port Said - Ismailia - 87km
6 February Ismailia - Zuez - 115km
7 February - Suez
Then it was off to the seaport town of Suez situated at the mouth of the Suez Canal. Again, we spent a few days, watching in awe as the large ships and tankers moved through the narrow canal. More impressive than the modern day canal is the fact that in the 7th Century AD, a canal was dug linking the Red Sea with the Nile!
We left Suez for the Sinai via a tunnel that runs underneath the canal and then cycled along the Sinai coast for about 115 km, a truly beautiful stretch and even more so with a tailwind!
The most amazing part was that as we looked back, we could still see the huge ships moving along the canal, but not the canal, making it appear as if the ships were sailing through the desert. An extraordinary sight.
I later discovered that most foreigners think that one needs to fly or take a boat from Africa to Europe or the Middle East. As we have found, there is no need for such transport, and in fact, the tunnel underneath the Suez Canal is no more than a subway.
9 February - Desert Camp - Desert Camp - 130km
Spectacular mountain scenery greeted us as we pedaled happily along, stopping ever so often for a cup of tea. We carried on until the road left the coast and soon reached the turnoff for St Katherines where we set up camp for the night.
10-12 February - Desert Camp - St Katherines - 106km
St Katherine is located 1570 m above sea level, and the 106 km from the coast was just about all uphill. We hardly noticed it as the scenery was so unusual with the mountains changing colour from white, red, blue, black and purple. We cycled past Ferrin Oasis, with (as can be expected) loads of palm trees and only reached St Katherine, situated at the foot of biblical Mt Sinai, after sunset.
We were away from the coast, and it was freezing cold by the time we pulled into Fox camp, where we pitched our tents as quickly as possible. Ernest still made food, but I refused to leave the tent or sleeping bag.
The next day we waited till the sun warmed the air before we surfaced at around 09h30. We lazed around all day, only leaving to visit the nearby St Catherine’s monastery constructed between the year 527 – 565. The village of Saint Katherines has an old and fascinating history, important to all three major Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism). It is said to be the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments as well as the place that the profit Mohamad wrote about in his Letters to monks.
That evening we joined the other travelers in a large Bedouin tent in camp where a fire was lit, and it was surprisingly warm inside.
On the 12th we decided to be a bit more active, but first had to defrost, and it was midday by the time we started up Mt Sinai. A beautiful walk up the mountain with stunning scenery of the surrounding mountains. At the summit, we found a mosque, still used by Muslims as well as a Greek Orthodox chapel. We explored all there was to see and only got back at around 16h00 and joined the others in the tent where there was already a fire going.
On 13 February we woke to ice on the tent, and I knew it was time to pack up and seek warmer weather. Once again it was 12h00 before we left and it was a somewhat hilly ride heading for the East coast.
14-18 February - Desert Cape - Dahab - 45km
Two days later we arrived in Dahab a smallish town on the Gulf of Aqaba, and much warmer than the mountainous interior of Sinai. Years ago it was a small Bedouin village, but today it is a major (but still low-key) diving destination. It had a real holiday feel to it with a turquoise sea, palm trees, waterside restaurants, and plenty of budget accommodation it was just what I needed. We found a room for 30 Egyptian pounds (with hot showers) practically on the beach, and the upstairs bar next door had "happy hour" from 4 to 7 (it seems we picked the right spot). We stayed a few days enjoying the warmer weather, snorkeling, reading and eating in the many waterfront restaurants.
19 February - Dahab - Nuweiba - 82km
We lazed about in laid-back Dahab, and by the 19th the wind picked up, an indication that it was time to move on. We packed up and headed for Nuweiba. An uphill ride against the wind, and it was after dark that we eventually arrived in Nuweiba. We settled for the first camp we found. Dolphin Camp was an excellent choice, right on the beach, a real paradise. Nuweiba must be as close to paradise as one can get. It is also home to Nuweiba Port from where several ferries run to Aqaba in Jordan.
We had by then reached the end of our Egypt tour, and it was time to cross into Jordan. We lazed around some more before taking the ferry to Aqaba, Jordan.