This bike touring blog update covers the section of cycling from Cairo to Luxor in Egypt. Part of my long distance bicycle tour from England to South Africa.
Cycling out of Cairo
Note: This blog post was written during my 2006 bike tour. Although I've tidied up the formatting in 2020, the content is exactly the same.
Day 131 Cairo – Beni Suef Thursday 30/11/06
Leaving Cairo proved to be a lot less painless than I had first thought it would. I followed the same route out as the taxi driver had taken the previous day, which put me on a nice quiet road.
With a canal on my left hand side, I passed through lush, green countryside, although to my right, the desert was never far away. I must have said ‘hello' to a thousand people today as I cycled through.With 35 kms to go to Beni Suef, I cut back onto the main road, which was a bit chaotic. At a police checkpoint, I was asked to wait whilst some phone calls were made.
I was expecting delays at these police check points from reading other cyclists travelogues. Some people when writing seemed really off with the police and military, but there's no point losing your rag with them, because it will only make things worse.
At the end of the day, they have a job to do so I just smiled, made some jokes, said thank you a lot and was soon on my way.
When I reached Beni Suef, the police were waiting for me, and another round of ‘hellos' began. I explained that I wanted to stay the night in a hotel, and they led the way through the town in their blue police truck with machine gun toting guards in the back and I followed on the bike.
The hotel wasn't too bad, although on my arrival, it acquired an army soldier and not-so-undercover security services agent sitting outside. Had a kosheri for dinner which is a big mix of pasta, beans and other bits and bobs.
Experiences Cycling in Egypt
Day 132 Beni Suef – Minya Friday 01/12/06
The police led me back out of town again, and once on the road, it was flat going all the way to Minya.
The cycling itself was uneventful, apart from when I passed a broken down truck, and saw two guys wrestling in the dust on the floor by it. It was quite a civilized bout, and they were even tapping out for submission.
I tried to encourage them to start using fists, but they just stared up at me from the ground, and then started asking for money.
On the outskirts of Minya, I had to stop at the police checkpoint whilst they did the usual phoning through to someone. The General of the police turned up with his blue truck jammed full of gun carrying, rotten toothed but thoroughly nice troops, and the escort through the town began.
The hotel that I've ended up in is of a higher class than I am currently used too, but it works out to be 5GBP a night, so its not too bad.
Outside, a new army guard and plain clothes agent are there for my ‘protection' again. The plain clothes guy followed me to the supermarket, so I thought he might as well make himself useful, and made him carry the shopping back.
Bike Touring in Egypt – Checkpoints and Armed Escorts
Day 133 Minya – Asyut Saturday 02/12/06
It was getting harder and harder to get through the police checkpoints today, as they were pretty insistent about me getting in the back of the police trucks.
I managed to get my own way though, and cycled on each time, and then I came up with a cunning plan. I started telling them that I had made a promise to God and Allah that I would cycle from England to South Africa.
The long term ramifications of blasphemy and roasting in the pits of hell I'll have to deal with at a later time, for now though I was speeding through every road block.
A police truck from each area accompanied me until the next area, so there was always some company!
As for Asyut, well, perhaps I came in for a bit of a taster for what may be waiting for me in the afterlife. Its pretty clear that the hotel owners hate foreigners, or probably more precisely, hate the paperwork in having to deal with them and the eight soldiers that were accompanying me.
One hotel said they were full (liar!), one wanted to charge 100 Egyptian pounds for a room worth 30 (thief), and one was a three star hotel who clearly didn't welcome my presence (snobs).
At hotel four, I knocked the guy down to 50 for the night, but it was still over priced. The shopkeepers have been fine though, and charged me normal rates for everything, so it made me feel a little happier.
I'm quite tired today, partly due to the fact that the brakes had locked onto the rear wheel, and I hadn't noticed for 40 kms. Because of all the police escorts, I haven't had a chance to look at it properly, and I'm hoping its nothing too serious.
More cycling through police checkpoints in Egypt
Day 134 Asyut – Sohag Sunday 03/12/06
Quite a fast day today, mainly because I wasn't delayed at any checkpoints. Instead, I was seemlessy handed over between different police escorts as I passed through their different divisions.
In Sohag, I'm in a relatively expensive hotel, but hey, I'm on holiday! (sort of).
On leaving the hotel to go shopping, I was accompanied by two armed guards. Its only when you are sitting in a crowded restaurant, eating a meal with two guys holding machine guns and a hundred other people staring at you, that you realise how bizarre life can be.
Day 135 Sohag – Luxor Monday 04/12/06
I'm still not sure whether I'm pissed off or not today. The day started fine, and I made rapid progress with a tail wind helping me along. There were delays in handing me over between police escorts, but that was ok, as I just took my breaks then.
About three hours into the journey, however, the police started running out of vehicles. First a soldier flagged down a pickup to tail me to a handover point, but it was when at the change over, a soldier with AK47 had to hitch a ride on a moped that could barely keep up with me that I realised that some budgetary cutbacks must have been made.
35kms outside of Nag Hammandi, I got the major hassle that I had been dreading. At this checkpoint, it was pretty clear that they were unhappy with me cycling, and despite using the old ‘ doing it for Allah' routine, I got nowhere.
Turns out that the guy in charge was a Christian, and that he may have detected just the slightest hint of bullshit, and quite possibly sulphur.
I spent a good twenty minutes trying to argue my case, but eventually reinforcements were called in. There's only so much you can get away with in the face of a dozen heavily armed men, and reluctantly, I had to accept that I was getting onto a truck.
Now this is kind of the part that pissed me off. They had said that it was for my ‘safety', because there may be ‘terrorists'. So what did they do?
Waved down some random stranger in a pickup truck who was going vaguely in my direction, loaded my bike on the back, put me in the front and then said see you later.
How putting me in a pickup with someone who then drove like a lunatic for an hour constitutes as safety will perhaps have to remain a mystery.
At a checkpoint in the town of Qena, I left the truck, and made the decision to cycle straight on to Luxor, which I was allowed to do. Arrived just before dusk, and booked into a hotel for three nights.
Sightseeing in Luxor
Day 136 Luxor Tuesday 06/12/06
Ah, a day off from cycling, and very much needed! I've done over 120kms a day since leaving Cairo, and my legs are feeling a little heavy!
After breakfast, I visited the temple of Luxor, which was quite interesting. Situated next to the Nile, it has Greek and Roman additions to the ancient Egyptian architecture.
Changed some money into US dollars, as banks will be scarce now until I reach Khartoum. used the net, had a McDonalds (they're going to be scarce too!), and looked into getting the brakes on my bike sorted, but no joy there.
Asked at tourist information about cycling south to Edfu and then Aswan. They seemed to think that I would need to be part of a convoy. I'll just have to see what happens when I leave on Thursday.
Karnak in Egypt
Day 137 Luxor Wednesday 07/12/06
After breakfast, I cycled to the temple complex of Karnak, which was only a few km's away from my hotel. Karnak is a huge archaeological site, and during the course of 1500 years, buildings, improvements and alterations had been made, the majority of these being between 1570 and 1090 BC.
The Karnak complex is really magnificent, and in my opinion, no trip to Egypt would be complete without seeing it.
The size of some of the stone columns, and the area it takes up is surely a testament to the power of the ancient Egyptians.
I really enjoyed my time there, and left just as all the tourist buses started rocking up. On a different note, I managed to get a wireless connection last night by sitting out on the balcony. This meant that not only did I get free internet access, but I also managed to replace a missing system file, and restored the sound on my laptop. I can watch Red Dwarf again now!!
The slight drawback to this is that from the 11th onward, I won't be anywhere with electricity for a few weeks. Oh well. Tomorrow I will leave for Edfu, and the day after Aswan, and I'm hoping that I'm going to be allowed through the police checkpoints unhindered.