africa – egypt 2012.
‘Walk like an Egyptian’ – Local whilst we crossed into Tahrir Square.
A country that will be well remembered whether for it being our starting point, visiting the defining uprising epicenter of Tahrir Square and the idea becoming evident that we would be soon riding our bikes for a very long way.
Christmas day, myself and 3 of my best mates (Gavan, Justin and Shane) boarded a flight for Egypt to embarked on a year long planned trip to cycle Africa, top to bottom. With our 4 bikes and associated luggage well over excess luggage we set commenced this incredible journey.
Arriving into Cairo reiterated it was a sufficient place to start the trip, a city that demonstrated the country’s unsure straddle between the Middle Eastern and Africa, a place that highlighted its ‘pretty’ old history around every street corner and finally a defining city that only recently protested the removal of its country’s prime minister (Mubarak.)
Our time in the city was spent visiting just several of the numerous tourist sites along with preparing ourselves for the journey ahead i.e. building bikes, getting necessary spares and visiting the local belly dances. A highlight besides the impressive pyramids and sphinx would be visiting the recently occupied Tahrir Square, the public space that only weeks early featured everyday people taking life defining risks to demonstrate for political change. A surreal place that still offered tense emotion as we walked around remaining camped protesters surrounded by burned out buildings and streets gated by barb-wire, ‘guarded’ by the country’s army - A very interesting time to witness the city.
We chose the appropriate landmark of the pyramids to start the trip, a mere cycling jaunt for the next 4 months over approximately 12,000kms going through countries where none of us had been before. Despite the year of research, our detailed itinerary and hours (and hours) of planning it’s pretty easy to say we were venturing into the unknown. Each of us had our four panniers loaded with our tents, sleeping equipment, minimal clothing, books, along with shared items including maps, cooking equipment, water filtration, first aid, spares and tools. Along the way these were filled up further by required food and additional water. We also all carried our own individual items whether it was Shane’s plastic training sword, Gavan’s portable espresso maker, Justin’s laptop or my cameras. Oh we also had more lycra then our everyday clothes considering we spent the majority of the trip in them.
Our first day on the road we ventured outside of our predicted plan i.e. our GPS lead us through dirt laneways so we cycled on the fast moving express way, we reached our destination at night besides planning on day riding only (a rule we went onto break many times) and finally the tents stayed in the panniers as we checked into a empty resort style hotel on the Red Sea. Also outside of our plan was Shane losing a possibly irreplaceable crank bolt (pedals are attached to the crank) 30km into a 12,000km trip with only one spare and my brand new gopro video camera dying.
Surprisingly the next day we all woke up fine and for the next few days continued with 170km+ days riding taking in the views of the Red Sea to our left and emerging desert to our right. These days also allowed moments of realizing what we were aiming to achieve whilst offering thoughts of how fortunate I was. Not to take anything away from Beach Road (Melbourne to Frankston) but I’m cycling in Africa!
The bikes which obviously had names (Shane – Princess / Gavan – Heinrich II / Justin – Black Mamba / Mine – Baisikeli) were identical to each and built from individual parts by ourselves were all going really well to date especially considering that I had only previously ridden mine around the block. The exception to this was Shane’s shop built rear wheel compared to our own built wheels. Each day he was breaking spokes, resulting in concerns of our limited spares but on the plus side it allowed us to stop, rest and appreciate where we actually were. I was feeling really comfortable on the bike and content with the thought that I was being self-sufficient, carrying all I needed to survive for the next four months.
The first week also allowed us to get into our routine, something that was more a joy then a chore. Wake up early, chose appropriate lycra outfit, try to pack gear in an organized way into 4 panniers, eat breakfast, buy supplies, ride, fix Shane’s spoke, Lunch with coffee/tea, ride, aim to a destination or suitable campsite, shower (with bucket and/or baby wipes), eat, eat, eat, admire tan lines, read for 4 minutes, fall asleep. All of this whilst taking in all around us, everything new, the incredible food to eat, opportunities for engaging with all around us whether it be the environment, the bike, the people. All so incredibly exciting.
At numerous places through the country we got to learn that little bit more about Egyptology, a subject that I previously compared to astronomy i.e. too much to learn. From the initial experiences of the pyramids we also got to wander around the Ptolemaic Temple of Horus, Idfu, Karnak Temple, Valley of the Kings, Luxor and generally see various sites as we cycled along the Nile. The plus side of the recent country’s uprising was that tourist numbers were right down as experienced by being only the four of us walking through 2000yo temples or walking straight up to view the tomb of a mummified Tutankhamen.
With our departure from the north of the country we eventually made it to its southern border in Aswan. With our border crossing ferry leaving only once a week our arrival was as per our itinerary. Aswan was not only a town which offered a rest day but more importantly our entry into Sudan. Having days off actually allowed us to stop pedaling and take in some tourist moments, venturing around towns.
With our ‘first class’ tickets purchased we headed down early to catch our awaiting ferry (barge), the Sak El Naan for our overnight journey across the waters of Lake Nasser and into our second country. As to be expected customs wasn’t the smoothest of processes although this was soon eclipsed when trying to get four bikes onto the top level of a boat that more so resembled a floating electrical store during a stock take sale. It’s certainly moments like this that offers the opportunity to simply smile, laugh and appreciate where you are. With our bikes loaded we took in our cabins i.e. beds and door and wandered around the boat enjoying the scene above where the experienced Sudanese managed to demarcate their individual spaces by utilizing boxed TV’s, air conditioners, fridges etc… Considering we didn’t leave port for 6 hours we got to take it all in fairly comprehensively with the added bonus of an intermittent soundtrack of the skipper yelling at all in Arabic although due to my lack of the local language he might’ve been telling everyone that onboard was four Australians who are undertaking a life changing journey.