After 6 days we’re already in Luxor. What a race! And we who keep telling eachother to stop rushing, ”come on guys, it’s a marathon, not a sprint!”. But we have not cycled increadibly fast, we have just been very well protected by the egyptian police. Very, very well protected. But I’ll start telling you about our happy times before they started following us.
We left Cairo Thursday. To actually get out of the city was a real mission. Apparently thursday is a very busy day, and the traffic in Cairo is normally busy enough to make any european touring cyclist nervous. But with Sam taking the commando and leading Tom and me through the mass of cars, horse wagons and trucks we managed to get away from the most populated areas. After some stressful hours of cycling along the Nile we were still surrounded by people staring at us and shouting after us in every single corner.
Naturally, it was hard to find a decent place to camp before the sunset. We ended up on a field quite close to the highway (hidden behind a wall), where we rarely got to sleep at all because of the noise from the cars and fear that our camp might be visible for some of the locals.
The next day we were much more successful with finding a nice and quiet camping spot. And in the desert it is obviously easier as well. We just turned away from the main road and took a little detour to get some privacy. That camping spot was so good that it even allowed us to do some evening yoga. We woke up feeling relatively fresh and ready for a day’s cycling in the Eastern desert.
After that lovely time in freedom things changed radically. We had not done more that 20-30 km on the flat and quiet desert road before we passed a police check point and got stopped without being told why. One of the policemen took a look at our passports and let us sit down (in the shade, fortunately) waiting for almost an hour before we understood that we were supposed to be escorted by a police car through the desert. Apparently we were about to enter a high risk zone that the ministry of tourism didn’t want us valuable europeans to cross without police protection. And yes, from that point we did feel protected from possible terrorists. But still it was quite uncomfortable being surrounded and watched by at least four-five men dressed in sand colored suits and armed with AK-47:s. And they kept on driving a few meters behind us for four days. When we stopped, they stopped. When we wanted to stay and take a rest in the shade for a couple of hours to avoid cycling during the hottest time of the day, they stayed next to us impatiently waiting for us to get back to the road. We all felt a lot of pressure to keep on moving and the joy of cycling was totally gone. Some of the policemen were friendly and nice, but there were also those laughing at us and those who would not stop saying ”Jalla, jalla!” to make us go faster.
Even when we wanted to start looking for a camping spot the police stopped us. We strictly refused paying for a hotel and managed to convince them to let us camp in the desert. That took us a while. And if you think they would leave us alone sleeping you’re definitely wrong. They stayed awake the whole night to watch us. We slept good, but could not really enjoy our coffee and breakfast in the morning as they were waiting for us to leave.
We spent four days trying to cycle with the police after us. And unfortunately we had to give up cycling through some areas that they considered being too dangerous for us to pass. After being both asked for money and offered to buy drugs by policemen and an officer (that earlier had told us that he used to take chrystal meth) we didn’t feel very comfortable with arguing against the policemen. Therefore, we did not dare to strictly refuse when they told us to put our bicycles in the back of their pickup van and go with them instead. We did not go to Africa to get a lift in a police car. We are supposed to be cycling, that’s for sure. But security first, right?
These days we have got incredibly lot of help from the Egyptian police. Like when we got to camp on the roof at a police station in the town Sohag. We got tea, cigarettes (not me personally) and shower. It’s unbelievable how much time and money that have been spent on three stinky and money-conscious bicycle tourists. We have been treated like royalties, but still felt like animals in a cage because of feeling guilty every time we have made them waiting for us.
And except for the police, how has Egypt been? Let’s say that it has been hot, quite flat and beautiful. We have been drinking a lot of tea and eating cheap falafel, constantly watched either by the police or by the locals. Some people seemed to have only friendly intentions, just repeating the standard phrases like ”Welcome in Egypt!”, ”Hallooo!” or ”English? English? China??”. Others tend to act in a more offensive way. Like the kid who through a rock on Sam (more of that to come in Ethiopia). Or like the man who drove up really close to me with his tuc-tuc and slapped my butt. Or the one who completely ignored me and refused to let us buy fruit, most probably because I didn’t wear any headscarf that day. It is definitely not always easy being a woman in Egypt. And as a Swedish citizen you get aware of how much you appreciate the freedom and independence you’ve always taken for given. Maybe I would have been treated differently if I travelled alone, but the last week I have wished I was born as a man more times than ever before.
Anyway, we managed to get to Luxor where we are now spending a few days at a nice hotel with the decent name ”Bob Marley Peace & Boomerang”. Here are a lot of things to see, and tomorrow we will go and check out the famous Kings’ valley. But first, time for some brandy on the roof terrace.