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June 20th, 2010 | Africa

Cairo…!! Better late than Never !!

The Cleopatra Hotel in El Minya, guarded day and night...

As soon as I stepped out onto the sidewalk outside the Cleopatra Hotel, I knew that today was going to be a scorcher…

Inside the lobby of the hotel, the temperature read 34 °… It was 7.30 am…!! I squinted down the road that lead back to the highway to Cairo, and hoped that I could make good time before it got even hotter… The Policeman stationed outside the hotel grabbed his Walkie-Talkie off his hip and spoke rapidly into it, going to the back of my bike and reading my number plate into the radio…

“What are you doing that for?” I asked…

“I am telling the others that you are leaving now…” was his reply

“Did you tell them that I am on my way south, to Aswan…?”

A confused look settled on his face, and he jabbered into the radio again…

“Ok… I tell them it is to Aswan you go…”

“Excellent! Tell them to clear the roads, the Gypsy Biker is about to roll…!”

That little piece of disinformation would keep the cops on their toes for a while I thought… I was heading in exactly the opposite direction, north to Cairo…

"Lets see if I've got this right...! Two Double Cheeseburgers and a large Coke, and 20 litres of Hi Octane... to go...!!"

I'd rather save myself for the real thing...

I set the GPS for the Pyramids of Giza and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a mere 300 km away… I was unpleasantly surprised at the amount of traffic that was on the main road north, and in the first hour, I managed to do only 65 km…

The road ran alongside a wide canal, parallel to the Nile, and the main railway line was sandwiched between the two. The GPS was giving me info that was confusing to say the least, until I discovered that it actually followed the railway line… Whoever had given the routing to Trax4Africa, had sold them a dummy!! They had probably sat on the train, switched their GPS on and then went to sleep…

If you want to follow the route on this program, just get your bike between the railway lines and bump your way to Cairo… If you try and follow the track, you are going to be crossing the railway line in every little village you pass, trying to follow the Garmin Girls explicit instructions… I got so sick and tired of hearing “Off Road—Recalculate” that I eventually switched it off, and rode “blind” for a few hours until I was closer to Cairo, and then switched it on again…

Once you are north of the equator, the Trax4Africa is wildly inaccurate… There are now many more roads available to ride on that are not in the program, and many of the “gravel” roads are now tarred. This makes planning more difficult, and on a number of occasions I avoided a particular stretch of road because the program advised that it was “in bad condition”, only to find out later that the road had actually been tarred for a number of years…!! If Traz4Africa want to sell and label their product as one that you can use with confidence throughout the continent, then they should get off their butts and do more research, or go ride the roads themselves to make their program that more accurate… And that’s all I have to say about that…!!

I was very tempted to find out just how good this guys balance was, by clipping his back wheel...

I rode through Samalut, and then on to Qulusma without incident and then made a bad mistake in Beni Mazar, ending up on the banks of the Nile in an area that resembled a garbage dump… I had to turn around and work my way back down a number of alleyways before I found a road that took me back through the town and out onto the highway again…

This mistake cost me a lot of time and I only managed to cover 50 km in my second hour on the road… There is apparently a better road that cuts along the edges of the Western Desert, but it is not listed on the GPS and there are very few roads linking the Nile Route to this highway…

At Beni Suef, I took the wrong slipway off the highway, and ended up on another pointless little drive through the town… At El Maimun,  I was stopped by a traffic officer who stood in the centre of the road with the flat of his hand held up in front of him… By the time I had come to a stop, four other officers had joined him and crowded around the bike, all jabbering at once…

I sat the bike while talking back to them in Afrikaans, telling them what fools they were, and enquiring why they did not spend their time more diligently, by picking up all the litter that was lying around… This went on for a few minutes, and even when they asked a few questions in broken English, I persisted in scolding and insulting them in Afrikaans, occasionally pointing to the road behind and ahead of me, to confuse them even further… Exasperated by my apparent lack of understanding they eventually waved me on…

“Jou Ma…!!” I shouted cheerfully, as I spat gravel and dust in their general direction, and took off again.

If the Big Fella could go undercover, then so could I...

With barely a 100 km to go, we stopped to take a breather...

I felt a grin spread over my face... Cairo had been a long time coming...

The heat was now so intense, that in places the tar was melting…! I felt a bit nauseous, and knew that I needed to pull over soon and take a longish break… At the sign showing 100 km to Cairo, I did just that, drinking a litre of water and chewing on a packet of biscuits while I sat in the shade next to the bike…

Across the road and just a short distance away, an old man slid off the back of his donkey, pulled up his robes and defecated right their next to the highway, with traffic zooming by in both directions, only feet away from where he squatted… This lowered my estimation of Egyptians even further…if that was possible…!!

The final ride in to Cairo itself was like riding along the world’s longest rubbish heap… Litter lay stacked up on the sidewalks, plastic bags and bottles scattered everywhere… I headed around the western part of the city, and after a few wrong turns rode up a short road that ended at a set of large metal gates… Behind them, rising high into the midday sky were the Pyramids…!!  All the photos I had seen did them no justice…

The Pyramids of Giza... End game for the Cape to Cairo run...

The largest of the three Pyramids, that of Khufu, stands closest to the parking area, where I tried to park the bike but was chased off by security guards… For 4000 years, this was the highest man made structure on earth… It was constructed using 2 300 000 limestone blocks, each one weighing 2 500 kg, and some of them as much as 16 000 kgs…!!! Over a 100 000 people worked on its construction for three months of every year during the annual flooding of the Nile… Farming was impossible at this time, but it did allow the barges carrying the huge blocks to sail down the Nile from as far away as Aswan and Luxor… It took 20 years to complete, and the artisans packed up their tools in around 2580 BC, shouting, “Finish and Klaar!” at the tops of their voices… And some might even have said, “Bugger this for a joke, let’s get out of here before they ask us to build another one…”

I rode back out into the road and took a few photos from there… I stood looking at this massive structure, reminding myself that this was what many people had ridden thousands of miles across Africa to see, and I was now part of that “club”… Strangely enough, I did not feel a particularly huge sense of achievement though, because this was only the end of the 1st leg of the journey for me. I was however very thankful that I had made it this far on my own, and now knew that I could ride on across North Africa and up to the very top of Europe in Norway, to complete the 2nd leg… So while it was the end of one for us, it was also the beginning of the next…

"So this is what you dragged me the length of Africa for...!"

I allowed myself a few deep breaths and a small smile, before calling Gareth Stevens, and letting him know that I was in Cairo, and ready to ride to where he lived In Katamaya Heights, northeast of Cairo… For the next two hours, I battled my way through the mayhem of Cairo traffic, and numerous arguments with the GPS… I stopped on a few occasions to buy water and make calls to Gareth, exasperated by the lack of proper signage, and the fact that very people were willing to help me find my way back to the Ring Road… At 3.30pm, after 7 hours of riding to cover just 320 km, I rode through the gates of the Golf Estate that Gareth lived on…

Moyale to Cairo... 4 750 km through Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt...

A short while later, after introductions to his wife Annette and children Kieran and Matthew, as well as Gareth’s mom who was visiting from the U.K., Gareth and I sat chatting in his bar, located on the far side of a large swimming pool, which I knew I would be using often in the days to come…

Like so many other South Africans that I had met so far on this trip, Gareth had worked in a number of countries prior to coming to Egypt. He had been in Tanzania, and then spent four years in Morocco, before arriving in Cairo… I pricked up my ears when he mentioned Morocco, as this was a country that I dearly wanted to ride in, and with Gareth’s connections there, things would no doubt be a little easier for me…

I lugged my gear up onto the top landing, located on the third floor of their huge house, had a cold shower, and then settled down to watch Brazil play the Ivory Coast…

World Cup fever had gripped South Africa, and seeing the SA flags waving in the crowd, had me thinking of home and missing my family and friends… It would have been great to have some of them here with me, to celebrate my arrival in Cairo…

The next few days would be spent trying to sort out my Libyan visa and make arrangements to ride across the Sahara to Tunisia and Algeria. If there was time, I would have liked to take a spin out to the Red Sea, but I’d rather head off to Alexandria soon and wait for the visa there… If it isn’t issued in time, I might take a ferry to Venice on the 28th of June, or the 5th of July, and ride through Europe from there…

But that decision will have to wait until the weekend… Right now, I am just chuffed to have made it to Cairo…

©GBWT 2010

5 comments to Cairo…!! Better late than Never !!

  • Mark Behr

    Congratulations – Cairo it is !!!

    I guess your lack of exuberance at the awesome pyramids is really a product of the “unlikable” Egyptians. Enjoy your time and stay safe.

  • Mike

    Hey Ronnie, send some of that heat our way!!!! Rode the bike into the office in Sandton yesterday – max temp 3deg, ice warning, absolutely freezing – took 3 hours to get any feeling back into my feet!! Well done on reaching the pyramids, what an adventure so far. Actually cannot believe that you’re there already – God speed, Mike.

  • Brandt

    Jou Ma!!!! 🙂 Bwahaha. Arme Egiptenaar. Glad you reached the North of Africa. I cannot wait for your next leg of your trip.

  • Charmz

    Congratulations on making it through the 1st leg safely. We are all very proud of your achievement. We are looking forward to the next leg’s postings…..Don’t think you are getting out of it!!!!! We all love and miss you
    Dad, Mom, Charmz, Kobus, Lee and Maureen

    P.S. Kobus went to the bank to get a loan for his bike…..but the bank, she did not want to know his story!

  • Swazi Charl

    Wow Ron – what and achievement, congrats. Am sure the next leg will be just as much of an adventure just maybe not an African adventure which is another thing altogether!! Enjoy some rest and fun with friends in the mad chaos of CAIRO. Keep hydrated. x

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