Cairomania

Days on the road: 156 days

Kilometres cycled: 5562

Countries visited: 17

Continents touched: 3

Punctures: 3

At the time of our last post, we were in Alexandria, all feeling pretty ill and with a couple of broken bikes. Now, we are in Cairo and we had to tackle some pretty horrendous traffic in order to get here. Here is that journey…

We’ve all got diarrhea and it’s ridiculously hot. There’s rubbish everywhere and we’re constantly being harassed by overly enthusiastic/aggressive street salesmen, who are trying to pull some kind of scam. The roads are hectic, extremely bumpy and dangerous. But, weirdly, we love it here in Cairo.

There is a certain buzz here, one that none of us have felt in any other city before. Yes it’s overpopulated, and yes a lot of the buildings are ridiculously ugly, but despite all the negatives, there is a warmth here, a sense of deep history, one that you can’t escape from, no matter how many piles of rubbish you hide behind. In general, all the people are friendly and welcoming, especially the children. We do often feel people staring at us, but that is probably cause we are some of the only tourists here AND we are riding bicycles.

In order to get here, we had to cycle around 230km from Alexandria. The road was stupidly busy the whole way; two lanes turned into five, people undertaking, cars coming the wrong way, cars overtaking the cars coming the wrong way, and 10 year olds driving scooters and motorbikes in the middle of the road. Needless to say, our diarrhea was not the only cause of us crapping ourselves whilst on the road.

In fact, at one point, Tobias was so desperate for the toilet that we had to stop in order to find a place for him to relief himself. Unfortunately, the number of public toilets in Egypt is pretty low, so he had to result to desperate measures. To cut a long story short, Tobias did a poo behind a shop on a busy main road. He was completely overlook by flats, in view of the shop incumbents, sat next to a train track and surrounded by piles of rubbish. Consequently, this public poo only received a 1 out of 10 rating (it would have been a zero if it wasn’t for the swiftness of the procedure.)

Ramadan has just finished, and for those that don’t know, Ramadan is an Islamic tradition whereby Muslims are not allowed to eat, drink or smoke (or have sex) from sun rise to sun set. This explains two things:

  1. The short tempers and erratic nature of Egyptians (particularly in Cairo)
  2. The lack of food at restaurants and shops on the side of the road

Both of these issues create slight problems for us whilst on the road. The starving drivers don’t notice us on the road, and even if they do, they make every effort to get as close to us as possible, honking at the last minute, just in case they hadn’t scared us enough. Luckily, their pent up anger seems to be vented on to one another, rather than directly at us, and we have seen many fights and arguments that testify to this fact. The other, more slightly obvious issue is that of food. It’s essential we eat in order to carry on cycling throughout the day, so when we stumble upon a restaurant or café that is actually serving food, it’s an absolute godsend!

Half way between Alexandria and Cairo, we actually did happen to stumble upon a restaurant that would serve us food, in fact, that served us a banquet. Tasty salty soup, fresh salad, lamb that melted in your mouth, fluffy white rice and steaming hot pitta breads, all for less than £3! We had landed on our feet! To add to our delight, the locals and the people that worked there were incredibly friendly; showing a keen interest in our journey and why we were there. But, in contrast to some of the locals in rural Turkey, they understood our personal boundaries and got the message when we wanted to be alone.

Attached to the side of the restaurant was a quaint mosque, and it didn’t take long for the restaurant workers to invite us to sleep there for the evening. With the food being so good, and the people so friendly, we asked ourselves ‘why not!?’ The afternoon turned into evening, and it continued with a good atmosphere, and come sunset, the locals were ecstatic about breaking their fast. Eventually, we ate our share of food and then set up our temporary home in the mosque.

We hadn’t really considered what sleeping in a mosque would be like, and if we had, I’m sure we would have thought it would have been a peaceful nights sleep with no interruption. Unfortunately for us, this was not the case, and in addition to the constant barrage of flies on our face, road traffic noise and building works, we had the wonderful experience of waking up at 3am, to 30 odd men, humming and chanting their prayers whilst standing over our makeshift beds. It was a surreal experience and one that we hugely appreciated despite the terrible nights sleep.

The morning presented us with yet another cloudless day, and we were soon on the road, headed for Cairo. Approaching the bustling city, the traffic got heavier and heavier and people got less and less aware of our presence.

The rules of the road in Cairo:

  1. There are no rules
  2. Do not use wing mirrors (this is genuinely part of a recent change in their highway code)
  3. Do not wear seatbelts as a passenger (you can actually get fined for this)
  4. Ignore on lines on the road (seven rows of traffic on a three lane road is common here)
  5. Aim for pedestrians who are using the road
  6. If traffic is coming towards you, don’t worry, it doesn’t matter if you drive on the left, or the right
  7. For children, if you can’t find a riding school nearby, feel free to take your horse on the motorway
  8. Drive with you ears, not your eyes (constant honking of horns)
  9. If you get caught reversing on a motorway, you will get a gold star
  10. Failing all over rules, remember rule number one

Cycling here is like one of those computer games you had as kid, you know the ones, with asteroids coming towards you and the occasional alien trying to sneak attack you. Only difference here was the aliens were people, the asteroids were cars and potholes and we had run out of extra lives. 

We had one particularly close call with an undertaking van, and an even closer call with a dead donkey that happened to choose the road as it’s grave. Seriously, the roads are bloody mental, and the people are even crazier, they just step out in front of you without looking, fall asleep on the edge of the road or under their trucks, and  they purposefully step out in to seven lanes of traffic; remarkably (and thankfully), we didn’t see one accident (apart from the one in Alexandria).

We arrived at our destination bang on time, and received a warm welcome from an amazing couple, Cesar and Fabian, that were hosting us through http://www.couchsurfing.com The kindness of strangers never seizes to amaze me, and this situation was no exception. With a six month old baby, they allowed three smelly cyclists to stay in their apartment, they fed us and gave us a warm shower, and they did it all for free. Without them and their advice about Cairo, our stay here would have been much more expensive and much less enjoyable. Thanks so much for you hospitality and kindness…we hope you enjoyed your holiday!

We’d heard of some old rocks that were supposed to be nice to see, so with the help of Nada (Cesar’s friend), we made our way to some kind of desert at 3am in the morning. When we arrived, the locals (starved of tourism and therefore income) literally jumped in front and onto the taxi in an attempt to “give us good price” for a camel ride. Luckily, the taxi driver steamed straight past and we arrived at a local’s 300-year-old house; here we would be welcomed with cups of chai and ice cold water, prior to our mounting of the humped beasts.

We raced our camels through the back streets and could see the pyramids in the distance. The first glimpse we got was a truly breathtaking moment, and one that we will never forget. It’s been a childhood dream of mine to see the pyramids, and they certainly didn’t disappoint. You see them on TV and are impressed by their grandeur and size, but until I saw them up close, I couldn’t appreciate how massive they are. It seems impossible that they were built so many years ago, with such detail, infinite precision and impeccable quality. They are truly incredible and I recommend you get to see them at some point in your life.

One downside to the whole experience is the interaction with the local touts; every single one pretends they don’t want money and they are trying to be genuinely friendly, then as soon as you place your trust in them, they start asking for payment, looking at you as if you are a mobile cash machine (Tom fell victim to this in a huge way, but luckily Nada, our feisty Egyptian guide, set the tout straight). Another negative was the way in which the sites were so open to the public; you were allowed to walk on some pyramids, touch all of them and walk around the tombs unguided. It seems like there is no concept of preservation here, and although it’s nice to be able to get up close and personal with this ancient museum, it’s a shame that the lack of attention to this concept means that these incredible ruins are crumbling faster than they should be. One main reason behind this is the lack of money in the economy from tourism and therefore the lack of investment in preservation. Since the revolution here, the number of tourists has drastically declined and this has severely affected not only the preservation of historical sites, but also the people in and around Cairo.

Some of our time here has been spent in the Islamic Cairo, another tourist hub. But unfortunately for Egypt (and us), we were the only tourists! Every single shop owner knew who we were and where we were from, and the touts were even sneakier than those at the pyramids. The mosques and bazaars there are beautiful and well worth visiting, just make sure you are prepared for the onslaught of ‘special prices’ and ‘lovely gifts’ that will be offered to you every other minute.

Tomorrow, we head east to the red sea and then south for a few hundred km, before we head back west toward Luxor. In between here and there, there is not much other than desert, so it could be a tough leg mentally and physically. However, having been surrounded by 20 million plus people for the past few days, we are all relishing the prospect of being back on the road and away from civilization.

We recently released our new music video from the road. It’s dedicated to the War Child’s Syria appeal, so please have a watch and more importantly, donate.
Thanks for reading. x

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Posted on August 20, 2012, in General. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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