We landed in Cairo excited to finally be reaching Africa but aware that this was the business end of the trip. We thought Egypt would be a fairly straight forward trundle south along the Nile before it then got tougher in Sudan. After a few days of admin faff in Cairo we headed out on the agricultural road. As the name suggests this passes through lots of farm land that occupies a thin vein of land that tracks the Nile. It is absolutely packed with not even a square inch of unutilised land. As a result the road is incredibly busy with cars, trucks, motorbikes and donkey carts. When you combine the heat, the volume of traffic and the excitability of Egyptians when they spot a tandem, you have a pretty miserable day in the saddle. The constant beeping alone was enough to make you want to pull your own ear drums out.
So the next day we tried the desert road instead. This was pretty bleak, was covered in litter and was much more difficult to get any ice cold mango juice at our rest stops. It also landed us with a reluctant police escort (they tried to persuade us to put the bike in the truck). The escort turned out to be a bit of a mixed blessing. It reduced the beeping and general harassment a little, but they tried to dictate our stops and route to match where their checkpoints were. The police also were likely to take a dim view of our desire for wild camping, but luckily we gave them the slip at dinner and spent the night under the stars in the desert.
Unfortunately Mat did a little more star gazing than anticipated as most of his night was spent squatting by a rock. After 20 km of riding the following day Mat was in a pretty bad way and not fit to continue. So Mat went with the bags on a bus to the next town with a hotel and Tim went it alone on the tandem, hoping (but ultimately unsuccessful) to pick up a stoker en route. Antibiotics, a good feed and loads of fluids and Mat was ready to get back on the bike the following day.
The rest of our time on the bike in Egypt was tough but productive. We made good progress and did meet some really nice people but it was the larger misfortunes that really stood out. On our final night camping before we reached Aswan we found a nice spot on some farm land. We checked it was OK with the farmers and they even cleared some thorns for us before heading off for the evening. A bit later one of the kids who had been asking for money came back with a different bloke and a strange tale of wild animals. They offered us security but wouldn’t let us sleep until we gave them some money. We tried to ignore them but they shook our tent until the central pole snapped, rendering it useless. So we packed up in the dark and hit the road again… we then noticed they had pinched our speedo, *@*#@!!… then our light ran out! We taped a torch to the basket and carried on to the salvation of a petrol station. The guys there were great. They gave us tea and offered us a place to sleep for the night, which we gladly accepted.
Then the next day we finally made it to Aswan where we had to wait for a ferry to Sudan. On the way our front bag rack snapped so we had a few repairs to do which taught us two important lessons:
1. Never let a 12 year old boy do any welding for you.
2. Irishmen can fix anything.
Initially our neatly sheered rack caught fire and started to shrivel up. This ended the 12 year old’s contract and we went elsewhere for a more experienced craftsmen. For the tent pole this was fixed by an Irish overlander called Jonny. It was quite an incredible bodge with a door hinge that left it in better condition than it started!
Egypt finally became a nice place to be as we spent the rest of our time relaxing and sailing on the Nile whilst getting to know the various overlanders stationed in Aswan. They were either waiting for the same ferry as us to get to Sudan, or were waiting to get their vehicles off the barge that had come from Sudan. Not an easy task as the constant stream of angry South Africans in and out of our hotel would attest.