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Friday, 29 July 2011

Cairo to Luxor, Luxor to Aswan and everything in between…

Dad in front of the pyramids ;)

‘Everything in between’ seems to really be what adventure motor biking is all about or over-landing in general. There is no other mode of travel that provides you with such freedom to really explore the ‘everything in between’ like over-landing does. So I think for both of us these last two days of riding have really reinforced why we are doing this trip like this! I think especially on a motorbike your senses and indeed your wits need to be about you 100% of the time, there is no dozing off like public transport would allow. This is a great opportunity to make sure you take in everything all the time… your trip becomes about the whole journey rather than being defined as the sum of its destinations.   

We planned our first ride on Wednesday from Cairo to Luxor. It is only supposed to be around 600km’s! So we naively thought that “inshallah, god-willing” it would not take longer than 8hrs… accounting for all unanticipated interruptions. Little did we know we had a full 14hr adventure ahead of us! Just getting out of Cairo took two and a half hours. Cairo is a severely complex maze! Our GPS ‘Africa-Trax’ does not cover cities, only the main roads along the Cairo to Cape Town route and asking someone in Cairo for directions, is quite a challenging pursuit. But after two and a half hours we finally managed to get onto the road without much GPS help, local help or any kind of English sign directing you to Luxor… we were thrilled beyond belief to finally be on the open road!
Dad, stopped for a rest in the desert.

Let’s address the drawback first…driving in Egypt is quite a hazard and certainly not for the faint at heart. Most of the time there are no lane-markings however it probably wouldn’t make a difference because people think nothing of driving on the opposite side of the road into oncoming traffic. We had quite a few close calls! Oncoming traffic seems to pose no threat to drivers who take-over whether or not you are coming towards them at 120kms… you just better move out of their way… off the road if necessary. We were also quite puzzled as to why everyone we passed was flashing their lights at us. Later we worked out that we were the only bikes with lights and this is obviously seriously offensive to Egyptian drivers, who don’t even care to turn their lights on in the dark. Only thing is… there is no way of turning our lights off, so we had to incur the wrath of angry drivers all the way down to Aswan.
Me, Dakar and load ;)

Despite this absolutely insane driving protocol or rather complete contempt for protocol… there is some beautiful driving through Egypt. The road from Cairo to Luxor rides mostly through this stark and barren desert plain… which is really quite beautiful. After the massive noise and bustle of Cairo, the silence of the desert was just what the doctor ordered! At one point, unsure of whether to turn left or right with no sign to reassure us we opted for right… which lead us down a road we would discover would come to an abrupt end. However driving down this road, which had not one crazy-car in sight, was quite a treat. We only needed to do a bit of off-road to get back on to the ‘finished road’ which was thankfully running more or less adjacent to our road of peaceful retreat. Our off-road training has already saved us quite a few times, despite the apparent tarred roads- thank you Rony and Jorg.
Thrilled to have made it to the petrol station...

A few hours down the road and after stopping at three different petrol stations, which only had Diesel, we worked out we had done at least 400kms since we had filled up last. We were beginning to get a bit concerned… of course moments later my petrol light came on which would give me around another 50kms. Our GPS signaled that the nearest petrol station was 90kms away. Now, it is more or less expected that these will be the kind of challenges you will face over-landing… being stuck on the side of road without petrol… all a part of the adventure. But I can tell you that after riding in 50 degrees heat through a sand storm and having no more then a few sips of water in your Camelbak… it isn’t the kind of adventure you wish too hard for! But I am very happy to say that after a few mantras and promising my bike that if it ‘just gets me to the petrol station, I promise to try my hardest not to drop her,’ WE MADE IT to a station 80kms away! Very impressed by my Dakar’s performance! I have never in my life been so happy to see petrol and a cold bottle of water.

As we ‘thought’ we were approaching Luxor, (little did we know 100km’s would take us three hours,) we started driving through the most beautiful mountain pass. After an hour we were still swerving through the pass and it was becoming dark… we made the decision to push on, thinking we couldn’t be far. We will definitely try our best not to drive in the dark again as it really just is too risky on the bikes. We finally started heading closer to lights, which just suddenly popped out of the nothingness we had been driving through… for what seemed forever. On the outskirts of Luxor, the Nile is lined by a very picturesque rural setting of green plantations and little houses snuggled close to the river, which is the only life-source in this otherwise largely uninhabitable terrain. Whilst being preoccupied by this wonderful setting, we all of a sudden hit quite a sandy match and the bikes went sliding all over the road. We were quite relieved to survive this encounter intact and impressed by our sand-riding skills! 

Eventually after being directed into Luxor by some very friendly local ladies we stopped at the first place we could find. We were surprised when they allowed us into their establishment looking utterly filthy, covered in sand with my helmet hair drawn up in ends after being drenched in sweat from the sweltering 50 degrees heat. We were exhausted… and very happy to have somewhere to rest our weary bones, especially in such a serene setting!
Children cooling off in the Nile... one or two on the watch out for Nile crocodiles!

On our way out of Luxor!

The road from Luxor to Aswan is 270km’s but the next day we were under no illusions that this would relate to a reasonable time at all. The drive out of Luxor was really a treat. It seems like life in these small and quaint, rural areas has changed little over the years. Life is mostly occupied with cultivation of the fertile banks around the Nile and scenes of donkey carts carrying agricultural loads with children in tow, is standard affair. All of this activity makes for precarious driving… hitting a donkey cart, children or unpredictable pedestrians is not a part of the plan. So the journey takes a long time… add to the above speed-humps that jump up from the pavement out of no-where and the several roadblocks every few kilometers, and doing this journey in six hours becomes ambitious.
Stopped for a coke in a small little town. Lovely encounter with some friendly children.

These two men were very keen to have their photo taken! Friendly faces :)

We eventually got to Aswan but again driving in the 50 degree heat can really take it out of you. Especially since we are all kitted out in our bikers gear, something the Egyptians think is quite ludicrous as they wear nothing but sandals… forget even a helmet, don’t be ridiculous!

Aswan provides a striking setting on the Nile with beautiful feluccas sailing up and down its shores. We headed to Hathor Hotel, which was recommended by Africa-Trax and a very good spot because it seems to be very popular with over-landers! We spent our first night here with three other over-landers from the Netherlands who have driven here from the Netherlands and plan to end their journey in Zambia. We spent the evening together exchanging travel stories and advice over some well deserved beers at a restaurant on the Nile. Today another group of over-landers arrived from Cape Town, so we have been lucky to extract some of their wealth of traveling knowledge. It has been wonderful to share the excitement of this adventure with fellow travelers.
View over Aswan from the roof of our hotel.

View over the Nile at sunset

Next challenge is getting our Sudanese visa. We have decided to take on a ‘Sudanese Fixer,’ because we cannot take the risk of being denied a Visa especially since I have several Israeli stamps in my passport. Our Bikes need to be loaded on a barge tomorrow and before this we need to head to the traffic court to go through a whole new series of bureaucracy… hopefully it will not be as epic as our previous encounters. Our Ferry then leaves on Monday… which gives us a day to get our visa BUT we will succeed! We have heard from the over-landers we met that the ferry is quite awful… but it is the only way to get to Sudan.

I have heard nothing but wonderful things about Sudan and about the Sudanese people so we are really looking forward to exploring this underappreciated and misunderstood corner of the continent and to try to look through the poor reputation it has gained by virtue of a very unfortunate political record.    

1 comment:

  1. Amazing... all the best for the next leg guys.