Tag Archives: Egypt

Horses to Oats

Day 6 – 107km

Start – desert camp 40km east of Qena

Finish – Luxor – Rezeiky Camp and Hotel

Today was a non-race day so everybody travelled in very chatty groups. The course was relatively flat. There was some wind but it wasn’t too strong. We rode towards the Nile at Qena and then headed south to Luxor.

We had been warned to watch out for small kids swinging big sticks and throwing rocks as we road down the Nile. In years past there had been problems. We were the second group – the first was the serious racers. In our group of eight only one person had anything thrown at them – a small stone that barely reached. In the slower groups however, a few people were slapped and things were thrown. In years past the kids had lined up with stalks of sugar cane to take swings. None of that this year. It was more high-fives that turned into slaps.

The ride before lunch was fairly casual – a nice ride into Qena and then a short 20 km ride along the Nile-side canal to lunch at 62km. I did not make the same mistake today that I made yesterday. Even though it was still early and I wasn’t too hungry, I made myself eat. I am glad I did. We picked up the pace for the last 45km into Luxor – horses to oats. We all knew that a rest day – and another hotel room – awaited.

After a warm shower we headed into town for a second lunch. This time at the right time. In the evening Luxor really comes alive with gaudy carnival-type lights and colorful market stalls selling everything under the sun. We wandered through the souk. Most of the traders seemed too demoralized to even hassle us. A few did in a half-hearted way. Or perhaps it was pretty clear to them that we were not the money-spending type. They are pretty shrewd judges of character.

A beer back at the hotel and bed by 8:30.

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Game On

Day 5 – 123km

Start – Safaga – Hotel Nemo

Finish – desert camp 40km east of Qena

Today we really felt like the Tour had begun. We began with a long, gradual 40km climb out of Safaga and into a headwind and the hills separating the Red Sea from the Nile. I cycled with Bridget, who leads the women’s race. We pedaled a steady but not fast pace and reached the summit in about 2 hours, a good time for me, probably a bit slow for Bridget. We then went down for 6 kilometers only to be faced with another 10km of sustained climb.

I made the mistake of not eating much for lunch. It was early and I wasn’t hungry so I just had a few slices of orange and a piece of cheese. With thirty km to go my stomach started to growl loudly. The last 20 km were back into the wind. So when I got into camp about 12:20 I was hungry. The normal routine is that we have soup when we come in off the road and then dinner around 6. But today soup wasn’t ready until about 2. Fortunately I had purchased a few snickers bars in Safaga. My stomach was grateful.

We camped in the desert again, this time by a well, so there were a few trees for shade and far less wind.

Everyone is getting used to the camp routine by now. Set up the tents. Change and wash. Soup. Attend to the bike if it needs it. Rest, read or chat for a while. Some play cards. Wander off into the desert. Dinner and bed. All good.

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Beer at 11

Day 4 – 100km

Start – Desert between mountains and the Red Sea

Finish – Nemo Hotel, Safaga

My legs were a bit tight today so I took it easy at the beginning. I only started to warm up by about kilometer 75. But I still rolled in, in reasonable time.

Today we are in Safaga and camped right on the beach in front of a small hotel.  Hotel and real bed tonight for me. The first thing I was asked when I arrived at 10:40 in the morning was: “Do you think it’s too early for a beer?” My answer was one word with two letters, first letter ‘N’. I quickly checked into the hotel (we have the option of getting a hotel room when we stop in towns where they are available) had a quick shower (hot water is wonderful thing) and was at the beach bar with cold beer in hand by 11.

After a beer John, Vince and I wandered into town looking for food, mobile top ups and chocolate. Safaga is a resort town. It has the desert mountains that separate it from the Nile on one side and the Red Sea on the other. There are lots of small, cheep ($20 a night) local hotels on the beach with dive shops. The big resorts seem to be on the road into and out of town. It is a sleepy town, especially now with tourism so slow.  After wandering around town for a while we ran into the Egyptian cyclists and a couple of the serious racers. About a dozen of us ended up in the back room of a local café and they started bringing the food. Tomatoes and mint, cucumbers and greens, tahini, falafel, eggplant, flat bread, potatoes.  Every time a dish was finished it was replaced with a full one. Fantastic meal. In the evening we had a chicken bar-b-q on the beach.

After dinner I admitted to Vince in a somewhat embarrassed way that in the 8 hours since I had arrived in Safaga I had had 1 coke, 2 Pepsis, 2 7ups, 3 beers and a snickers bar. He beat me by one coke and a Cadbury’s fruit and nut bar.

Someone told us that one year, one rider managed to spend 60 out of the 120 days of the tour in a bed. Maybe that’s one record I can break.

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Desert Rats

Day 3 – 136 km

Start – Desert by the pipeline

Finish – Desert between mountains and the Red Sea

After using the shovel and having some milk, honey and porridge for breakfast, it was back on the road. Yesterday’s tailwind had picked it up a notch. We now had a very strong tail wind. Nobody complained.

Lunch is usually about half way along the day’s route. The food truck heads out early and sets up somewhere convenient on the side of the road. We got to the 71km mark and lunch about 9:30 – or about breakfast time for many people. But we eat and then we eat some more, no matter what time it is. I finished the day’s riding by 11:40 after about 4 hours of riding.

But the wind that made the riding fast made camp chaotic. Tents were flying all over the place. It took me over an hour and three attempts to get mine up and secure. But once up it held its spot. John Chevis lost his completely and now has to find a new tent somewhere. JJ gave up on the tent, dug a hole in the sand and slept in the open.

I don’t know if anyone remembers an old television show called ‘Desert Rats’ about a bunch of 2nd WW soldiers fighting in the desert but it kind of felt like that. Vince, a Kiwi who in real life is an engineer on the inter-island ferry in New Zealand, was typical: kaki shorts, hiking boots, no shirt, his race button on a lanyard around his neck like dog tags, a hat with one of those handkerchief-like things trailing out the back. People wore sand goggles. Sand was in everything. The police were in their pickups around the perimeter of the camp. They had the guns.

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How’s your bum?

Day 2 – 166km

Start – Desert on the way to the Red Sea

Finish – Desert by the Red Sea

The day started with an overheard conversation. “How’s your bum?” followed by a serious and detailed answer. A ride such as this is probably one of the only situations in which a bloke can ask this of a 30 something women in public and not be slapped. In fact, this passes as polite conversation on the Tour d’Afrique. It is not the only topic of conversation mind, but it gets the ball rolling.

I don’t know how the day could have gotten any better after a start like that but it did. It was a long day but we had a helpful tale wind that made the ride a lot of fun. Some people hit tremendous speeds. The really serious racers, including a half dozen from an Egyptian cycling club who have joined us for the Cairo to Aswan segment, just about left the ground they were going so fast. Even I finished the stage in about 6 hours. At one point I even had my own police escort (we have a lot of them following us to provide security). Either to encourage me or to amuse themselves they played Arabic music very loudly over their tanoy and frequently regaled me with somewhat less encouraging wails from their repertoire of siren noises. I must send them a Christmas card.

Camp was in the desert again, between the road and a big pipeline, with the Red Sea just beyond. Some riders wanted to swim in the Sea but were told not to (by the same police who had done their best to encourage me) because the desert between the pipeline and the sea was mined. I am not sure whether this was serious or just a local version of crowd control. At any rate, nobody tested it. Probably a good decision.

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The Phoney War

Day 1 – 134 km

Start – Cairo

Finish – the desert on the way to the Red Sea

In 1939 Britain declared war on Germany. But it wasn’t until May 1940 that the war started in earnest. During the first year of the war life in London still had a semblance of pre-war life. The first day of the TdA sort of felt like that. We had started but it didn’t really feel like it.

We left the Cataract Pyramid Resort in convoy with Police escort at about 7:15. It took us an hour to cycle the 10 km to the starting point at the Pyramids if Giza, where we hung out for an hour taking photos and doing the official start. We then travelled in convoy for another 30km until we were on the outskirts of Cairo. It was now almost noon. So about 4 hours of cycling to do 40km. We were then set free to cycle the further 94 km to our first desert camp. The sun sets sometime after 5pm. Some people didn’t make it before dark. I cycled with a group of 8 and then 4. We arrived about 3:40, including a lunch and a coke break. It was a good group. But none of us really felt it was ‘game on’ yet.

Our first camp was in the desert at the side of the road. There is an etiquette to desert camping that we all had to learn. It is all very sensible and designed to leave the desert in better condition than we found it. One of the first things you do in the morning is go get a shovel. You then walk out into the desert and look for a private spot – perhaps a little difficult on a flat plane with no vegetation. When you have found your preferred spot (comfortable, not too breezy, a good view) you dig a hole. You can picture the rest if you wish. When all of this is happening it is still not completely light so most people still have their headlamps on. So when you poke your head out of your tent in the morning the dots of light you see on the horizon are not constellations of stars with lovely Latin names. They are your fellow riders having a good dump.

Don’t forget to donate to the Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania.

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