Ok my friends I arrived here in Luxor on the 6th of July and have been lingering like a bad smell much like the aroma of rubbish, sweat, and urine that is emanating from the streets around my hotel and what fills my nostrils as I write this post. The stifling 40 degree plus heat doesn’t make it much better but the almost unrivalled Egyptian hospitality fills me with more warmth than that of this almost unbearable and unrelenting sunshine (fine if you are a lizard but not so great when you are pedalling all day).
So I set out from Cairo some days ago and what a journey I have had already, unfortunately not a positive one…
My first day was incredible, I left Cairo feeling happy to be back on the bike and although I knew the heat was going to be a challenge to overcome I was quietly optimistic, so I gently pedalled my way towards Giza and the pyramids with a smile on my face eager to see the wonders of Egypt. The sites were spectacular (maybe a little smaller than I had expected but still good) and after taking a long time at Egypt’s most famous tourist site, even ditching my bike for an Arabian horse ride I managed to get a good 60 miles out of the city joining up with the Nile river and on my way to the south! I even managed to watch a World Cup match in a small village and was taken care of by its locals. They plied me with tea and snacks and as I prepared to head out into the sunset to find my first wild campsite for the trip they wouldn’t let me pay a penny. Amazing! These were already becoming some of the most hospitable people I have come across so far. I have to note here that when you are at the tourist sites it feels like they just want your money and even get angry when you refuse for the 100th time but the true Egyptians were nothing short of goosebump worthy! Oh my pannier rack also fell off as I was nearing the end of the day as I had forgotten to tighten some of the bolts that were loosened as I shimmied my mudguards on in the hotel the night before my departure, ha typical! This sort of stuff seems to happen all too often for me and I’m not sure there is any contingency for this type of stupidity just something I must accept or rather I HAVE accepted into my daily life, I’m sure for you it will be fine… 1x lost bolt but my bag of odd nuts and bolts came to the rescue as it has on many occasions during my adventures.
Campsite was found not long after and I managed to erect my tent without problem, phew, rest!
So here is where it went wrong. The following day I stupidly decided to cross to the East bank of the Nile and the Sarahara desert, and before long I came across a police checkpoint out in the middle of nowhere. The moderately armed personnel were actually cool and I had a joke and a laugh with them as I try to do everywhere I go, but they kept me for a long time and when I was finally allowed to go on I was surprised to see that I was now accompanied by two police pickups and 8 officers 4 of which were armed quite nicely.
This of course was an amusing novelty and I thought nothing of it at that point…
Now, this first crew were great, I liked them, we laughed and joked as I rode, I stopped when I could find shade without any pressure from them for me to push on and I just assumed they were seeing me on for a few miles before they went back again, this however was not the case. We came across another crew where I had to wait again for ages and my hope of watching another football match that afternoon was slipping away steadily, never mind it was only a nice thought and not something that wasn’t terribly important to me. When I eventually went on again I was transferred over to another crew with yet another two vehicles and on we went, hmmmmm I assume this is just until I cross back over to the West Bank where I’m sure I will be free once more….ahhhh poor naive James.
So it got to camping time and I decided I would say farewell and pitch my tent…..”no no no dangerous” is all I was met with and I ended up firmly demanding that I can’t possibly ride anymore and here is my rest spot for the night behind a nice tree and with a view of the sunset. This was not at all liked by my armed entourage but I camped regardless. They however didn’t leave??? I was so tired and without care I drifted off to sleep….I was abruptly woken some time later as it was now dark and all of the officers had changed once again and obviously angry that I was camping as it was against their orders. They filled me with stories of danger, guns, and death and I was forced to pack up and driven to a local monastery for the night much to my annoyance as all I had encountered was wonderful hospitality. On the bright side I did get a shower and that was lovely, that was once I got over just a twinge of pre-kidnapping fear of course as I knew none of the new faces in the cars around me.
On the next morning I woke and as I tried to exit the doors were locked and I couldn’t escape, aggghhhhhhh have I been imprisoned already?? I shouted and made a fuss and before long the door was opened and I could see the light of the new day, phew!!
I was about to set off again but was held back by two officers and told I had to wait for yet another escort. Grrrrr now I am a man who likes, nay NEEDS to do things his way and don’t react well to being told how it is, so you can imagine after being semi kidnapped and scaremongered I was already not in the best of spirits! I waited like a good little boy, not that I had much choice and on we went….. here is where the pressure really started. Every time I wanted to stop I had a police guy tapping his watch at me as if to say “what are you doing? No time to stop my boy!” Hmmmm “oh really??” I thought, it even got to the point where I would rest and sleep a little and they were shaking me awake and pressuring me to go on! I have to admit I didn’t become a good ambassador at this point and began to scream, shout, and spit profanity into each of their faces whenever they started tapping their watches or shaking me awake. This treatment and constant badgering made me quite stressed and with my untrained body and the unbearable heat I entered into an Egyptian nightmare. This continued all of my way to Luxor and after being woken for the second time during camping and forced to move to a hotel (actually another monastery) I realised they were not going to let me camp anywhere and my chaperone was to last the whole way to the border, not good!
I continued to curse heavily at them periodically through the days that passed until Luxor and to the point on the final day where I worked myself up to illness and began to vomit excessively all over them and myself, I actually thought I was in big trouble. Stress, heat, constant badgering and my anger made a stubborn James decide that I would have this treatment no longer, if I can’t do this thing my way I will not do it at all!!! It’s my way or no way and that’s it! It’s clear that the authorities don’t want me here and are simply ushering me through the country as quickly as they possibly can. I know these officers are just following orders so it’s not really their fault and I’m sorry guys for being so rude, but they way I am being shepherded through this country with no regard for my health under what feels like a false pretence of danger I’m just not having it! Maybe if it was a month or so along the line and I was much fitter and could just power through like I did in the Kazak/Uzbec deserts riding 130mile days it wouldn’t be a problem, but I’m weak, untrained, and just starting out and this heat is ridiculous so they are making me suffer to the point where I’m going to get very sick. I mean when your so delirious that your happy to vomit all over yourself I think it’s time to draw a line under Egypt. I actually met a police guy who spoke relatively good English and said it will be similar treatment from the Sudanese police who they will hand me over to at the border and for that reason guys an angry and stubborn James is saying goodbye to these idiots and have sadly and reluctantly decided that I will fly to Ethiopia and begin my trip for real.
This makes me sadder than I can express to you but I have to ask myself why I’m doing all of this, to be free to roam, explore, and meet new people all of which I am not permitted to do it seems and like I said before, I don’t take kindly to being told what to do at every turn so for that reason I’m out of here! It’s a real shame as what seemed to be one of the friendliest countries I have ever cycled in it has been massively tarnished by the police and their treatment of me. I’m angry at the authorities and don’t recommend coming here anytime soon for cycling, I’m sorry to disappoint everyone as I was excited to document my trip through the desert and now I will simply fly over the remainder of it instead. I hope you can all forgive my pigheadedness this time…😞
P.S. Sorry just to clarify the main reason for taking this flight to Ethiopia is that I’m not being permitted to wild camp en-route and if I don’t make it to accommodation each night I will be driven there regardless of my want and desire to set up my tent. Beyond Aswan and into Sudan I will have large expanses of nothing where the only means of accommodation will be my tent and seeing as I’m not permitted to use it I see no appeal in being driven the rest of the way. It seems silly to me as I’m keen on travelling every inch under my own steam rather than using any other means of transport so to continue at this point would break my one important rule and therefore holds no challenge to me. Uhhhh that’s it really I’m sure once I’m south of Sudan I will be free to do things my way again yeeehhhhhhhaaaaaa!!!!