And a River runs through it! (Aswan, Egypt – KM 11,555)

Hurghada to Aswan by bicycle (mostly)

It is with excitement that we left Hurghada after a week spent in the coastal resort. Pierre and his new dental crown led the way along the Red Sea shore and a slew of hotels and souvenir shops that never seemed to end. With the previous stopovers in Dahab and Cairo we had our bodies feeling fresh and strong, and our minds longing for movement.

After a fast ride to Safaga we stopped to eat a ta’amiya sandwich—Egyptian falafel made with fava beans and parsley instead of the usual garbanzo beans—and buy some canned fish and beans, fresh vegetables, bananas and bread, and to fill up our water reserve since, after leaving the coast, we had 160 kilometres of desert ahead, until we could reach the Nile River and some type of civilization.

At the police checkpoint on the outskirts of town a young man wearing a polo shirt, skinny jeans and a gun on his hip checked our passports and asked us to wait. We sat on the curb, relaxed, we only wanted to ride another half hour into the Eastern Desert and set up camp, our day was almost done. “OK! You can go.” About 250 metres up the road we looked behind and saw a white pick-up truck following us on the road’s shoulder. No! We had a police escort! We had read about these on many bicycle travellers blogs but, after talking to the Hurghada Tourism Office employee and being told that authorities did not require foreigners to join car convoys anymore and that cyclists can travel on the trans-desert freely, well, we thought we could travel there freely.

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The resort of Hurghada stretches for kilometres along the Red Sea. Hurghada, Red Sea Governorate, Arab Republic of Egypt.

This unwanted company would also mean we could not camp alone in the desert—“very dangerous”. That first night we loaded our bikes into the white pick-up truck and were driven at dusk to the next police checkpoint, some 40 kilometres away. The skinny jeans officer kept apologizing for ruining our ride, we answered with our own mea culpa for travelling on bikes. We were left to sleep behind the remote police station after having our tent inspected. “Many snakes and scorpions here, I just want to make sure your tent doesn’t have any holes in it”, the young officer from the city explained as our eyes rolled back into our skulls!

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After a night spent behind an Eastern Desert police station. The escort is dressed up, ready to go and pushing for a 6:30am departure although we had already established our desire to leave around 7:00am. Welcome to a day spent out of sync! Red Sea Governorate, Arab Republic of Egypt.

We endured 120 kilometres with an engine following us. Fortunately the road was well paved and traffic was light, mostly tour buses filled with sunburned Russians going to Luxor from Hurghada and old Peugeot station-wagons with suitcases on the roof. Also the desert was pretty but photo opportunities were few. We rested in the shade at every checkpoint while a new crew would get ready for the relay.

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Mr. Policeman, please stop your truck while we take one picture of the Eastern Desert! Red Sea Governorate, Arab Republic of Egypt.

When we had reached the city of Qena on the Nile, and understood fully that this charade was not going to stop until we had reached Luxor, we gave up and loaded our gear inside the latest pick-up truck to follow us. “You win! Take us where we can ride by ourselves again.” The desert had given way to a lush strip of greenery, pink flowers blooming on either side of the road, fields planted with food, children bathing in the canals. The Nile River truly is Egypt’s aorta.

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Getting “a ride” along the Nile with the police means switching pick-up trucks every ten kilometres, an insane relay race with 100kgs of luggage! Qena Governorate, Arab Republic of Egypt.

In Luxor, we settled into a gloomy hotel for 3 nights and arose at 6:00 am everyday to make Egyptology pilgrimages before the midday sun had turned us into sweat-soaked-zombies. Thebes,which was the religious and cultural capital of Ancient Egypt from the Middle Kingdom (2000 B.C.) onward, was erected with temples on the east bank, where the sun rises, and necropolis on the west bank, where it returns down into the underworld. Doing a giant slalom around Luxor’s calèche riders, felucca skippers, taxi drivers, souvenir hawkers, touts and would-be guides that are all screaming at us with a “very good deal” we made it to the west bank. First, to the Colossi of Memnon, then to the Temple of Hatshepsut and to the Valley of the Kings. We pretty randomly selected 3 tombs to visit in the valley, out of the 63 magnificent royal tombs, because by then the sun had almost extinguished our will to live. We gladly took a stroll underground in pharaohs Ramses III, Ramses IX and Merneptah’s final resting places. Paintings and carvings about their earthly life and the afterlife cover every inch of massive chambers. It is so beautiful, intricate, masterfully coloured even after so long—Ramses III was mummified and buried in 1155 BC! I can’t imagine what it must have been like with all the gold, stones and gifts. I know we are not the ones who found, opened and robbed these tombs—some of them have signs to have been inhabited as far back as Roman times—but I could not help but feel like we had no business being there. The ancient Egyptians had gone to great lengths to conceal and protect the mummies of their Kings and now they are in museums all over the world and we were standing there and damaging the vaults with our toxic exhalations.

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Luxor Temple was built in the middle of Thebes by Amenhotep III in the 14th century B.C. Luxor, Luxor Governorate, Arab Republic of Egypt.

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The traditional sailboats of Egypt’s Nile, the felucca, ready for hire on the Corniche for a “very cheap price”. Luxor, Luxor Governorate, Arab Republic of Egypt.

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Amenhotep III built himself a vast mortuary temple on the west bank. Unfortunately it was located on the flood plain of the Nile—the Nile is now regulated by the Aswan High Dam—and all that remains are the 2 Colossi of Memnon, 18m-high. The sandstone needed to build them was transported overland for 675kms 3500 years ago! Luxor, Luxor Governorate, Arab Republic of Egypt.

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It’s Selfie Time! Tour buses have returned since the 1997 Luxor Massacre at the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut, where 57 foreign tourists were gun down. Queen Hatshepsut ruled Egypt between 1479 and 1458 B.C. Deir al-Bahri, Luxor Governorate, Arab Republic of Egypt.

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Jackal-headed god Anubis sitting on his throne inside the Chapel dedicated to him. Deir al-Bahri, Luxor Governorate, Arab Republic of Egypt.

When Pierre visited Habu Temple I stayed at the gate since we had run out of cash by early afternoon! On another day we rode our skinny bikes to Karnak, the most visited site in Egypt after the Giza Pyramids and for reason. This only scratched the surface of what is available to see but it was time to go.

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Ramses III’s military exploits engraved on the walls at his own mortuary temple at Medinat Habu. Luxor, Luxor Governorate, Arab Republic of Egypt.

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The colossal Temple of Amun is the heart of the immense Karnak complex. From its modest beginnings, pharaoh after pharaoh added on Egypt’s most important temple, over a 1300-year period. Excavation and restoration began in the mid-19th century and continues today. Luxor, Luxor Governorate, Arab Republic of Egypt.

When we rode out of Luxor at 7:00 am, and continued south on the east bank for 55 blissful kilometres, we hoped we would be left alone to ride to Aswan. After a cup of Turkish coffee and some bananas dipped in tahini taken in the shade at an outdoor coffee shop, we decided to head out again in the midday sun and take it slow, with lots more shade breaks. When Pierre saw a police pick-up truck with an officer standing in the back banging his open hand loudly on the cabin, as if he was saying “Stop! Stop! I found them!”, the rest of the day turned into a nightmare. Not being able to follow your own rhythm, including stops for rest, hydration, taking photos and talking to people is not fun in normal circumstances, but in 45-degree heat it is maddening and dangerous.

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Cows are outnumbered by donkeys in Upper Egypt Happy encounter for Janick. Luxor Governorate, Arab Republic of Egypt.

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Old Mosque. To stop and take this picture caused a major upset with our police escort. Aswan Governorate, Arab Republic of Egypt.

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This one also! Aswan Governorate, Arab Republic of Egypt.

We were checked-in that night by a police officer in an over-priced hotel by a loud mosque in central Edfu. One positive aspect was that we could spend the night in an air-conditioned room as I had during the day developed a heated rash on my thighs and calves and needed desperately to cool down. It was not a sunburn, as I wear long pants everyday, but the rash behaved like one—days later it is healing, dry and itchy and I still don’t know what it was.

Feeling beaten down we had decided that if we were escorted again from the next checkpoint we would just give up and let the police carry us to Aswan. In the event, we rode without restraint for the rest of the way. First on the west bank, from Edfu to Faris, with settlements becoming thinner on the ground and the road encroaching on the desert at times, the end of Egypt starting to feel real. Then we took a small pontoon across the Nile and continued south on the east bank.

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Jars filled with cool water line the road every few kilometres on the west bank. Genius! Aswan Governorate, Arab Republic of Egypt.

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When the fertile strip along the Nile river narrows and the road passes through dry desert, it is comforting to see this duo coming our way with some greens. Aswan Governorate, Arab Republic of Egypt.

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And the Nile appears again, like a vision, Kingdoms and Civilizations made possible by its existence. Aswan Governorate, Arab Republic of Egypt.

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Camelus Dromedarius taken from the Daraw camel market and transported to Egypt’s every corner. Faris, Aswan Governorate, Arab Republic of Egypt.

Welcome to Egypt!” “How are you?” “What’s your name?” “Hey! Where are you from?” The shouting doesn’t end, the honking either. Along with the blaring, sometimes off-key prayer calls coming from mosques, the noise is getting to us. We are a couple of tired, hungry, adrenaline pumping beasts when we arrive in Aswan, on the lovely Nile riverside Corniche.

How much for a ta’amiya sandwich? (we wanted 4 of them)

5 pounds.

5 pounds each? That’s a lot!

How much you want to pay?

1.5 pounds.

1.5 pounds? Egyptian people pay 2 pounds! (exasperated)

Then why is it 5 for us?

Tourist price! (straight face).

We were ready for some good news and we received it at the Sudanese consulate that afternoon. Our visas for Sudan—visas we had been loosing sleep over for a year!—would be ready the day after tomorrow!

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Egypt’s southernmost city. Apparently this is where Egypt ends and “Africa” starts. Aswan, Aswan Governorate, Arab Republic of Egypt.

The visas are now glued to a page in our passports and we are figuring out a smart plan to cross the Nubian Desert in June, with temperatures soaring close to 50 degrees most afternoon, and Ramadan starting in a week. Wish us luck!

P.S. A suicide bomber blew himself up at Karnak Temple yesterday morning. Him and two gunmen were apparently targeting tourists. Although nobody but the terrorists died, this is shocking and terrible for Luxor who was just recovering from the 1997 “Luxor Massacre”. The motherly policemen we rolled our eyes at knew more than we did, probably. I guess now there is no riding on to Abu Simbel and the Sudanese border un-escorted!


Ramadan in the Sudan! (Khartoum, Sudan - KM 12,930)
In and out of Sinai! (Hurghada, Egypt - KM 11,110)

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