Off to embassy mince round 3. Despite being told that the letter was going to be ready at 9am it wasn’t until 1 that we left the embassy after having to get the letter changed, our patience was pushed to the max. While in the embassy a young woman walked in, I couldn’t help overhear her dilemma as she explained to the less than helpful woman behind the counter. She had lost her passport and needed a temporary one so she could fly back to the UK. She had been in Cairo studying for a year and a half and had converted to Islam, as a result her family in the UK had disowned her, she was now homeless and had no money as she had been screwed over, she had no work permit so couldn’t get a job and had exhausted all her friends patience in Egypt asking for loans. A friend in the UK had paid for her flight on 6th Jan and all she had was 300 Egyptian pounds. She was in tears when useless behind the counter was saying she couldn’t help her without money. I felt compelled to try to help her and went over, I knew she was about 300 Egyptian pounds short of what she needed so I tried to give her 400 (about £50) I wanted to use my Christmas present to give to her, after all Christmas us a time of giving. As expected she was too proud to accept my money and dropped it off on my table I was using when she left saying she’d find it by other means. I only hope she wouldn’t do something stupid. What could I do but wish her luck and tell her to stay positive. Off we went back to the Saudi embassy now armed with the required letter only to find out we now needed a medical certificate proving that we are free from infectious diseases or chronic illness. Eeek- I kind of think that cancer could be classed as a chronic illness. This should be interesting. The Saudi consul was on our side and told me not to mention the cancer, he gave us the contact details of a moody doctor who we could bribe to get a medical certificate so now we’d opened a whole new can of worms. We spent the rest of the day chasing the illusive doctor around the city. We now needed to fill out a form in Arabic explaining what we are doing before the certificate can be issued. Another frustrating day in the office and not much progress. We’re staying positive though, and I’m kind of likening it to walking through a maze; while there seems to be many paths there is only one true path and at every crossroads you’re shown a little bit more of that path. Where there is a will there’s a way and as Dom says we’ve just got to keep chipping away.
Embassy mince round 2. Our hotel arranged a driver for us at a reasonable rate and even better was that he wasn’t trying to rip us off at every opportunity. First stop British embassy to get this letter. The less than helpful receptionist refused our requests to see a consul and kept reverting between us and them which took ages. She kept us waiting for 3 hours and when the penny finally dropped we were told the letter would be ready at 9am but we had to pay now. Although i was reluctant to pay for something I’ve not seen I ran across the street to get the 700 Egyptian pounds she needed. When I got back there was some people waiting but as it was empty when I left and all I had to do give some cash I thought the less than helpful receptionist would allow me to push in, I was wrong. There was also a girl waiting who had here knickers in a knot, she wasn’t going to let me complete my 20 second task and forced me to wait 40 minutes. This meant that our scheduled tour to see the pyramids had to be postponed. Pissed off with the embassy and with huffy attitude girl I left the embassy with the raging hump only to find out that Dom had been speaking to her boyfriend outside and arranged to meet them in Hurghada. That should be fun. She did however apologise to me via Dom and take the time to put a message on the website so all is forgiven, the British embassy in Cairo is after all enough to push even the strongest minded laid back person to the edge. After the embassy mince round 2 our driver, Magdi, took us to the Egyptian museum where we saw some really impressive statues and some artifacts from the tomb of Tutankhamun. The best thing though was the Royal mummies, the unwrapped bodies of 4,000 year old kings- thats some seriously old corpses! They had to be kept in temperature controlled individual units and photography was banned but I did manage to sneak a couple of photos with my iPhone- see the gallery section.
Great night sleep but both of us were stiff when we woke up. We got our moneys worth from getting the concierge to run around for us doing various tasks while we tucked into the best buffet breakfast yet, freshly made chocolate and banana waffles pipped the post for both of us! Spent a while on the net looking for a cheaper hotel as movenpick was too far out of budget. We found a hotel called Tiba Pyramids just down the road for £37 a night with good wifi. Then it was off to the embassies to try and sort out entry to Saudi. I already had a headache from yesterday but our lardy disgusting driver made it worse by his poor navigation across a hectic city home to around 22m people. At one point he drifted into the news van in front while he was telling us about his Belgian girlfriend who he got with 3 weeks ago just 4 days after his wife died. He proceeded to tell us that her boobs were like apple and mango – quite funny but a horrible thought if you’d have seen him, he certainly wasn’t an oil painting. In fact I’d go onto say that he was so ugly tears actually ran up his face! The Saudi embassy revealed the lengthy visa process and said it would be 3 weeks at least before we had our visas provided they were approved by senior officials. Before they could begin the process they needed a letter from the British embassy explaining what we were doing. By the time we arrived at the British embassy it was closed we’d have to come back tomorrow. I now had a cracking headache. It was time to call in the contacts all guns blazing. Aly had now put me in touch with the office of HRH the General Secretary – if anyone can sort out this huge Saudi hurdle it was a Saudi prince! I sent an email asking for assistance worried that I’d hash it up addressing him incorrectly or something but crossed my fingers and sent it. Got rid of the headache by listening to holly’s beautiful Christmas songs (www.youtube.com/hollyrosemusic) which made us feel a little festive – hard to do when it’s mid 20s compared to -5c back home. I miss her terribly, and can’t wait to see her in Dubai.
Without a doubt the Alexandria-Cairo desert road is the most dangerous road we’ve ever cycled along, it was a mistake having shisha and beer last night but that was the least of our worries. We saw 4 car accidents which included a crumpled van and orange truck which had flipped over. It took 100% concentration not to get hit ourselves. After the first 30 miles we decided what we were doing was ridiculous and dangerous so we jumped on the motorway which was being built which ran parallel to the desert road we were on. Mobs of construction workers stood in disbelief looking at us like nutters cycling along an unbuilt road especially when we came across a section of freshly laid tar. Obviously very sticky the tar flicked up onto our legs and covered our panniers Dom even pointed out some on my nose! this was clearly not a good idea either- we didn’t fancy getting knocked off our bikes nor did we want to get stuck in the tar. When the new road turned to rubble and then being dug by JGBs enough was enough and we had to jump back on death highway. Although night time was heavily upon us by the time we got to Cairo we did make it in one piece with bikes still intact. The ridgebacks who we’ve named Ronnie and Reggie had certainly been put through their paces and deserved a rest.
Today was supposed to be a nice and easy 45 mile cycle to the Adham compound, a resort highly recommended by the solar cycle team. The map on the website wasn’t clear and so we plotted the sat nav about 10 miles away. Still knackered from the previous day the extra miles was not exactly welcome with open arms but we still found the resort nice and early and enjoyed free wifi throughout. Dom pulled off an impressive blag and haggled the rate down. They also had a pool table where dom whipped me- my excuse was there was a slant but I was just crap. We asked for some advice about the long desert road to Cairo and ended up meeting Tim, the owners son. Tim thought we were absolutely bonkers cycling to Cairo and even more so for booking a cheap downtown hotel, “things will go missing and that’s if you can find it”. He advised us to book into the movenpick hotel about 10km outside of Cairo and gun it in one day although we were still mental. We were now faced with a dilemma, no hotels were open in the halfway town and it wasn’t possible to camp anywhere. We took his advice cancelled our budget hotel and booked one night at the movenpick to use as a base. The night was another sleepless for me I was concerned the wind would be against us and we’d struggle with the distance, to make matters worse, Abdul the Arabic mosquito was out of hibernation and fancied a buffet feast on my feet.
Our longest cycle yet! 125 miles but unfortunately the tailwind of the storm was now starting to fade. We were supposed to reach Sidi Abdel Rahman but when we arrived the town was nothing more than a base for construction workers building 5* resorts across the street along the coast – that’ll be us 2 yrs too early then! Instead we decided to pedal on an additional 26km to the next town El Alamein but when we arrived we found no hotels. Starting to panic and with the sun setting we were told that there was a hotel back on ourselves 5km. Not the best thing to cycle back on ourselves after such a long cycle but we did, no hotels there either now we were told there was one about 15km on. By now the darkness of the night was against us, and as we cycled on to find this needle in a hay stack of a hotel a van load of construction workers cruised alongside us for a couple of miles at first a little banter but we could sense the situation turning hostile. If they stopped and 15 construction workers jumped out we’d have no chance, fortunately they didn’t. We found a hotel in the marina as it was out of season the price was heavily discounted from a rate of 3,000 Egyptian pounds a night it’s a favourite for Saudis. We got a room for about £60 and because there was only 13 guests we had our own chef, own hotel wing, private concierge and super speedy wi-fi. This place had it all and dinner was out of this world – anything we wanted from the a la carte menu.
We left Sidi Barani with the wind still behind us and took full advantage, heads down pedal hard and let’s get there early. We wanted to make it to the tourist police office to get a camping permit in case the wind gods have a change of heart. We’re also a little concerned about the desert road link Alexandria and Cairo- a 200km south easterly road with no hotels, it’d be best to break this up with a camp so we don’t arrive really late into Cairo. Over a windy lunch we noticed a pack of wild dogs nearby that kept barking at and chasing after passing cars. They seemed to calm down and soon stopped. We were still getting used to the bikes with all their panniers on, they were like dead weights again and sluggy off the mark. So when we got back on the bikes after lunch the dogs seized their opportunity and burst into life. Dom in a lovingly brotherly way hung back letting the dogs chase me (cheers bro) while I peddled my socks off, the last thing I wanted was a skanky hobo dog sinking his rabies infested teeth into my calf. Two of the 3 dogs gave up after a while but one was determined, by now my speed had picked up and I was reaching 25mph but the hobo dog was alongside me drooling with a crazed look in his eyes. I knew the mut would not be able to keep up for long but I wasn’t taking any chances, I reached into my handlebar bag and pulled out one of my mouldy Italian sweets and threw it hard catching him in between the eyes. The dog reacted with a short squeal and dropped off to the side of the road. Jon-1 hobo dog-0 Arrived early in Matruh no luck with the tourist police and the camping permit but did manage a 3 hour Internet mince where we got loads done, got an email back from Thomas tapken who I’ve been chasing for a while and Aly who’s trying to help us in Saudi he’s assigned it to someone from his Riyadh office which is an awesome contact. Also got to wish Gran a happy birthday was great speaking to her briefly. Tucked into dinner of shish taewok only to find out half way through that the chicken wasn’t cooked – nice.
Woke up to find the fly army that invaded us last night had bought it more troops seeking revenge for their fallen comrades spattered all over the walls and floor. I had a bad feeling and a look out the window confirmed our fears – trees blowing around in what looked like a fierce wind. ‘Chin up’ we thought we’ve got to get on with it, this is what we’re here for. Once outside it was clear that the storm was now in full force, rubbish was swirling around in a mini tornado and I got a crisp packet in the face while fixing on the panniers. Not only did we see a look on the locals faces like 2 aliens had just rocked up in their town but they were also looking at us like absolute nutters for even attempting to cycle into a full on storm. Fortunately, once we were out of the town the wind changed and was now behind us pushing us along at 25mph! Tempting as it was to cycle the additional 80 miles onto Marsa Matruh we decided to play it safe, we had left late in order to have a little lie in, so it would have been tough to make it before dark even at these speeds, also the wind can change in a split second. We arrived in Sidi Barrani in rocket time 2.20 hrs to do 50 miles. When we arrived sand was everywhere in our ears, our hair, mouth- our faces looked like a couple of Essex tarts caked in foundation. At least in arriving early meant we had time to clean our bikes and ourselves. We spent the afternoon doing a bit of admin & drafted emails; I’m looking to get some PR in Egypt and Saudi on the back of the Libya article and also trying to get us on BBC world news. It was interesting communicating when ordering food across the street for dinner, Dom almost had to do a chicken impression but the iPhone translator saved the day. Just when we were about to go to sleep there was a knock at the door. Dom drew the short straw and opened it to come face to face with 3 Egyptian policemen. This didn’t look good as I heard Dom say “I know it’s the police”, but luckily they were just looking out for us and wanted to check what time we were leaving tomorrow.
6.30am came round far too quickly – because of the wind, we had no sleep and woke up with half a tent, and it sounded like machine gun fire. We were in the full force of a sahara gibley. Clouds of sand dust rushing towards us hitting us right in the face reduced our speed to 7 mph & it became obvious the 130km cycle to Sidi Barani wasn’t going to happen. In fact the wind was so strong that Dom somehow managed to splash piss all over his face – that was funny! It took 2 hrs to get through boarder, with loads of check points and after being handed from one set of authorities to another, it was weird being back on the lonesome & having to put panniers back on. It took a bit of getting used to as we started our wobbly cycle off into the wilderness of Egypt. Then in a valley below a town (As Sallum) appeared suddenly through the mist of the storm, and a windy road down enabled us to get some cover from the gale. Egypt is certainly going to take a while to get used to as crowds of kids gathered around me in, while Dom checked out a lonely planet recommended hotel that stank of poo. Luckily the manager suggested we didn’t want to stay there! and we found another hotel nearby for a bargain rate of £15. With our phone back able to send texts we chilled out, had a dreadful dinner with some unidentified spongy meat, and retired to our fly invested room.
Woke up to hear the howl of the wind and that sinking “oh no” feeling quickly followed, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been though – it was a side wind but still not much fun. As we left town more drivers were beeping and friendly people waving, a sight and memory which I’ll miss after Libya. Two brothers marched up to us in small town near camp and shook our hands – they were only like 5 & 7; the younger offered me his straw drink as a gift, this act of generous hospitality blew me away – these people have very little but are still offering what they have. I rustled around in my handlebar bag and managed to find two sweets left over from Italy, they declined. Yeah I wouldn’t fancy them either after a month in the sun. I just about managed to get a photo of the younger brother shaking Dom’s hand. We introduced Fathi to Ramsay’s nightmares and enjoyed our last desert dinner with him. He’s been great to us and really deserves a medal for driving at 25km/h across Libya – not many people can say they’ve done that. As we checked out the landscape Fathi pointed out a weather front coming our way – wicked! We had a sleepless night with harsh wind pounding the tent halving its size.