At 6am our worst fears are realised when Aly replies confirming that he advises that we should look at an alternative route. This is gutting for both of us and we know it now leaves a big chunk of land mass out of the challenge. The Tropic of Cancer passes through the heart of Saud Arabia, and we still haven’t reached it. With Iraq to the north and conflicts in Yemen in the south our travel insurance would not be valid, and as our safety is paramount we are not going to risk it through these countries.
At breakfast we try and think positively, and our new idea is not to let Saudi Arabia beat us. We are going to go through all the correct channels, make sure we have a group of four people and come back next winter to complete this leg of the challenge. For the time being it will be onto Hurghada and then flight to Abu Dhabi.
Our so we thought. After letting some key people know of our dates in Dubai from 4th to 10th January, we then find that all flights from Hurghada go via Cairo and prices are double what they should have been. So back to the drawing board again. The only option left for us is to just fly from Cairo, and as we don’t want to be in this horrible city any longer it means tomorrow!
One hectic afternoon writing press releases, booking flights, (flying to Abu Dhabi, with a transfer in Bahrain which will be a luggage nightmare), telling Holly that she has two days to book a flight herself, confirming with contacts for accommodation and packing up the bikes for the flight (thanks to Magdi and team), tempers flare before we crash out at 1am.
While the UK relax their turkey filled bellies, we are back to work on the challenge, route planning two options. One will take us down the Red Sea coast to Hurghada and one up to Jordan in case we are unable to pass through Saudi Arabia. But after much deliberation, we decide that the later doesn’t make any sense. We would be cycling for the sake of it and northwards as well, when we have spent the last 75 days cycling down towards the Tropic of Cancer.
Stodging through work, we are really waiting for one email – the one back from HRH’s office to confirm a green light for Saudi. So you can imagine our disappointment when the reply comes back referring us to another department for youth welfare. This isn’t good as we have been to the top of the tree, and this is a big nail in the coffin. One last ditch effort is ask Aly’s advice, so we then console ourselves with a Cadburys chocolate overload (we had to buy this, but hopefully in the NY Cadburys are going to send us out a parcel of chocolate and sweets).
Happy Christmas! After saying goodbye to Cata at 4am, Jon and I had a chilled morning before heading off to see the Pyramids (our Christmas present from the family). They are an immense sight, although could probably be replicated quite easily at Legoland, and despite the scamming Egyptians we got a camel and pony ride to view the awesome sights. This was funny when I was on the pony next to Jon (I looked like Dennis Waterman off Little Britain), and looks like someone shrunk me and the pony, (see gallery) , but we did get some stunning photos. With the sound of praying booming across the Cairo jungle below us, this was certainly a different way to spend Christmas.
Telling several more Egyptians to “do one mate” as they tried to sell us everything from tatty plastic pyramids to rubbish t-towels, we headed off to enjoy a civilized xmas lunch buffet (well they had some turkey!) at the Marriot. We desperately need Sky, as we had to make do with some terrible movies back at the hotel. (Miss Doubtfire, Hook and Jingle All The Way).
Another day in Cairo and embassy mince round 4. Today we need the Saudi embassy to clarify exactly what we need to fill in on the moody medical certificate required for our visa application. Our driver Magdi is trying everything he can to help, but after walking into the certificate office, we all realise that this route is a dead end. We need a sponsor and address in Saudi before this hurdle can be leaped over, and we might now have to do a detour to reach the Tropic of Cancer. With our heads pounding, we decide that we should head back to the hotel and try a few more tour companies, before rewarding ourselves with a break for xmas. Jon made one more call to Aly, and he said he will see what he can do on Saturday.
While trying to book a driver to see the pyramids in reception, we bump into a stunning Columbian girl called Cata, who decides that we should join her on the belly dancing cruise tour she booked with Magdi earlier. With a few hours to kill before we leave, Jon skypes Holly, while Cata and I go and grab some food out in the Cairo urban jungle. This is one hyperactive, fiery South American who doesn’t stop talking but I like that, and even with a bit of a language barrier, my embassy headache soon washes away.
Magdi didn’t know what had hit him when we jumped into his car heading for the cruise. Cata cranked up the radio to “Loveshack”, and we raced off into the Cairo metropolis (well down potholed, slum streets!). The belly dancer was ok, and a couple of Egyptian morris dancers completed the act, but it was all a bit budget. This was until she dragged Cata up, who then blew everyone away with her dancing and became the star of the evening. I like this girl! Back at the hotel I leave Jon talking to Holly, and head off to do my bit for British Columbian foreign relations – Christmas certainly came early for me!