Leave the bikes in storage for a few days. Cairo is a walking city. It is possible to cycle in the city, although best to avoid late afternoon and evening when Cairo reaches a climax. Mornings are cool and quiet, as Cairenes sleep late and start slow. Friday morning is especially quiet as the county is at prayer– also a good time to ride. After enough sugar cane juice, shisha, and tea, Cairo gains steam by mid-afternoon and charges through the evening. Fancy buying a watch or a car at 11PM? It’s available, alongside counterfeit Levis and Adidas, many of which remarkably bear three solid stripes, at one-third the expected price. Typical two stripe and four stripe models are also available. Sidewalks flow steadily through the last half of the day, except for blockages near ice cream stands, which are en vogue. Side streets reveal unremarkable shops selling mops and sponges and repair parts for Indian and Chinese made motorbikes. The cheapest food in the city is found on these back streets. Here the proprietor is also less likely to extort a few extra Egyptian pounds for the service, for lack of practice at such things.
In three consecutive days, today our fourth, we walk. On our first day we walk to the pyramids, twenty miles round trip, with lots of dust and traffic but just as much fresh cane juice to wash it away. Arriving just before the gates close, we spot the nearest two structures, embrace their presence, and turn around toward home. There is a golf course just beneath the pyramids. Some of the most aggressive touts in the city are found here, selling camel rides. No thanks, we walked here. Some have to be told twice.
We meet a helpful young man in an all white linen suit who claims to have business in Sharm el Sheik, a popular resort town at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. He indicates that it is safe to ride to Sharm; that he takes this trip by car weekly. This is the hopeful answer to a question which we have been otherwise unable to answer. Is it safe to cycle in Sinai? Will we be able to reach Taba, at the border of Isael? He thinks, and we hope.
On the second day, we walk to the Coptic city, a walled area which encompasses ancient Coptic churches, a synagogue, and cemeteries with names written in French, Greek, and Arabic. Copts are ancient Christian Egyptians– Oriental Orthodox– who predate the Muslim conquest of Egypt. They persist as the largest Christian community in the Middle East, and the largest religious minority in the Arab Republic of Egypt.
On the third day we walk to the old Islamic city, in the shadows of the Saladin Citadel. There are fruit vendors and tea cafes, and a vendor selling tongue, liver, and the skin of a cow’s head, skillfully removed from the animal. We arrive late in the afternoon, as the mosques and attractions are closing. No thanks, we don’t need a tour. In most of the city people look at us with some curiosity, yet mostly leave us alone. ‘Welcome to Egypt”, they say. Near popular touristic attractions, it is different. We’re happy to spend our time walking.
We meet a group of children riding bicycles in the gated lot in front of the Abdeen Palace. The streets are too busy for children to be riding bikes, although as if by magic there are men delivering loads of bread by bicycle, riding against, across, and with traffic. They balance long wooden racks of flatbread on their heads. The boys in the lot are riding the typical fat-tire BMX bikes, the two oldest boys on typical British city bikes. The boys heckle and holler in Arabic. So as not to encourage them, I offer only a faint smile. Three girls are riding bicycles. Lael and I approach. They accept our presence with shy smiles, questions and eventually, selfies. We accept the offer to ride their bikes, wishing we had our bikes to show them,and to explain that we wish to ride across Egypt. I try to explain, but without props it is hard to convince them of the inconceivable and impossible. We feign normal levels of excitement to make their acquaintance, but Lael and I look at each other, our eyes screaming “these girls are riding bikes in Egypt!”. For some context about women and cycling in Islamic countries, check out the inspiring trailer for the Afghan Cycles film, documenting the fledgling Women’s National Cycling Team in Afghanistan.
Check out Lael’s thoughts about Cairo in her post titled Running in Egypt.
On the fourth day, we walk to the Nile and nowhere in particular. We take a brief out-and-back trip on the metro. In each car, men offer their seat to Lael. We pack our things, downloads maps and tracks to the GPS for Sinai and Israel, including the Holyland MTB Challenge. We will leave in the morning, after a cup of cane juice.
All images from Fujifilm X100T, purchased in Johannesburg to replace another broken Olympus body.
Check out the Blue Bird Hotel for a cheap place to stay in the center of Cairo. In a city famous for disingenuous dealings, the young brothers that own this place are refreshing. We paid less than $18 a night with breakfast. Secure bike storage was made available. Cairo is our favorite city anywhere.
To the pyramids:
To the Coptic city:
To the Citadel:
The Nile and the Metro: