Walking to the pyramids; Cairo, Egypt

Nicholas Carman1 3494

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:

Nicholas Carman1 3347

Nicholas Carman1 3593

Nicholas Carman1 3348

Nicholas Carman1 3346

Nicholas Carman1 3351

Nicholas Carman1 3349

Nicholas Carman1 3523

Nicholas Carman1 3350

Nicholas Carman1 3356

Nicholas Carman1 3521

Nicholas Carman1 3522

Nicholas Carman1 3527

Nicholas Carman1 3525

Nicholas Carman1 3528

Nicholas Carman1 3531

Nicholas Carman1 3532

Nicholas Carman1 3533

Nicholas Carman1 3534

Nicholas Carman1 3535

Nicholas Carman1 3537

Nicholas Carman1 3536

Nicholas Carman1 3353

Nicholas Carman1 3352

Nicholas Carman1 3354

Nicholas Carman1 3355


To the Coptic city:

Nicholas Carman1 3539

Nicholas Carman1 3541

Nicholas Carman1 3515

Nicholas Carman1 3542

Nicholas Carman1 3543

Nicholas Carman1 3545

Nicholas Carman1 3546

Nicholas Carman1 3547

Nicholas Carman1 3548

Nicholas Carman1 3549

Nicholas Carman1 3550

Nicholas Carman1 3551

Nicholas Carman1 3552

Nicholas Carman1 3555

Nicholas Carman1 3558

Nicholas Carman1 3559

Nicholas Carman1 3561

Nicholas Carman1 3557

Nicholas Carman1 3564

Nicholas Carman1 3563

Nicholas Carman1 3565

Nicholas Carman1 3567

Nicholas Carman1 3568

Nicholas Carman1 3569

Nicholas Carman1 3570

Nicholas Carman1 3573

Nicholas Carman1 3572

 

To the Citadel:

Nicholas Carman1 3600

Nicholas Carman1 3486

Nicholas Carman1 3491

Nicholas Carman1 3492

Nicholas Carman1 3493

Nicholas Carman1 3490

Nicholas Carman1 3497

Nicholas Carman1 3498

Nicholas Carman1 3574

Nicholas Carman1 3575

Nicholas Carman1 3499

Nicholas Carman1 3576

Nicholas Carman1 3495

Nicholas Carman1 3500

Nicholas Carman1 3577

Nicholas Carman1 3501

Nicholas Carman1 3503

Nicholas Carman1 3506

Nicholas Carman1 3496

Nicholas Carman1 3507

Nicholas Carman1 3511

Nicholas Carman1 3485

Nicholas Carman1 3509

Nicholas Carman1 3508

Nicholas Carman1 3514

Nicholas Carman1 3510

 

The Nile and the Metro:

Nicholas Carman1 3516

Nicholas Carman1 3578

Nicholas Carman1 3579

Nicholas Carman1 3580

Nicholas Carman1 3524

Nicholas Carman1 3581

Nicholas Carman1 3582

Nicholas Carman1 3583

Nicholas Carman1 3584

Nicholas Carman1 3585

Nicholas Carman1 3586

Nicholas Carman1 3588

Nicholas Carman1 3589

Nicholas Carman1 3590

Nicholas Carman1 3591

Nicholas Carman1 3599

Nicholas Carman1 3592

JNB, DOH, CAI

Nicholas Carman1 3544

JNB, DOH, CAI.  Johannesburg, South Africa; Doha, Qatar; Cairo, Egypt.  

Run to the bicycle shop to pick up bike boxes, catch a ride home in the shop’s team van.  Pack bikes.  Ride to Sandton Gautrain station, sitting next to boxes in back of a Honda CR-V.  Gautrain to O.R. Tambo airport.  Check in with Qatar, luggage under 30kg no problem, bikes fly free.  Process VAT tax refund for camera and shoes, money which will arrive on a cash card in 6 weeks or months.  Running to catch plane to Doha, despite lots of extra time.  Movie selection is great, lamb and basmati rice with French red wine and chocolate torte, hand wipes, earplugs and eye mask if you wish.  No sleep, just movies.  Doha, again. Never thought I would return.  This time it is amusing and comfortable.  Almost miss the flight to Cairo, for real, Lael somewhere between the bookshop and the ladies room, head in the clouds.  Movies, snacks and birdseye views of Arabia all the way to Cairo– Persian Gulf resorts, Arabian Desert farming, Suez Canal, and Cairo, the city seemingly made of sand.  Deboard.  Buy tourist visa for $25, fastest customs processing ever.  Reassemble bikes in the shade, with watchful but polite eyes.  Ride away on wide boulevard, peaceful for the first kilometer, followed by 20 mad kilometers, increasingly frenetic.  Ride fast to keep up with the stream, no traffic lights.  Finally, elevated highway with no exits and entrances and traffic slowed to 35 mph, safer if not safe.  Drop back into the madness, slowly understanding how 16 million people can move through the same city without a single traffic light– civility.  One truck carries thousands of eggs, neatly stacked and unsecured.  Traffic is jammed near the center, bikes win.  Hotel which I’d arranged is lame: empty, and politely rude on the phone, no thanks to Lonely Planet’s top recommendation online.  “Welcome to Egypt.  You need hotel.  I give you good price.”  No thanks, but one such clever streetcorner entrepreneur suggests the Blue Bird Hotel, which is perfect.  The young brothers that own the place, one named Islam, ask what we’d like for our welcome drink.  “Coffee?”  Of course.  There is a familiar spice in the coffee, which at least the Egyptians are humble enough to call Turkish coffee, unlike the Greeks.   Leave the bikes in a storage closet and sleep in a dark room for a long time.  Tomorrow we walk twenty miles to the pyramids.

The Gautrain takes bikes which are packed in a box or a bag, although plastic bags and tape can conceal a mostly complete bicycle.  Qatar Airlines accepts bikes weighing less than 30kg free of charge, but overweight items are ridiculously expensive.  Riding anywhere in Cairo is possible with nerves of steel; best to come and go in the morning– the city sleeps late and is slow to start.

Nicholas Carman1 3339

Nicholas Carman1 3337

Nicholas Carman1 3477

Nicholas Carman1 3335

Nicholas Carman1 3332

Nicholas Carman1 3478

Nicholas Carman1 3334

Arabian farming.

Nicholas Carman1 3331

Suez Canal.

Nicholas Carman1 3345

Cairo, the city seemingly made of sand.

Nicholas Carman1 3479

Nicholas Carman1 3330

Nicholas Carman1 3329

Nicholas Carman1 3518

Nicholas Carman1 3324

Nicholas Carman1 3328

Nicholas Carman1 3520

Nicholas Carman1 3517