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.
Cairo, the city seemingly made of sand.