I’m in the desert, at about 40 km away from Zahraa el Maadi, when I stop to picnic on the side of a round-about. I sit on the railing and watch trucks and cars pass by as they wave their hands and sometimes greet a «Welcome to Egypt!». I wave back and shout thank-yous in response. Some of them stop to ask if I need water. I think of all the weight I already have on my bicycle. I left this morning with 6,5 litres of water and still have more than 5 left, for two days of cycling through the desert. I believe I have enough, so I decline the offers.
Except for some minor detours, the road I’m on, runs parallel to the highway, separated by only a few hundred meters. The traffic is rather busy and mainly consist of trucks. I often have to cycle on the side of the road to avoid conflict, especially when being taken over while another vehicle approaches from the opposite direction. When cycling on the side, I have to be particularly cautious to avoid stones, sand, road waste and the likes, scattered on my way.
There are only two roads going to Aïn Sokhna from Cairo. The road I’m on, and the highway. Set in the middle of the desert, the round-about I’m at is connecting the shoulders of the highway to the road and industrial facilities. I was told by fellow Egyptian cyclists that the best and safest route to take to reach Aïn Sokhna, as a cyclist, is the highway. Yet, I decided to take the road as, for the European cyclist I am, highways are a no-go zone. Not just because cyclists are not allowed to cycle on highways, but because highways are synonymous of high speed traffic, and, the higher the speed of vehicles, the higher the vulnerability of the cyclist.
I check the map before getting on my bike and notice that there is another shoulder just further on the highway and one about 10 km away. Knowing that, I decide to test my friend’s advice after all, and this is what I find :
What a delight! If only all highways were like that…
I now need, before the sun starts to set, to look for a hidden spot to set my camp on. My main selection criterion is that it has to be far away enough from the highway to avoid the noise and the headlights of the traffic, yet close enough to be able to push and pull Rafiki and Pumba through the sand.
In the morning, after about an hour of cycling, I stop on the side of the highway for a snack, drink some water and place a call. Suddenly, coming out of nowhere, at least that’s how it appeared to me, two cyclists exclaim: «Finally, we caught up with you!». Jamie and Nia, a couple from the UK and Bulgaria, noticed me earlier this morning. Not sure if I was a cyclist or a slow moped, they decided to make me their bate to find out. They would get closer to me when I would cycle uphill, then get behind when I would go downhill, as Pumba would provide me with an advantage.
Obviously, we are cycling in the same direction, so we decide to do so together. We are looking forward to reaching the Red Sea and are starving when we arrive in Aïn Sokhna. We stop at the first road side restaurant from which we can see the sea, but unfortunately, not the beach, hidden behind buildings.
After our lunch, we continue towards Porto Sokhna, about 35 km further along the coast, which we reach at the end of the day. Being a resort area, finding a budget friendly accommodation here seems very unlikely. Jamie, Nia and I decide to maximise our chances by separating. Jamie and Nia cycle further south in search for a camping spot, while I am to check hotel prices.
As I feared it, the cost for one night clearly exceeds my overall daily budget. I text Jamie and Nia about the prices before leaving to check another hotel. When coming out of the building, a group of French guys look intrigued to Rafiki and Pumba. We engage, and they ask if I’m staying at the hotel. I explain to them the situation and Michel, one of the four guys, says he will try to get a discount for us, as they have been staying at the hotel for several months already, while working on the construction of a ropeway connecting a resort, in the mountains, to the sea. As a result, the price of the rooms drop by 30%, which remains too high for me but might be ok for Jamie and Nia. I thank them for their help and tell them that I will check other hotels. Michel then decides to pay for my room, full board, if you please, telling me I won’t find a better deal elsewhere. Once again, I am surprised by the natural generosity of people.
Unable to find a camping spot, Jamie and Nia decided to come back to the hotel I was staying at, and managed to bargain a 50% discount for a double room. Exhausted by their day, they took a shower, went straight to bed, and left early the next morning, while I was enjoying breakfast with the French team… Unfortunately, as of today, I didn’t meet with Jamie and Nia anymore, but we keep contact on a regular basis.