It is around 2:30 pm when I get stopped at the Zaafarana checkpoint. The officer in charge asks for my passport and my whereabouts. He writes the information down in a logbook and asks to open my bags and trailer for inspection. Once the inspection is finished, I get on my bike again to continue my route, but immediately get stopped. I’m told to load my bike and my trailer in the back of a pick-up to be brought to Ras Gharib. I explain that I don’t want to get there by car but by bicycle. I am hence told to wait as « the general » needs to be called on the radio. After quite some time, at around 3:30pm, I am told that I will only be allowed to cycle on the next day as it is already too late in the afternoon. I am told to follow a police car which brings me to the nearby police station where I am to spend the night.
Though in the middle of nowhere, the Zaafarana police station seems to be of importance as it is located at the intersection of roads connecting Cairo, the Suez Canal and Hurghada. Heavily armoured army vehicles and troops arrive just before sundown, at around 5 pm, and park within the fortified enclosure of the police station. The atmosphere feels a bit dodgy. Everyone is walking around with their AK47. The officers that are supposed to be in charge don’t seem to be in charge at all. They hide away from their men in their office, most of them being in their early twenties.
One of the young men, a tall chubby guy, records my details in a logbook, along with other men going to, and coming back from their shift. He is loud and acts as a bully towards a younger one, also chubby, but shorter and apparently insecure. The tall one takes advantage of his higher rank or position to unnecessarily get physical with the short one, who seems annoyed but apparently paralysed by the established fact. This attitude, obviously unhealthy, doesn’t trigger any reaction from his colleagues.
I am invited by one of the men to store my luggage in the office I’ll be spending the night in. After the usual welcome formalities, he offers me tea, and, once alone with me, asks help to get a visa for Belgium. Of course, I can’t help him, so he starts to explain how disrespected he feels by the army and the Egyptian government which didn’t value the service he provided during the terrorist attack where he got shot several times. He lifts his shirt and shows me bullet wounds.
The situation is a bit awkward. I’m sitting in an office with a career military, driver of a heavily armed military vehicle, wearing an AK47 on his lap, who tells me he despises the attitude of the government and only wishes to get away from his military duties.
Once he understands I’m not the right person to talk to to obtain a visa, he asks me if I am married. Since I’m not, he offers to share his bunk bed. I pretend not to understand where he’s heading towards and tell him I will be fine in the office, as I have a sleeping mat and sleeping bag in my luggage.
Other vehicles arrive, bringing more men in the station. Even though I know they come from other checkpoints, I seize the opportunity to change the subject and ask him where all these men come from. As his tea is finished, he invites me to meet his colleagues. I receive another glass of tea, and further welcome formalities are expressed. I don’t have to wait long before I get asked again about my marital status, after which they all express, in a rather crude way, how they miss their wives. Once again, I’m invited to share a bunk bed. I start to understand why the officers are taking refuge in their office, away from the men. I do the same.
At 6 o’clock in the morning, the tall chubby guy enters the office I’m sleeping in and gestures me that I have to leave. I nod that I understand, yet, he stays in the office, staring at me with an AK47 hanging from his shoulder. I start packing my stuff, still in my sleeping bag. Once I have packed everything, except for my sleeping gear and the clothes I will be wearing, I get out of the sleeping bag with a pair of boxers on, and put my shorts on. He then leaves. I imagine he wanted to see if I was sleeping naked in my sleeping bag…
I can’t wait to leave this police station. The sooner, the better! I’m really looking forward to spending the day cycling alone in the desert…