Egypt #5 – Highway to the Red Sea

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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 : Continue reading “Egypt #5 – Highway to the Red Sea”

Egypt #4 – Oasis International School

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The bell rings and the children run from the playground to the front of the school building. Classes are organised in ordinate two by two lines, forming, together, a nice compact square. Facing the children are the director of the school and his staff. The Egyptian national anthem resonates while the flag is being pulled up. After the anthem, the director introduces me to the children. He announces that Continue reading “Egypt #4 – Oasis International School”

Interview #1 – Dr Ahmed Samy – Ophthalmologist

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The first interview I conduct in Egypt is with Dr Ahmed Samy, an ophthalmologist specialised in laser surgery at the « Eye Care Center » in Maadi, Cairo.

As an eye doctor, Dr Ahmed Samy provides general facts and figures about the situation of diabetes in Egypt, as well as an insight on one of the most common complications caused by diabetes: the diabetic retinopathy.

Facts & Figures

The main characteristics of diabetes in Egypt are the following: Continue reading “Interview #1 – Dr Ahmed Samy – Ophthalmologist”

Egypt #3 – Cairo Business

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I have my hands full in Cairo, between meeting contacts and organising the logistics of the journey ahead.

I start by announcing myself at the Belgian embassy, not only to provide the itinerary I am planning to follow across Egypt and Sudan, but, also to receive the medical supplies that have been sent from Brussels through the diplomatic mail as explained in the “Logistics #2 – Getting Supplies while on the Road” article. Those supplies are supposed to cover my needs over a distance of 4000 km, across Egypt, Sudan and the first half of Ethiopia where I will find the next embassy of Belgium in Addis Ababa.

With ambassador Sibille de Cartier in Cairo

The first step is to send part of my supply to Aswan, 1000 km further south, to make sure I will have Continue reading “Egypt #3 – Cairo Business”

Egypt #2 – Simon & Tanya

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After a few days spent in a hotel in downtown Cairo, I am invited by Christian and Aurore Pyre, two teachers, to stay in their house. I was put in contact with them through a former colleague of theirs. Besides meeting them, it gives me the opportunity to present Bike with Diabetes in front of a group of children… I’m not sure how that will turn out.

While leaving the hotel with my helmet on my head and struggling with all my gear to move to the Pyre family, a young woman comes up to me in a rush, asking me if I need help and if I’m a cyclist.

I had noticed her, her boyfriend and her mother a couple of days earlier in the lobby of the hotel. My first thought was that they seemed nice. Yet, I didn’t approach them as,… Well, wouldn’t it be awkward if I were to approach everyone who seems nice?

Startled by her question and thinking she was referring to the crazy traffic in Cairo, I answer I am indeed a cyclist, but not so much in Cairo. « Simon! » she calls, « he’s a cyclist too! ». I soon realise Continue reading “Egypt #2 – Simon & Tanya”

Logistics #2 – Getting supplies while on the road

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Type 1 diabetes isn’t the kind of illness I can take a holiday from as it requires multiple injections of insulin every day. This means that I can’t skip my treatment for a few days in case I would fall short on supplies. Yet, counting on local pharmacies to refurnish my stock isn’t an option, since distribution of pharmaceutical products is problematic in most countries I am to cycle through. I hence need, as I explained it in my previous post about the temperature problematic, to organise my own supply chain along my route.

The Pharma Companies

To do so, my first step was to contact the pharmaceutical companies producing the insulin and the medical supplies to ask them if they would agree to support my project, by ensuring access to medical supplies in the different countries I would be cycling through. Bike with Diabetes did raise an interest among some of my interlocutors, and several Continue reading “Logistics #2 – Getting supplies while on the road”

Egypt #1 – First days in Egypt

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The traffic in Egypt is crazy. It seems only one rule applies: squeeze into a free space, even if that will block everyone, yourself included.

Cars, minibuses and trucks are old and their exhaust gases envelop the city in a grey smog cloud. Drivers use their horn, not to prevent an accident, but compulsively, probably to check that they are still alive, like one would pinch themselves. Pedestrians nearly all walk on the road, along the sidewalk instead of the sidewalk. It is understandable, given the amount of obstacles one encounters there: shop displays, potholes, parked cars, trees planted in the middle of the pavement, construction wastes, garbage. At every crossroad, the sidewalk itself becomes the obstacle, being sometimes 30 cm high.
The pedestrians walking on the road, and the drivers adapting to that situation, show that the space allocated to cars is disproportionate. I wonder about the number of car accidents that occur per day in Egypt. I am told by a doctor that they happen often but that these are seldom fatal, given the slowness of the circulation. Fair enough, but still…

The Nile Delta is one of the most densely populated places in the world. Its average population density is 2,300 inhabitants per square kilometer over a 24,000 km2 area. That figure explains the crazy traffic. I hence decide to take a train to reach Cairo, situated about 200 kilometers south of Alexandria, as I don’t see myself breathing all those exhaust gasses, and risk an accident while cycling. On my way to the train station, a taxi driver bumps into my trailer in the middle of Continue reading “Egypt #1 – First days in Egypt”