Cycling with the Police in Egypt (2 of 2)
We still wanted to bike along that father of all rivers, the Nile. We longed to experience the ancient life of the fellaheen and watch them working as they had done for thousands of years. We wanted to stop in the villages, drink tea and play backgammon. How could we get to eat from stalls at the side of the road with the local people? We went to see the Tourist police again.
This time we were ushered into the large spacious office of Colonel Magmoud Hashish. He spoke excellent English so we explained what we wanted. He then told us what he could arrange for us. We would travel south 77 km out of Luxor in a police truck in convoy with other vehicles carrying tourists. At the first check point we would be able to unload the tandem and bike onto Aswan by ourselves.
At 6:30 the next morning we were at the convoy meeting point. Our tandem was loaded into a truck and we sat in the front with the policeman in charge. With all the big tourist buses we sped through small towns and villages, sirens blaring. All traffic was supposed to get off the road and, when one private car did not move aside, it was summarily driven onto the rocky road verge by our driver.
At the check point we discovered we were under the jurisdiction of the Aswan police who let us bike again and even carried our panniers for us so we could bike on a load-free tandem. It was great to be free but they still insisted on following us into Edfu where we had a pleasant afternoon exploring the Temple of Horus.
We stayed at the Hotel El Medina and had the best breakfast of our tour: a breakfast truly fit for the needs of a cyclist. If this was the breakfast that all Egyptians enjoyed no wonder they had built the pyramids that lasted 5000 years. On the huge serving tray were piles of flat bread, bowls of honey, fresh cheese and fuul, crispy piles of hot ta’amiya, huge oranges, small fat local bananas, slices of tomato and olives! It was high octane fuel for an excellent touring day.
We cycled one hundred and nine kilometers. Often we cycled right by the Nile where feluccas sail serenely by. Our eyes were rested by graceful palm trees and vivid green fields of alfalfa and young wheat. We saw men load trucks with freshly harvested sugar cane. Smelly modern pumps chugged away raising water from canals into the fields. Women picked bright red tomatoes and tended fields of large cabbages. Children waved enthusiastically, ran alongside us and cheered us on. Everyone we saw shouted, “Welcome” and we read the same message painted on numerous village buildings. We truly felt like goodwill ambassadors.
Occasionally we watched, without envy, as the first world steamed by in the huge floating hotels that carry tourists on the Nile between Luxor and Aswan. We stopped for tea at a road side cafï¿½ where we were graciously welcomed by an old Nubian man with a wonderful face. We ate lunch in a small town with the local people who welcomed us and made space for us at the narrow tables. We were reminded again why we love to tour in this way. We could soak ourselves in the scenery and watch the life around us at an unhurried pace.
At Aswan we enjoyed our introduction to Nubia and its culture. We explored the excellent new Nubian museum, listened to Nubian music and visited Elephantine Island on a felucca ferry. Then, we checked out our situation for the return trip to Luxor. When the police insisted we could not bike back unescorted, a helpful man at the tourist office unofficially suggested a way around this. We hired a taxi to follow us out of town to the first checkpoint. There we were stopped. We pointed to our taxi behind us and immediately both the tandem and the taxi were cheerfully waved on. A kilometer down the road we paid him off and had another great day and a half biking back to Luxor. At each check point we were waved on our way.
We now headed east again on one of Colonel Hashish’s convoys. They transported us and our bike to Port Safaga on the Red Sea and from there we biked north to Hurgada. The scenery was unremarkable, we had a strong head wind and there were no villages to stop for tea. It was good to get onto the ferry to Sharm el Sheik. There would be no more police escorts on the Sinai Peninsula.
The bike had definitely been a hindrance in the Nile Valley and we would have been better off without it. But we had experienced a little of life there and had come to appreciate just how concerned the Egyptian authorities were for our welfare.