Monday, 8 March 2010

First of all, a few apologies. We are getting very intermittent interweb access and v little writing time. For now, we’ve skipped Thursday but here’s a couple more days....

Friday 5th March
Today can only be summarised with two words. Generosity and Openness – you’ll see what I mean....
Our day starts are slowly getting quicker and more timely. We were away as dawn broke and headed straight out into the desert. Our guide reliably informed us that
Just to put the speed at which we crossed Libya into context, our travel advisor who biked this route last year took 5 days to cross Libya. We did it in just under 2. And that in a country which by reputation would lock you and throw away the key as soon as look at you for breaking any rules or law. However, everything we have seen is the opposite to the stereotype. Here’s a great example: we tipped up at a gas station for a bit of go juice and the filler guy topped up both the bikes. I saw just over 5 Dinar on the pump and offered him the note. He started getting a bit agitated and guide was over to us like a track dog to sort it out. The Arabic was flowing fast and furious with hands getting raised along with the voices. This would have been funny (actually it was quite funny) apart from the fact that the gas attendant was six feet tall and built like wrestler whilst our guide was 5 foot 5 tops. Someone must have obviously suggested seeing the boss because a sleepy faced bloke appeared out of one of the rooms with manky looking mattresses on the floor to mediate. In the end he just waved us off but a few hundred yards down the road was a police check point. Always with these check points, it’s the plain clothed guy with obligatory Rayban Aviators who is the Boss. He jumps in the motor with the guide after a quick tete a tete and zooms back to the gas station leaving us with the geeky looking uniform at the side of the road. Uniform starts trying to explain by means of his wrists crossed each other that Boss was off to arrest the gas attendant! He got off with a warning but the moral of the story was the embarrassment on our guide’s face about what had transpired. He was genuinely mortified that guests to his country would be treated this way.

The majority of the morning’s ride was taken up with a 373 km ride along a dead straight road which cuts across the north east corner of Libya, saving us a few kms of coastal road. This straight highway takes you through the desert towards Tobruck (means top rock) and was apparently built original by Rommel’s German forces in the second world war to allow him access to the coast. We saw what we thought was the original track running alongside our tarmac but it’s my historical notions and images were shattered when i found out it was only where the government had laid a huge water pipe!

It was with some sadness that we said goodbye to Salem at the border with Egypt and we were on our again. His parting gift was to walk us through the exit procedures - the usual range of bored looking officials in the most minging, dimly lit and foul smelling rooms. We were meant to receive 115 Dinar back for each of the returned number plates but 14 Dinar found its way into the pockets of the police. More embarrassed looks from our guide.

It was then onto the Egyptian border where we were assigned a Tourist Policeman who walked us through the whole process – about 3 hours. He didn’t speak English but there were plenty there who did. It was at the border itself that we had our first of the incredible Egyptian hospitality that was to come. Getting a little peckish, we were guided to a squre serving hatch in one of the building walls where snack bars and drinks were being served. Danny was sniffing as he thought he could smell his favourite snack, soup. Once they realised we were after real food, the family running the snack shack shared their own food with us and refused any form of payment. I have read other overland adventure books where they talk about the biggest generosity seems to come from those who have the least and we were really starting to see it. It continued when we were invited to drink with one of the gas station attendants and his pal. Danny even managed to blag a cup of tea from one of the traffic police who stopped us at a road block.

We were determined to spend at least one night under canvass so we pushed on from the border into the night, finally stopping about 30km east of Marsa Matrough in Egypt. The tents were duly set up in the headlights of the bikes, about 30 yards from the edge of the road. We saw a torch wobbling towards us. My immediate reaction was to think we’d be thrown off the little makeshift campsite but that just about as far away from the truth as you could. With no English whatsoever, we were invited back to the Bedouin’s house for sleep and food as he thought we’d be too cold in the tents. Caught between not wanting to offend him and our desire to camp we stood and negotiated for 30 minutes with him. His mate arrived and joined in the silent hand gesture conversation. Finally, an older guy arrived (these people were all arriving in trucks and pickups straight off the dual carriageway) who we discovered was the Boss and owned all the land around us. Now, if we had been almost anywhere in the UK and you pitched up on the edge of a farmer’s land, you’d be greeted with a shotgun and hoofed of a toute vitesse. We spent 2 ½ hours in the company of these generous people without exchanging any more than word of English.

Saturday 6th March

Before I get into any of the continuingly amazing events that this day has seen fit to bestow on us, i have a theory to share on the rules of Cairo traffic. There are only three rules. Rule 1. For any given width of road, there are a number of lanes provided for traffic between the dashed white lines. In addition, the white lines can be used as additional lanes for any vehicle which cannot make its way between them, even though they are only 3 inches wide. Rule 2. Indicators are for decoration only. Rule 3. Pavements are waste of money and expense, therefore are not built and pedestrians may cross any number of lanes at will, with particular use being made of multi-lane junctions by large slow moving groups of veiled women carrying small children and babies. Simples.

Our morning consisted of a reasonable 300 mile drive to Cairo and a surprisingly easy route straight into the Giza Pyramids. We could write a whole chapter on them alone but one story is worth mention. We were determined not to get hussled by the camel guys and were brushing them off politely. One did stop and offer to take a picture of Danny with the camel, which became sitting on the camel, which became the camel standing up and eventually we were were both up there with the camel guy filming our blog!` all the time he was saying ‘no money, no money, you happy, me happy’. He wasn;t too happy when we firts refused to pay him though. Still, he was could sell ice to Eskimos and he did get a few EP from us.

Our hotel sent a taxi for us to follow to their location. Driving through Cairo was subject to the rules above and the drivers themselves can only be described as Stig on speed but without the skill or judgement necessary to make safe manoeuvres.

We have been fortunate enough to be sponsored by a great hotel. Arriving at the InterContinental Citystars hotel was like being the Ambassador only without the Ferero Roche. We were led in by the Limo which had collected us from the Pyramids and had to wait for security to check us in, lowering the ambassadorial residence like barrier pillars into the ground before the sniffer dog checked out the Trannies for drugs or explosive materials – not sure which. The Harley Davidson Club of Egypt were invited to the IC and a barbecue in our honour. We were genuinely treated like celebs and it made an unbelievable contrast to the previous night in the desert.

Sunday 7th March

I think I’ve become deeply and emotionally scarred by Egyptian driving – i keep feeling the need to talk about it and express my theories. As it happens, this particular theory has proven to be exactly right. Because of the sponsor filming that we needed to do this morning and the heavy traffic getting out of Cairo, we ended up riding for a couple of hours across the final eastern Crossing the Sinai desert today and it struck me that all the drivers we came across were putting their lights on full as they approached us – of course this might allow them to see us because it left us totally blind driving across a foreign desert with the very real possibility of camels next to the road. This was confirmed later as we found out that Egyptian drivers prefer to drive with their lights off for the most part to conserve their batteries. They only put the lights up when they see others approaching.

More to follow...

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