Steve Fabes shares his thoughts on what was– until very recently–one of the most popular destinations on the African continent.
Egypt wears an aura of the exotic and whilst it may not be the easiest country to ride through, it’s a rewarding one nonetheless – mysterious, convivial, often chaotic but always exciting.
The best leg fuel going? I think so. It’s a mixture of pasta, rice, tomato sauce, dried onions, garlic sauce, chick peas and chilli sauce. Tasty, loads of carbs, dirt cheap and available in every Egyptian town and on virtually every street corner.
4. Those Egyptians
Egyptians, by and large, are a vociferous, gregarious and excitable bunch with an awesome sense of fun. Some cyclists might find the attention overwhelming but one thing is for sure… you will never get bored when riding through the densely populated lands beside the mighty Nile.
I had a few mechanical problems whilst cycling in Egypt but the young mechanics here can fix anything. In a matter of minutes they had solved the problem, adjusted everything to perfection and refused payment. It took me longer to persuade them to at least take some money than it did for them to fix my bike.
Be warned that drivers in Egypt do sometimes have a stripped down, minimalist approach to motoring where lanes, indicators, brakes and mirrors are not always used as they were intended, if at all, but I have to admit that sometimes it just feels good to embrace the chaos, forget the rules and above all, commit to every move and turn.
3. The Mighty Nile
Criss cross the river, stop and pootle around a temple, marvel at arguably the richest and most interesting selection of historical treasures of any nation on earth and then cycle off through towns and villages punctuated with greenery and pastures. The roads become avenues lined with palm trees, prickly pear and sugar cane. Grey herons fly high over your head and excitable ten year olds whoosh past your shoulders on motorbikes shouting “weeeeeeeeeelcoooooommmmeee!”. When the sun sets the palm trees become stark, jagged silhouettes against the sanguine sky and the rich evening soundscape adds to the mystique.
At the time of writing, the police are still sticking with a policy of trailing cyclists in their police cars for some parts of the route, a strategy borne out of security concerns following previous terror threats to tourists. But there are benefits – you arrive into towns looking quite presidential with the police escort in tow and why not offload some of your gear into the tailing squad car for a lighter ride?
2. Sinai and the Red Sea Coast
Sinai has some great cycling through dramatic scenery with little in the way of traffic and there’s enough here to keep you interested on days off the bike. The Red Sea coast has some of the best chill out spots anywhere; amongst the finest is Dahab on the southeast coast of the Sinai Peninsula which also has magnificent reefs and some of the best scuba diving in the world. Cutting inland there’s always to option of climbing Mount Sinai and the Bedouin hospitality here is legendary.
1. The Western Desert
When crossing Egypt on a bicycle you do have options – if the barmy din and clutter of the Nile doesn’t take your fancy then you can take off into the Western desert.
The evening is when the desert really shines as the bleached blandness of the day diminishes with the light. Shadows rise, colours sharpen, contours look to twist and morph. With few settlements, no light pollution and dependably clear skies, the cosmos fluoresces in all its glory.
You can also ogle at the strange chalk formations in the White Desert and with the serene solitude comes a filament of vulnerability, something personally I’ve always been drawn to, and the essence of a good cycling adventure.