The world’s largest architectural museum is under construction in Cairo. The superstructure looks big enough to house the pyramids themselves. It is 6 years behind schedule. In the meantime, the day we visited the Tutankhamen exhibition at the current Egyptian Museum painters were teetering on an iffy scaffold within toppling distance of the Boy Pharoah’s glass encased iconic gold mask – an unbelievable affront to an artifact which has travelled the world and been admired by millions. We left dirty, fascinating, wonderful and chaotic Cairo 2 days ago. We were invited to the homes of our taxi drivers for tea and helped across 8 lanes of traffic by a good samaritan who served as a human shield for us. The government is supplying our tour with a police escort all the way to the Sudanese border to guard against the bad press that would result from any incident. The whole country seems to be on board in an effort to win back the tourist dollars lost to the Arab Spring.
30 cyclists from all over the world in our group were treated to special access cycling through the Pyramid complex early on the morning of our departure. What a thrill to be there in the absence of the hoards. Yours truly were interviewed for Egyptian television so watch for that!
Over the next 4 months we will cycle along the Nile past ancient temples, through the Sahara in Sudan, up and down the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia, over the equator in Kenya, past Mount Kilimangero in Tanzania, on to one of Africa’s Great Lakes in Malawi and “Mosi-ao-Tunya” (The Smoke That Thunders) which is the native description of Victoria Falls, along the edges of the Kalahari and Namib deserts before finishing our journey in Cape Town, South Africa.
The tour is divided into sections which begin and end where there are airports. TDA Cycling has labelled the 2365 km 1st leg of our journey Pharoah’s Delight.
On our last day in the city we braced ourselves against a sandstorm in Tahrir Square that made it easy to understand how so many monuments and artifacts have been lost to the expanding desert. Fortunately the weather has been favorable since then – single digits early morning rising to mid teens by afternoon. It has been a “soft start” compared with what lies ahead: good tarmac, shoulders, helping winds and some of the only hotels we’ll enjoy. Our room last night came equipped with a prayer mat. We knew exactly what to do with it because the Red Sea is the divide between Africa and Asia and on the opposite bank to the south lies Mecca – the target when rolling it out. The 5 times daily calls to prayer let us know when to act. We’ll need to work on other local customs – Lenore has been in the lead (ahead of Gerald) on her bicycle more often than not and that is most certainly not in compliance with how things are (still) done here.
We headed out of Cairo to the Red Sea and are now following the coastal highway to Safaga. The right turn at the sea was indicative one of the things we love about cycling: the gradual unveiling of geography at a speed and with exposure to terrain and the elements that allow it to be appreciated. The Red Sea rift which underlies this inlet of the Indian Ocean is part of the Great Rift Valley, a continuous geographic trench that runs from Lebanon to Mozambique. It will account for some spectacular scenery as this journey unfolds southward.
We will be climbing inland next to meet the Nile River at Qena and travel on to Luxor where we will have our 1st day of rest to take in the sites. We will report from the Valley of the Kings.