#2. The first four days...Cairo to Safaga. Savouring Egypt's present!

Beyond the Saddle ....Cairo to Cape Town
Howard Fairbank
Wed 17 Jan 2007 16:44
   Issue #2

The first four days...
Cairo to Safaga


Savouring Egypt's present!



             The South African contingent of Sean, Darryl, Alice, Dave, Patrick and myself. 
                                Minutes before leaving our hotel in Giza for the start.

The Start, Saturday the 13th, seems a long time ago now...but from the time the sun rose behind the pyramids till the time we started our escorted ride from the hotel to the base of the pyramids, for the start, and then the chaotic ride out of Cairo, emotions were running high to say the least!

For those who have been to Cairo, you will know the place is a mess, and the traffic absolutely chaotic, not least because of the diverse users of the congested roads. These users range from normal (but mostly dilapidated) cars, old trucks laden way above their safe load, old world mopeds, basic one speed bicycles, donkey drawn carts, stray dogs, and lots of garbage! The drivers, ignoring the demarcated lanes, fighting for gaps, and then blasting their horns in a vain attempt to intimidate their 'competitor', play a strange game of 'road chicken'. This just being an extension of the game of negotiating trading and pushing the limits of the buyer's patience!

Well the Tour d'Afrique was to start with an escorted convoy from our hotel in Giza, to the start at the Pyramids, some 7 km away... a recipe for amusement, or maybe disaster... how do even the police get all these road users orderly and get 31 cyclists in a pack moving freely along the roads? It took more than an hour for the road to clear, but the volume of the horn blowing increased as the frustration of the drivers increased. And then... 5 minutes after getting moving, one of our cyclists got a puncture... and the whole pack of 31 came to a standstill again, while the puncture was repaired. Glad it wasn't me!

Eventually at the Pyramids, in a highly emotive atmosphere, the Tour was officially started by the Minister of Tourism. We were on our way...11 884 km to go. I felt numbness in my butt just thinking about the days and km ahead...but then thought just get today's 110 km finished, and tomorrow will be another day!

Due to the traffic on the highways, we had to continue with the escorted convoy for the next 20km until we reached the outskirts of Cairo. This was very social, and virtually all the cars on the road were blowing their horns in astonishment at so many cyclists - maybe the craziness too!

After crossing the Nile we were soon heading direct east towards the Red Sea, with terrain becoming more and more desert - this being the Eastern desert bordering on the Red Sea, and split by the Nile and mountains from the Western desert.

An embarrassing thing happened to me while still in the pack..:  I nearly lost one of my pedals... never happened before... but because it was so cold (yes really cold in the desert in the mornings) that I started spinning the pedals in reverse on the long but gentle downhills, to try and warm up, and lo and behold the left pedal unscrewed itself... a quick stop and a real problem was averted!

The end of the 110km saw us at our campsite - a patch of desert that was ideally chosen by the Egyptian police as being totally wind exposed, having a rock hard surface, and set right next to the main road!!  All makes for a good night's sleep! Better take it in my stride, and get a system going for setting up tent, preparing for dinner, 5.30am early rise, pack up, breakfast, and try and head off by 7am latest.



                                    The solitude of the desert at the first night stop....
                    My transport and my home for the next 100 days, and 11 884 km's!

Well after 4 days and some 520 km, the systems are setup and working well and I am the first to leave camp each day... I like the solitude of the early morning on the road by myself and have decided to do as much as I can on my own... quite a difficult decision when one thinks that drafting in a pack can save up to 30% energy for each rider!  Shows how much I value the aloneness! I have had periods when I cycle with a few others... and when the time is right I will do it again. I have heard of some difficulty on lonely patches ahead in Sudan and Ethiopia, so we will see! Tom from Vancouver and I get on well, and cycle at quite a similar pace so I think I have my partner! The other thing is... with the wonderful downwind cycling along the Gulf of Suez, I have been cycling a lot of the time ´no hands´ upright like a yacht with a spinnaker, while at the same time having a wonderful elevated viewing position. Many of the other riders get nervous if I do this in the bunch situation, so my freedom wins again!

I am writing from Safaga a nice little Egyptian town on the Red Sea, with many of its activities centred around boating and diving on the Red Sea. I have to say that the past two days cycling have been the longest and most exhilarating downwind cycling I have ever done in my life. At times the scenery has been very desolate, and the roads very straight and very long, but when you look down at the speedo and its showing 50 km per hour, my legs are spinning at huge cadence, and there is little wind in my face, the boy is happy!!  Almost every passing vehicle gives a hoot as it comes up to pass, almost as naïve encouragement, but always very friendly and polite.



Tom and I outside a 5 Star Restaurant (!!!) we stopped at along the road in the Eastern Desert.

Never having done a trans continent trip like this, it's been very exciting to take the macro view with the map of Africa in front of me and to see 'feel' cycling down the Gulf of Suez and see the progress I make on the map... it's a very special thing. Tomorrow we head west and inland across the mountains and the desert on our two day path back to the Nile. The Nile will then become our route marker for the next few weeks. It's all very exciting , other than... oohh, the huge 40 km climb in all probability against the wind, out of here tomorrow. This takes us over the mountain to the plateau roughly the same elevation as Luxor and then down to the Valley of the Kings, which is Thursday's destination.

Every newsletter I'll try and bring in something about the group of people I'm doing this with.

Today I'd like to tell you about a very special person... his name is Douglas Sidialo, and he is in his late forties, from Nairobi, and is cycling at the rear of the only tandem in the tour. At the pre-race introductions meeting in Cairo he told us his story...

He was totally blinded by flying shrapnel as result of the 1998 Al Qaeda bomb attack in Nairobi. Since picking up the pieces of his life, he has become the first blind person to climb Kilimanjaro, and now heads up the UN Safe Cities initiative, while also actively working for a whole host of other non-profit organisations. There was a long silence in the room when Douglas told us, and I remember how humble I felt as I envisaged what struggles he has been through, how difficult his Tour d'Afrique will be. Having spent some quality time talking with Douglas over the four days of the tour, I have even more respect for him and his attitude to life. I have also come to realise that his Tandem partner Josh, also from Kenya is also quite an amazing man...gladly taking up the role as ´Douglas' eyes´ for the duration of the trip... a truly unselfish act of the highest order. (You can obtain more information about them on the Tour d'Afrique official website.)

A visit to the official website, may bring up the question of why I don't appear in the race results?  I have touched on this before, but just to clarify:

I have not signed up as a racer, as I want to do sight-seeing along the way, experience meeting the people, and this causes conflict. However I have to admit that when I am cycling I am pushing it to my limits, and often this pace is right up there with the racers - so don't think you are supporting a wimp..!  The difference comes when I do my sight seeing detours, stop for photos, or have lunch or Egyptian tea or coffee with the locals. For example today I took a 12 km detour into Hurghada, and spent two hours in the markets, exploring and drinking the thick and sweet mud coffees with the locals. The waiter even ended up taking my bike for a ride... nearly writing it and himself off as he pulled the front brake instead of the back to stop! I have been really pleased with this strategy, as at the end of the day I feel I am having a true travel adventure.

As far as my bike goes... I had a scare the first two days, with a broken spoke each day. Fortunately we have the luxury of a top bike mechanic in the form of a wonderful guy called Dean, who has helped me try and solve the problem. We are hoping that it was tyre pressure related, as I am riding this section on narrow road slicks, which need higher pressure, but we may have over done it the first two days. The other theory is that my Patagonia trip last year has taken the spokes to the end of their life and if so then I will continue having failures... holding thumbs!

Egypt definitely is an enigma for me. I am sure those of you who have visited the country had similar feelings... I ask:  What value has modern man added to the country and its valuable historical assets? I struggle to see the positive contribution. When one walks around the Pyramids Sphinx area there is just evidence of value destruction or at best lost opportunity to capture and enhance the value.... Also the constant bartering and unsolicited offers to help eventually wear on me... and obviously turns many away.

The extent of property development around Hurghada is quite phenomenal. AIthough the Costa del Sol was in boom times with all the new housing developments going up, Hurghada and the surrounding Red Sea towns are way ahead... It appears to me to be a huge bubble waiting to burst, but then I'm told the Russians are piling into the market in a huge way.

So in ending off...its early days, we have been blessed with the ultimate cycling conditions, they are about to rudely change, but my mind is strong, my butt not as sore as I expected it to be, and I'm really looking forward to getting to the Nile and meeting some of the 97.5% of Egyptians who live on its banks, and then onto Sudan. I am also looking forward to the weather warming as we head south... the nights and mornings are really cold here, and when the wind gets up I feel like I'm back in Switzerland!

Till my next newsletter take care.

PS:   Remember you can see my progress on Google earth through the link to the left.



                      The only corner on the Red Sea route!  Typical 'Right Side' scenery

The Progress So Far

  • Current Section:
    Cairo to Khartoum

  • Distance cycled since last newsletter:
    520 Km

  • Hrs cycled since last newsletter:

  • Kms to go to Cape Town:

Busy with....Section One: 
Cairo to Khartoum


The journey starts at the magnificent Pyramids on the outskirts of one of the worlds most visited and ancient cities, Cairo. It is the perfect beginning for the longest, hardest cycling tour which then heads along the shores of the Red Sea, across the rugged mountains of central Egypt, through the Valley of the Kings, and Karnak in Luxor, following the magnificent coast of the Nile until arriving at Aswan at the head of Lake Nasser.


From Aswan it's bicycles on a boat for the journey down Lake Nasser into Sudan, one of the most remote and least visited countries in the world, and a country torn by civil conflict. Cycling once again with the Nile River as companion, the route passes through villages that have not changed in hundreds of years and whose inhabitants could not exist without the river and its fertile valley. The section ends in the legendary and historic city of Khartoum, capital of Sudan, and a city that sits proudly at the confluence of both the Blue and White Nile rivers.


Section dates:  
13 January to 3 February

Coming up....Next Section:
Khartoum to Addis Abba


From the city of Khartoum to the border of Ethiopia, the route passes through the “bread basket” of the Sudan. The countryside gradually changes towards Ethiopia and there is much evidence of the transformation from the Arabic Muslim world of northern Africa to the more tribal and traditional nature of the Horn of Africa.


Once in Ethiopia, the ride of a life begins. Ethiopia contains some of the most spectacular landscapes in the world. This section will challenge the body more than any other section due to the high altitude riding. However, beyond the mountains there are also many interesting stops throughout Ethiopia such as Lake Tana with visits to the ancient monasteries and the Blue Nile Falls.


From a cycling standpoint, the highlight of this section will be the Blue Nile Gorge, an 1800-meter precipitous descent and ascent over a crumbling road that will test the mettle of cyclists of any calibre. Once the Blue Nile Gorge has been conquered, the beautiful rolling hills of central Ethiopia will ‘whiz by’ as the route moves to a newly paved road into the capital city of Addis Ababa. The descent from the surrounding hills of Addis into the downtown core will be an experience not to be forgotten.

The Complete Route


  • Total Distance Cairo to Cape Town: 11884 Km

  • Countries through which the route passes:
    Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa

  • Sections:  
    1. Cairo to Khartoum  
    Khartoum to Addis
        Ababa (Sudan/Ethiopia)
    Addis Ababa to Nairobi
    Nairobi to Iringa
    Iringa to Lilongwe
    Lilongwe to Victoria
        Falls. (Malawi/Zambia)
    Victoria Falls to
        Windhoek (Zambia/
    8. Windhoek to Cape Town  
        (Namibia/South Africa)

  • Expected arrival in Cape Town:  
    12 May 2007

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