#3. Safaga (Red Sea) to Luxor...blessed again!

Beyond the Saddle ....Cairo to Cape Town
Howard Fairbank
Sat 20 Jan 2007 04:56

   Issue #3

Safaga (Red Sea)         
to Luxor...


blessed again!


             A must-have photo sorry...The famous ruins of Luxor Temple at Night   


19 January 2007, Luxor


It’s now 7 days into the tour, 6 days riding and a well deserved rest day in Luxor today!


The cycle out of Safaga over the mountains to our western desert stop, 140km, proved to be a touch easier than expected, as the previous years’ strong headwinds didn’t materialise. The mountain pass climb went gradually through some impressive wind-eroded mountain peaks, and then a gradual decline following our first railway line through the desert to our overnight stopover…an intermediate water pump station in the middle of nowhere, but vitally important for supplying water from the Nile to the Gulf of Suez coast. The good news was that for the first time on a camp stop we had running water for washing!


About half way up the pass, after seeing some stray camels,  I took an off-road detour into the mountains and came across a Bedouin family who had setup a primitive and remote house in the open. I approached cautiously and stopped 100m off…..after a long wait the kids approached me - and eventually the adults, all traditionally dressed with just their eyes showing. I exchanged an energy bar for a photo, and they surprisingly offered me water….no idea where they sourced theirs from. It was a meeting of few words, couched in mutual respect, which felt special.


A 2km off-road detour 
into the desert... 

A family living on their own 
in the sand dunes...

and they offered me water!






The last section of the ride saw the arrival of light headwinds and many riders were caught short on energy after the long day's ride and not eating enough. I seem to be managing well in this area…probably because I have my own energy bars, and also often stop at the only village along the way to sample local ‘delights’!


I have been struggling with flu like symptoms that have been deteriorating each day…..final bit the bullet and started my first course of antibiotics…..I am sure it won’t be the last!


The following day (Thursday) I woke up at 5.30am, as usual eager to set off by 6.45am, when I was prevented from leaving by the police!  Every day we have a police escort, up to 5 cars, who ensure we get through the numerous check (chick!) points along the way. Since the 1996 Luxor, German tourist shooting incident, tourist security has become a huge thing and these check points are one of the downsides. I heard that it took three years for tourists to return to Egypt, damaging the economy, and now the government treat it as a very precious industry. Anyway the police officer insisted on us only leaving at 8.00am and we must be ‘not angry’!


Egypt and its Control Points...
a real Police state.... 

This is what they call the 
check points!... 

Quite appropriate when 
one of the woman riders 
stopped to chat and was 
also seriously offered sex!



The 95km to Luxor consisted of two diverse sections…..the first 20km through now familiar desert terrain, and then as we came into the town of Qena, suddenly the impact of the Nile became obvious….date palm trees, lush green vegetable patches, sugar cane plantations, traffic and lots of people living in a huge variety of types of accommodation….from normal houses down to basic grass hut type places.


The road to Luxor 
along a Nile Aqueduct...

typical scenery along
the way.



After a left turn at Qena it was a very interesting ride along a major Nile aqueduct that runs parallel to the main river. All along the road were people of all ages shouting Hello and obvious words of encouragement like ‘muneey’ (money!). For those that have been here, I am sure it also struck you how the river has formed the society, and how dependent these people are on it. It is said that Egypt depends on the Nile in a way that no other nation does, and apparently as some of you may know the upstream countries are very earnestly looking at ways to get Egypt to pay them for the life giving water ‘they’ provide. Every several kilometers there was a bridge across the aqueduct forming a gateway to what looked like very primitive, but hustling and bustling villages. I tried many times to enter one of these villages, but was chased away by unassuming, traditionally dressed rifle carrying guards. Not sure why I wasn’t allowed in…..but there was no room for negotiation!


Eventually arrived at our campsite in Luxor, feeling good that this first section was successfully behind me with few aches and pains, and a rest day lay ahead. My excitement increased after a hot shower and I set off on my own to explore the town. (I was in Luxor in 1996, and didn’t have fond memories, but setout with a positive attitude. I was most impressed with the new market and central mosque area, which had been added next to the ruins of the old Luxor Temple. Finally saw the Nile proper in all its glory, perfect weather, light breeze, lots of felucca sails on the water, the impressive sandstone mountain ranges beyond the west bank. It really is a magical river, and over the next few months I have still got lots more of it to learn about. Here are some facts for those who are interested:


  • Nile length:  From White Nile Source to Mouth is 6695km
  • The Nile gets its name from the Greek word "Nelios", meaning River Valley
  • The Nile and its tributaries flow though nine countries. The White Nile flows though Uganda, Sudan, and Egypt. The Blue Nile starts in Ethiopia. Zaire, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi all have tributaries, which flow into the Nile or into lake Victoria Nyanes.

I found the following section trough the length of the Nile very interesting and maybe of value as I progress upstream through the other countries.




Sorry about the basic geography lesson…I am sure there are those among you who are far more 
qualified to talk on the subject, and those of you that just want to hear about the cycling….
oohh a diverse reader group is an interesting challenge hey!  Well I have thought about it, and I hope 
these newsletters are like my life....interesting, with lots of diverse and varied aspects, none too 
detailed and boring, and not always predictable, being different to what you can ‘buy’ elsewhere!   
Ok back on track….


Back in Luxor again…..


I was so excited to see the water and sail boats again, I did what I never normally do….sign up for a ‘tourist trap’ Felucca trip…..well it turned out to be wonderful….just the ‘captain’ 20 year old Abraham, his cousin Jek and I….we hit it off from minute one and he enjoyed my hands on involvement with the sailing. He lives aboard the boat, tells me the river is 15 m this time of the year rising a few meters to its peak in November. I was quite impressed how the boat went to weather as we beat upwind with the tranquil sunset light fading….a very special end to the day. Then a devious route back through the bustling but largely unattractive old markets, that saw me almost lost and harassed by numerous traders.



I had to get out on 
the water again…

sunset racing takes 
on new meaning!







The group was going to the West Bank and the Valley of the Kings today, but I chose to spend a day with Douglas, the blind rider from Kenya, and try and give him a treat day off……required quite a bit of creative thinking to work out what I would do that would be enjoyable if I didn’t have my sight!!!  Well we walked the markets, sampled a few souks for Egyptian coffee, sampled the local falafel delights, and then headed to the Nile for lunch and a very interesting chat. We talked about his life changing accident, his inspirational leadership roles with various blind organisations, his dream to do this Tour d’Afrique, his hardest ever trip Kilimanjaro, and then racism, and corruption within Africa, and his view on its causes. (He is truly an amazing guy, and yet so humble. If you have time and are interested, search for Douglas Sidialo on Google, and he tells me you will see a huge variety of articles returned.)  I guess what also hit me, is just how limiting blindness can be…sounds obvious yes…. but experiencing leading him for 5 hours and seeing how some of my normal activities / responses were inappropriate, hit home.  Even Doug laughed as we had touters saying ‘Oh sweet couple, would you like a boat together’ as we walked hand in hand down the Nile promenade…quite sad though! A sobering, but rewarding day, as Douglas couldn’t stop saying how great it was to just get out and walk about in a new environment.


Just finished cleaning and lubricating my bike for the two and half day ride to Aswan, where we will board the ‘dreaded’ ferry for overnight trip to the Sudanese border….I can’t wait for a new culture, new food, and a new country……More about this in the next newsletter…..  This is exciting for me….I hope you are enjoying the newsletters…

Leaving the Red Sea....

The start of the 40km, 700m climb on the mountain pass through to the desert....

Quite gentle, but long!

The Progress So Far

  • Current Section:
    Cairo to Khartoum

  • Distance cycled since last newsletter:
    250 Km

  • Hrs cycled since last newsletter:

  • Km to go to Cape Town:
    11 114

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

Another interesting road sign...

un-enforceable anywhere in

and particularly not when there are Tour d'Afrique cyclists passing through!

This says it all.....the focus on money and bukshish......
The sign onboard the Falucca I sailed on...had a great sail though!

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: 
    11 884

  • 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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