After staying three days in the second biggest city of Africa (after Lagos, Nigeria), it was time for me to head out to the unknown, the desert and the heat. I had been told that getting out of Cairo was no fun, but I didn’t imagine it to be that crazy. It took me over an hour to get out of downtown. The streets were filled with thousands of cars. Nasty exhaust emissions made breathing unpleasant and above all the heat was grilling me again. Nevertheless, I kind of liked this craziness. It’s something you don’t experience in many places and super hectic cities have their charm as well. Riding into Ho Chi Ming City or through India taught me a lot of how to adapt to disorderly traffic but it is still quite different with a bicycle since absolutely everyone passes you. My GPS had its difficulties with Cairo as well, sometimes leading me through one-way streets where people weren’t that happy about. Since I did not know how long it would take me to ride through the desert to the Red Sea and if there would be any possibility along the way to get any water, I took 12 litres of water with me and food for 4 days. My bike has never been that heavy before and it took me some time to get used to it. After overcoming the whole city hustle, the road was surprisingly good. What I realized is that Egypt is investing a lot of money into its infrastructure. Many locals who I have talked to have confirmed this to me. As the governmental institutions provides stability, it has become more attractive for investors to invest again. A whole new city is being built outside of Cairo because there are too many people living downtown which is running at capacity. So, for many kilometres I was passing construction zones, where thousands of new apartments are being built. I have now done almost 850 kilometres through Egypt and the roads have all been very good so far.
Egypt still suffers from the image displayed in the media all around the world. Since the revolution in 2011, tourism is slowly picking up again, but most people still think it’s dangerous to travel to Egypt. It is crazy how the media can have a lasting negative impact on the reputation of a whole country. It hurts my heart to see how reality is and how people back in Europe think about Egypt. I get asked every day, isn’t it dangerous, aren’t you scared? what is if….?!
All the time people come up to me, shaking my hand, saying “welcome to Egypt”. I have been invited dozens of times for coffee, tea and food. If I need water along the road, cars and trucks would immediately stop to provide me with it. I have had multiple police escorts, following me for hundreds of kilometres just for my own protection. Egypt is highly concerned with providing stability and protection to its own people and tourists. There has not been one minute here in which I have felt uncomfortable or unsafe.
People here live from hand to mouth. To survive, the people have to spend all of the little salary they earn. There is not much room for savings. Despite this, it happened to me many times that I was not allowed to pay for what I had purchased, the only response I got was welcome to Egypt. The culture and people I can experience here is so welcoming and warm-hearted that I wish more people could experience what I can now!
Against the Euro, the Egyptian pound has strongly decreased in value, many products lost their government subsidies. It used to be that one litre of diesel would cost one pound, now it is five times more. This affects almost everything the local people buy, since transportation costs have significantly increased. The population is going through some rough times now, even though a lot of money is being invested. In the end, what matters most to people is what they have left in their pockets and that’s predominantly less than a couple of years ago.
For me it is always enlightening to get in touch with local people and hear their personal stories and their thoughts on the country’s economic, political and cultural development. Egypt’s population has over the last decade grown by 20 million people to almost 100 million. That fact impressed me a lot.
My Journey along the coast
Riding the first kilometres through a desert was truly special for me. Isn’t it crazy, I am already here now, crossing one of the hottest places on earth just by bicycle. I now understand why they call the Egyptian summer the OFF season for cycling tourism. Who would want to cycle in that heat? I guess I am kind of crazy, but I always think that there have been people doing it before me, it’s nothing special, just drink enough water and protect yourself from the sun.
Additionally, it is not like I had many other choices than leaving during the summer. There are still many hot days ahead of me since I follow the sun down, so it’s better to get used to it rather sooner than later. The first night I decided to sleep somewhere close to the road in the desert. The distance to the next town was just too large for one day and it was already getting dark at 18:30. I found a nice, quiet spot behind a sand dune around 100 km out of Cairo. I have always waited for that moment, just to sleep somewhere in the desert all by myself in a mystic atmosphere. However, I need to admit it felt weird to me as well. My thoughts were wandering around, thinking about a lot of things one could worry about. I told Teresie about my feelings. Teresie is a young power-woman traveling home to Norway from South Africa by bicycle on her “low carbon journey”, and she told me not to worry, just to be cautious. She told me that in every single moment in which I have worrisome feelings I would waste too much energy instead of simply enjoying the moment. I highly appreciate her words and it really helps to talk to people who have experienced similar feelings and events but are already a step ahead of me. Follow her on Instagram (Teresiehommersand), she shares amazing stories and I love reading about her adventures.
Back on the bike, the road along the coast was rather flat and always with a slight breeze going. On one day I had planned to do a 105 km stretch to a police checkpoint where I wanted to spend the night. It is common for cyclists riding through Egypt to stay at Police checkpoints for the night. What happened that day came unexpected. I arrived at the checkpoint at 11:45, asking myself what should I do now? I didn’t want to spend the whole afternoon at a boring checkpoint, but the next town (Hurghada) was still 160 km away, but with the wind on my side I thought it might be possible. I had to wait for over an hour at the checkpoint, until they organized a police escort to follow me. I knew that at this checkpoint they usually do this, so nothing to worry about. Arriving in Hurghada at 18:15, I had done 260 km in just one day, with a total riding time of almost 9 hours, this meant an average of almost 30km an hour which is crazy. I was super lucky to benefit from the strong north wind. That day the wind was on my side. I don’t want to imagine what a torture it would have been if the wind had blown from south. This record will probably not be broken again, with a 60kg bicycle it seems highly unlikely to come anywhere close to those numbers again in the future.
I have spent a total of 10 days in both Hurghada and Safaga, doing 6 dives in the beautiful aquarium of the Red Sea and just kind of slowing down my pace.
I have been on the road for more than 55 days and always traveling to new places can be tiring as well. I also fought some stomach issues for around 5 days, running to the toilet on an hourly basis. This weakens the body, I had to sleep a lot and didn’t feel like continuing to cycle. I have the time, so I can also give my body the rest it needs. Having diarrhoea on the road can be super stressful, and it only happened to me once now that I had to ask a man sitting in front of his house to use his toilet. This was in Hurghada and of course I cannot just poop somewhere in front of a house in the middle of a city… I almost did it though hahaha, this older man was literally my “lender of last resort”.
The small world we live in
I was just about to head to my room when I greeted three guys sitting at the bar of my hotel. It turned out that one of them, Sebastian, lives around 10km away from my home town, we went to the same high-school and had the same teachers, he is just 10 years older than me. For 4 days we shared a hotel room together and it was nice to speak some Swiss-German again.
Sebastian is an amazing guy with a super positive mindset and a very open-minded personality. Inviting me to stay in his room is certainly no matter of course and I highly appreciated it. We had a super interesting time together, meeting amazing local people like Nesar, Gamal, Ahmed or Alaa.
Being at a place for more than just a couple of days makes it possible to dive deeper into the culture and the way of living of the locals. Whenever I spend a long time at the same place, it becomes harder to leave again. Also, I started becoming comfortable with laying around all day long. So, it was time to tackle my next stage from Safaga to Qena, a 160km stretch from the Red Sea back to the Nile through the desert. I planned to do it in one day, leaving Safaga at 5am. The earlier I leave, the easier it is to tackle some distance without being roasted.
Finding my own limits on the way back to the Nile
I have no problem with getting up early, I just really don’t like it. Leaving at 5:00 AM to Qena was the earliest I have done so far, and it turned out to be a smart move. I knew I had to climb a mountain range right after Safaga to get back to the mainland but doing around 1000 meters of altitude in the first 30km of a 160km stretch can be very energy consuming.
At 11:00 AM I had already drunk 8 litres of water, and the later it got, the harder it became to drink. The water temperature in my bottles raised to a point where it almost burned my throat when I drank. This made it really hard to stay hydrated. After 13:00 the temperature reached its highest point, at around 45 degrees Celsius. After spending already more than 8 hours on the bicycle, my lungs started to hurt because of the hot air. I have never experienced that before, but it is for sure nothing I wish anyone to experience. During the whole ride, I was followed by the police. It is very annoying having a car driving right behind you for hours and hours. Luckily there were no places to do breaks, so I just rode through, but it’s even more annoying if they are next to you when you do a break. Unfortunately, I had to do an additional 30km detour from one road to the other just to buy some water. I didn’t know that it was that far, otherwise I wouldn’t have done it. I got to a point where I didn’t feel comfortable anymore, having done 150km already I checked the GPS to see how much further I needed to go. 40 additional kilometres were just too much, and with the Police begging me since 10 o’clock in the morning to pick up my bike and drive me to Qena, didn’t help much either. For my own physical safety, since I didn’t want to spend the night in the hospital, I decided to hitch a ride with the police for 30 kilometres. For the last 10km I hoped on the bike again. I guess these were the slowest 10 kilometres of my life haha! I got to the hotel at 17:30, checked in, got some food, called my mom to tell her that everything was OK, and went straight to sleep. I got a solid 11 hours of deep sleep, which I needed if I wanted to ride to Luxor the next day. This was the closest I got to my physical limits so far, I was fine mentally but my body just couldn’t go any further. I wouldn’t have done the stretch in one day if I knew that I had to do 190km.
The next morning, as I got out of the hotel, the police was already waiting to escort me. I am now spending a couple of days in Luxor, visit some sights and just rest a bit.
Radio and Podcast interviews
I have now already had 2 interviews with Radio Sunshine (Click Here) and I had the honour to be the guest in the Unsportli.ch Podcast. Check it out here: HERE. Those interviews are a great chance for me to bring you my trip a little bit closer. If you have any questions about my trip, feel more than welcome to send me a message!
People I met along the road
One thought on “Through the desert to the Red Sea and back to the Nile again”
Wow, what a ride of a life time! I feel you are so blessed to be meeting all these wonderful folks. I let a young man from France stay in our back yard a few years ago who was riding his bike across the US. I am so glad to hear you are being treated so well. It just looks beautiful everywhere even in that hot desert. Detours lead to more life adventures! Also glad the police are being good public servants and keeping a watch on you, even if not necessary, that is the mom in me coming out. The friends you make seem so interesting and kind. I just want you to bring them all here and we will feed them and hear their stories. The world is such a small place any more and the communication is great! Thank you for sharing your stories. I am so Proud to know you. What you are doing brings us all closer together. You are a true ambassador! You really are changing views and ideas that I personally have, due to my lack of knowledge of the countries.I know there are good people from all walks of life all over the world. As Red Green says, “We are all in this together.” So glad you are feeling better. Know your body and rest as you can. The diving looked awesome know the boys would love that part! Randy and Jake say Hi .You are in our prayers. Love you and BIG HUG, S