By Phil Saunders
If you’ve been out and about on the Cairo roads recently, you might have noticed some unusual tourism going on.
Three blond men in search of the ultimate philanthropically life-enhancing experience stopped off in the capital as part of an epic round-the-world trip with a difference – they are travelling by bike. After 156 days on the road, 17 countries and blighted by only three punctures and a spot of the Turkish trots, UK adventurers Phil, Tom and new pedaling pal, Toby, told the Daily News about their experience of cycling into the city.
“After making our way through Turkey’s winding coastal roads and lush mountains, we packed our bikes into flimsy-looking boxes, entrusted their lives into the hands of local baggage handlers and boarded the plane from Antalya to Alexandria. Leaving Alex, the road was horrendously busy with two lanes becoming five, drivers undertaking each other, cars coming the wrong way, cars overtaking those coming the wrong way, and 10 year olds driving scooters and motorbikes.
Add to that the end of Ramadan, and three distinct concerns for us: bikes not having withstood their flight and in need of repair and not an open bike shop in sight; starving drivers barely noticing us, and if they do, making every effort to get as close as possible (luckily, they vented their hunger-cum-anger on one another rather than directly at us); and most importantly the issue of sustenance ,it’s essential we eat well in order to carry on and finding a restaurant or café serving food was incredibly challenging.
Half way between Alexandria and Cairo, we stumbled upon one place that could feed us, and in fact, fed us a banquet. Tasty salty soup, fresh salad, melt-in-your-mouth lamb, fluffy white rice and steaming hot pita bread, all for less than 300LE. Finally! Furthermore, the locals were interested in our journey and wanted to talk. Our trip is not only an incredibly eye-opening adventure for us, but we are also hoping to raise £75,000 for international charity War Child, which protects children from the brutal effects of war and its consequences. Telling people about why we are cycling through a country as un-bike-friendly as Egypt is an important part of raising awareness about the important work War Child does.
Attached to the side of the restaurant was a quaint mosque, and it didn’t take long for the restaurant workers to invite us to sleep there for the evening. With the food being so good, and the people so friendly, it would have been rude to refuse. The night continued with a pleasant atmosphere and come sunset people were ecstatic about breaking the fast. Eventually, we ate our share of food and then set up our indoor camp.
We hadn’t considered what sleeping in a mosque would be like, and if we had, I’m sure we would have expected a peaceful night’s sleep. Unfortunately this was not the case, so in addition to the constant barrage of flies, noise from traffic and building works, we had the unexpected experience of waking up at 3am to the sound of 30 men chanting their prayers while standing over our makeshift beds. It was a surreal experience and one that we hugely appreciated despite the terrible night’s sleep.
The morning presented us with yet another cloudless day and we were soon on the road, headed for Cairo. The ride covered 230km. As we approached the outskirts traffic became heavier and people less and less aware of our presence. Cycling here is like a computer game, with asteroids coming towards you and the occasional alien trying to sneak attack. Swap aliens for wandering pedestrians and asteroids for all kinds of vehicle and you can imagine how many extra lives a cyclist in Egypt needs. In the absence of any discernible Egyptian Highway Code, we came up with our own:
The rules of the road in Cairo:
There are no rules
Do not use wing mirrors
Do not wear seatbelts as passengers
Ignore road markings (seven rows of traffic on a three lane road is acceptable)
Aim for pedestrians
If traffic is coming towards you, don’t worry, it doesn’t matter if you drive on the left, or the right
For children, if you can’t find a riding school nearby, feel free to take your horse on the motorway
Drive with you ears, not your eyes and use your horns as much as possible
If you get caught reversing on a motorway, you will get a gold star
Failing all other rules, remember rule number one
Hazardous journey notwithstanding, we arrived in Heliopolis bang on time and received a warm welcome at our Couchsurfing hosts’ apartment. The kindness of strangers never ceases to amaze us and this was no exception. With a six month old baby, they allowed three smelly cyclists to stay in their apartment, they fed us and gave us a warm shower and they did it all for free. Without them and their advice about Cairo, our stay here would have been much more expensive and much less enjoyable.
Despite the chaos, there is a certain buzz in Cairo, one that none of us have felt in any other city before. It’s overpopulated, we’ve been constantly harassed by salesmen and the roads are hectic, bumpy and dangerous, but there’s a warmth here and a sense of deep history that you can’t escape from, no matter how many piles of rubbish you see.
Next we head east to the Red Sea and then south for a few hundred kilometres before turning west towards Luxor. In between here and there, there is not much else but desert, so it could be a tough leg mentally and physically. However, having been surrounded by 20 million people for the last few days, we are all relishing the prospect of being back on the road and away from civilisation.”
To sponsor Tom, Phil and Toby and help raise money for War Child, visit their website http://daringdynamos.com/donate.