Last days in Asia

Dec. 16, 2011 (day 212) Egypt

On the last day in Aqaba it came to my mind to check CouchSurfing. With unpredictable access to the net and many spontaneous invitations, I had not used any hospitality websites since Turkey. Checking Nuweiba, I found a profile of Maged and received instant and positive reply.

Habiba, sleepy and quiet

Habiba, sleepy and quiet

The Habiba Village is a nice, silent and already well known beach camping, while the Habiba Organic Farm is quite new enterprise. Both of them are being run by Maged, a kind man of mixed Bedouin and Italian background. I offered him help in farm works during my stay there, and it resulted in meeting many interesting persons living in this small town.

Falafel ninja

Falafel ninja

In the low season and with revolution still unfinished in Egypt, at the first glance Nuweiba looks like there were only few Bedouin families living and a few lost tourist visiting. When you look deeper, it occurs that this neighbourhood is settled by a great mix of people from dozens of countries. My host is one of those, who believe that cooperation between locals and immigrants may bring good results for the entire community. The camping and the farm, where local employees and foreign volunteers work together, are the best examples. He is not alone. Actually, there are many other initiatives in Nuweiba, Dahab, Taba and Sharm al-Sheikh, which bring together people from different cultures, give opportunities in demanding desert land of Sinai, and still do not fall into tourist mainstream.

Warming up the bread

Warming up the bread

The sleepy atmosphere and constantly blue sky of Nuweiba make it a great place to have a break from cycling. After five days I said "see you" rather than "good bye" to my hosts and pedalled away. I had to reach Cairo, but Nuweiba seemed to be a good site to spend some time during the upcoming break from cycling.

First steps in cosmetics

First steps in cosmetics

The climb to Saint Catherine meant going from the sea level to around 1500m. After mild climate of the beach, sleeping again in near-zero temperatures was not very pleasant, but the desert views were worth it. After two days I reached the village at the foot of Mount Sinai, and met with Aaldrik, whom I had contacted long time ago via WarmShowers. Together with his wife Sonya they left home over four years ago and have cycled around the world. The long stay on Sinai (and in Saudi Arabia, where Sonya is now) had not been planned, but brought positive results. Aaldrik (or Ali, how they call him there) started the Bedouin Bus, which is the first public connection between St. Catherine and Nuweiba/Dahab, alternative to overpriced taxis.

Into the Sinai

Into the Sinai

Desert obstacles

Desert obstacles

Sleeping under stars again

Sleeping under stars again

During my stay there, I climbed the famous Mount Sinai. It is not too high, but the main route leading through steep stairs is quite a challenge for tourists being brought over in buses. The western ascend, which I chose, seemed to be much easier and also attended by virtually no one. It also avoids the ticket office. The decline in tourist business is clearly visible at the top, as the amount of litter is disproportionally high for the number of visitors coming.

On the Mount Sinai, with always beautiful sky

On the Mount Sinai, with always beautiful sky

Coming down from the heights of Sinai was very pleasant. Four hours of ride with almost no pedalling, speed usually over 25km/h and constantly rising temperature. But the easy ride turned into one of hardest as soon as I reached the coast. I had known before that I would cycle with strong headwind, but the power I witnessed was savage. I could barely go at 10km/h on flat surface. In such conditions it was a pleasure to be flagged down by guards at an oil depot. Tea was served and I had to refuse few times a joint they were smoking during working hours. Well, marijuana is very popular in Egypt and during my short stay there I had already met more smokers than on the entire route before. That also includes a lone, sleepy Bedouin, who had invited me for a tea few days ago, and prepared it in old beans can over a fire made with dry grass. He smoked cigarettes rolled of pure cannabis, without unhealthy addition of tobacco.

Somebody made good business on the roadsigns

Somebody made good business on the roadsigns

The western coast of Sinai is well known among kite and windsurfers, thanks to the constant, strong northern wind blowing there. It was, of course, opposite to my direction. Entire day of hard labour resulted in distance around 60km, and there were three days needed to reach the southern end of the Suez Canal and another to get close to the Ismailia ferry. Anyone who does not insist on travelling whole overland distance on the bike, should catch a bus immediately after reaching the coast and escape. There is nothing that could make the ride interesting, just a busy road and a bunch of huge coastal resorts, mostly unfinished and almost totally empty.

In the mess competition Egypt is second to Syria

In the mess competition Egypt is second to Syria

With warm temperatures and no insects, I became lazy about camping. Just hiding from the wind, much weaker after sunset, and not picking up the tent, I spent one night at the end of a short canyon, another under a wild palm tree and next one I just flopped down on sand, among young olive trees. The workers, who came in the morning to pick fruits, asked a lot of questions, but at such early hour I could only babble few words (most of them in Polish) and ride away.

Friendly olive gatherers

Friendly olive gatherers

The road along the Canal goes from desert into arable, fertile land. After another night spent among orange trees, I arrived to the ferry crossing. The boats carry passengers and cars using short moments between passages of huge ships. The traffic there is as enormous as the sizes of these vessels, usually carrying containers from China. Quickly and free of charge I was transported to Africa, the third continent on my way.

Shipspotting

Shipspotting

My plan was to stay overnight in Ismailia. The city looked nice, and I had not visited any since long time ago. I could not know by then how quickly I would change my mind. However, the first thing on the list was to visit some Internet café. After getting back in contact with the world, I headed to a hotel recommended by the friendly café manager. The place looked like the best days had gone few decades ago, and since then nobody cared about it more than to hammer a nail into things falling apart. Bottom floor cafeteria had a wall decorated by coffee splash, and my room's walls were pink and covered with fungus, writings, remains of food and perhaps all possible body fluids. At least the bed looked cleaner, and after haggling I got the price down to 7USD. Still quite expensive for such a mess, but I could splash out after over two weeks of free accommodation.

I had forgotten to check one thing before paying. Of course, there was no hot water, and the bathtub's drain seemed to be blocked. I walked down to complain about it and found the receptionist at the bar, flicking through my passport. He could not understand me, so we walked back upstairs. Having paid already I was in weak position to negotiate anything, but anyway I tried to convince him about finding hot water or lowering the price.

The discussion over the bathtub getting filled with water got more and more agitated. The guy started to gesticulate, and suddenly... I saw my passport sliding off his hand and flying straight into water.

He was the first to realize what had happened and jumped instantly to rescue the document. The quick reaction and backing out immediately afterwards saved him from awful consequences. And there was something more important to do than beating a man. I rushed to get toilet paper and soak up as much water as possible. Fortunately, both the visas' glue and stamps' ink were good quality and no damage is visible except for rippled edges of the pages. As the passport still contained the cash I had paid for the room, there was nothing more to do than to grab it and move out.

Further search revealed a fully booked youth hostel and few other places, which could be fine if they had slashed one zero off their price. Although the sun was already setting, I decided to leave the city. A camp in a palm orchard was fine and the workers discovered me when I had almost finished packing up.

The road to Cairo was pretty dull, busy highway, until the last kilometers, where things got more interesting. There the traffic ground to a halt. Sneaking between cars or using dirt sideways I managed to push forward, usually much faster than any four-wheeled vehicle. In the city sidewalks appeared, which were good alternative to congested road. Generally Cairo traffic is something beyond any description, a chaos similar to Delhi or Tehran. Definitely worth experiencing, but only for a moment. Everyday cycling in that mess and pollution is out of question.

All roads lead to Cairo

All roads lead to Cairo

Surprisingly quickly I reached Heliopolis and met with John, a British cyclist and traveller with huge experience from all continents, working there as teacher. I had contacted him through WarmShowers. His flat will be the home for my bicycle for almost a month, while I will enjoy a break from cycling.

Comments:

mama
mama
7 years, 7 months ago
No, trzeba przyznać, że zasłużyłeś sobie na "piesze" wakacje! Pełni podziwu dla Twojej wytrwałości życzymy miłych wrażeń i Wesołych Świąt!!! Pod palmami - co to za Święta???
Hania / mumum
Hania / mumum
7 years, 7 months ago
No i już Afryka :)
życzę mile spędzonych wakacji bez roweru :) a potem szerokiej drogi :)
pozdrawiam
Marta
Marta
7 years, 7 months ago
Powodzenia na nowym kontynencie. Wesołych Świąt i szczęśliwego Nowego Roku (egzotyczny na pewno będzie), bezpiecznej jazdy.

pozdrawiamy
Artur
Artur
7 years, 6 months ago
Z niecierpliwością czekam na kolejne opisy tej fascynującej wyprawy
jerzyboy
jerzyboy
7 years, 6 months ago
Witaj,
rozumiem,że masz zajęte ręce- poproś Johna o wpis albo daj Kasi złapać oddech....Zdrówka Wam !
jerry
Ali
Ali
7 years, 6 months ago
Like the photos (no 5 'into the Sinai' my favourite!)
But also the one stating there is a steep climb ahead :)
See you soon,
Ali