1.5: Egypt - People by the roads
From Dahab we headed for the junction of the coastal road with the way deeper into the desert towards mount Sinai.
The 80 kilometres towards the crossing would be up and down but nothing steep we had been told, but yet again the coastal winds were blowing hard from the North East and we really had to push. "Is my brake stuck or something?", I wondered.
On the roads in the Sinai there is a checkpoint at every junction as well as before and after every village, say every sixty kilometres or so. Officially this is a demilitarised zone, but the place is full of Egyptian police and military looking camps.
It's a strange feeling to have fifteen well-armed men in various uniforms - all white or all black being the most common - smile eagerly at you. "Héllo. Where you from?" just like the shopkeepers, but not quite.
"Where are you going? Passports please." Busloads full of tourists pass by these men unchecked but every single time we get to show our papers, one time we're even asked for the licence number (?) of our vehicle. We think we're stopped because they want to take a closer look at what we're riding.
We never get any real hassle, only smiles. Twice a soldier (pardon, policeman) wants to try out a bike but his enthusiasm is culled each time by Bram's camera coming out after which we're sent swiftly on our way again.
Policemen are not the only people you encounter on the road, there are also the minibus, pick-up truck and lorry drivers. Coming from behind you, they honk fiercely from afar and if you're unlucky in passing too. Fortunately most also keep a more than fair distance when overtaking. Head on traffic honks no less enthusiastically or otherwise signals through the flashing of lights, ostentatious waving or by raising the right hand, palm outward in a questioning gesture: "What!?!"
An hour or so before sunset when the road had become quieter - it had been more than an hour since we last saw a car - two women sitting under a small tree, spotted us. We stopped to chat with them. When a pick-up truck passed, the most talkative of the two commented: "Egyptians" and spat.
The women introduced themselves and Aïda told us "My mother, my place" pointing in the direction we were going. Five hundred meters further on we stopped at the flat roofed tent where a very old lady, Aïda's mum, served us tea. While we were sipping from the most beautiful tea of the whole of Egypt, Aïda, her stepsister and two men in a pick up truck joined us. They suggested we stay the night with them. We accepted their offer gratefully and then the men picked up their things and went off to Nuweiba, back tomorrow apparently.
With the men gone, the women started gathering their belongings and gestured to us to do the same. "You have house?" I was not sure what Aïda meant. "You have house for mountain?" Yes, yes, we have a tent. "And blanket?" Yes, no problems then.
We followed the women a little further into the desert, away from the road onto the mountain flank where their camp was. It was a modest affair, there were three tents for the women and one for the sixty goats and two camels they herd.
Nevertheless, the traditional camp had been penetrated by a few tell tale signs of the nineties amongst which many plastic bags lying around everywhere, a small cassette player which provided the music to which the women danced that moon-lit night and the tracks made by pickup trucks of salesmen and visitors.
Aïda spoke no more than a eighty odd words of English and my Arabic vocabulary must have been less than that. Despite our limited means of communication she managed to clarify the family relationships between the eight women in the camp we were.
The youngest, a ten-year old girl, was deaf. She spoke fluent sign language and provided a much needed escape route through the language barrier. This is something to keep in mind. I would have loved to interview these women but without an interpreter I was unable to. Luckily we're planning to travel in the company of native language speakers much of the time.
For dinner we shared our canned beans, houmous and bread with the women. The flat bread the youngest had been baking was a lot nicer than our own pre-wrapped pita breads but we did not dare eat to much of it because the women meant to sell it to the Egyptians passing by the tea tent the following day.
In the morning we finished the last of our tins of beans and packed our tent. Aïda's goodbyes involved no less than five kisses on my cheeks and a promise to return to the camp the next time we were in the Sinai. "Inshal'lah."
Read more on Agence Future's adventures in Egypt: