1.6: Egypt - Moonshine
Riding was good after the stay at the women's camp. It was obvious that we were heading deeper and deeper into the desert with less and less encounters by the roadside and fewer cars passing.
It took till the early afternoon before we found a suitable tree underneath which we could take a decent break. By then we were tired and hungry again. The few pita breads and the tined tuna we still had were far too little to satisfy our appetite.
When a Bedouin taxi driver with two tourists in the back of his Peugeot stopped at the road side to let his vehicle cool down I greeted him and asked if I could talk to his passengers. The two Italians had no food on them, they could not help. But the Bedouin looked up from underneath the bonnet of his car, grabbed something from the passenger seat and held it out to me.
It was a whole pack of pita bread. He would not sell it to us, he would not share it with us, he wanted us to have all of it. He insisted with a flash of the eyes and said: "The Bedouin give his bread. The Bedouin bread he gives."
We were getting nearer to mount Sinai, still deeper into the desert. The landscape became increasingly impressive and the winding roads got steeper. The peddling got tougher and after nearly one hundred kilometres, I couldn't shift down to a lower gear anymore and came to a halt. It wasn't that I had given up, but that I had been reduced to such a slow pace that the hill gradually brought me to a stop.
At that moment a Bedouin family in a small jeep passed and stopped. The men got out to see whether I was all right and offered to give me a ride till just before the next checkpoint. The backdoors were flung open and I was so charmed by what I saw that I decided to get in.
My bike and I joined two Bedouin women, two goats and a huge bail of hay in the back of the jeep. The conversation was limited but very friendly, the women had a good laugh at my head-dress, a man's turban, not a woman's veil, they thought it was hilarious.
The family dropped me off at an empty roadside tent. "You wait here, here is good." And it was good. In the huge empty desert, the wood and goats wool construction made me feel safe. I watched the sun set behind the surrounding mountains and waited till it would be dark, or Bram arrived, whichever would be first.
I was just thinking that it was a little scary to be separated from my companion like this when a car stopped. The driver had spotted my bike and stopped to shout a few words of reassurance. "Hello! Friend come. After half an hour. Friend come. Wait." The way of the desert. Alone you are nothing so people acknowledge and help each other. Now that's a way forward.
When Bram arrived we went to have a great meal a few kilometres further down in the restaurant by the checkpoint. Again, the Bedouin youngsters who served us did not want us to pay for the food, just our bottled water and the soft drinks we had. After dinner, tea and a water pipe, we turned back and put our tent up inside the safe haven of the roadside tent where I had been dropped of earlier.
The next morning we left for Saint Catherine's monastery on mount Sinai, another 14 kilometres up into the mountains. The climb was not at all steep, except for the very last bit where busses drop of visitors to walk the last section over a stony dust road. It was busier here, there was police, there were camels, tourists and many children, all boys, selling stones and drinks. When we finally got to our destination a small group of people welcomed us with an applause.
Saint Catherine is one of the oldest monasteries on earth. Its Coptic church is filled from top to bottom with the dull glow of golden incense burners and triptychs. Its priests are impressive looking men, dressed in black from head to toe and with beards tied together with a little piece of string.
When I returned from inside the monastery to where Bram was letting some of the kids try out our bikes I could not believe my eyes. A priest was riding back and forth in front of the walls of his monastery. He wore his trousers in his socks and had pulled up his robe to get onto the Street Machine. I wished we had more time, I would have loved to talk with him about the future, it would surely have made an interesting conversation.
But we had to continue on our way, we needed to cover another 200 kilometres before the bus stop from where we would return to Cairo. So we left the kids, the priest and the policeman who had been keeping an eye on our bikes and luggage and set of.
We were at the highest peak of the Sinai, so we knew for sure we were not facing another afternoon of climbing. The phrase "from here on it can only go downhill" takes on a new meaning when you're on a bike. And the actual way down was even better than we had imagined. One hundred and ten kilometres of uninterrupted down hill, past two oasis and hundreds and hundreds of palm trees. Finally we got some speed, it was exhilarating.
We stopped only a few times, once in front of a police camp which looked almost idyllic with its little towers at the entrance and palm trees scattered over the area. The men inside started whistling at us, perhaps they were trying to warn us, because thirty seconds later a pack of at least fifteen dogs came running for us barking and growling loudly.
Bram spotted the hole in the fence first, quickly put his camera away and started shouting at me: "Get away, go, go, get away from here." The dogs got to within a meter from me but I got away safely, although it took a while before the adrenaline left my body again.
We were planning to stay the night at the second oasis on the road. But the settlement around it was so large and there were so many local kids shouting at us and running with us, that we realised we would not be able to get any peace of mind here. The downhill was such a joy anyway, that we decided to continue the ride past sunset. We were rewarded when the moon came out. Just two days after full moon it was still bright, creating a play of shadows that might as well have taken place on an all together different planet. We dropped deeper and deeper towards the coast, the mountains changed shape and the plain emerged around us.
Because Bram's quick release pin broke the next morning, we never did the additional eighty kilometres to the bus stop but I did not really mind, this moonlit descent that made the Street Machine feel even more like some sort of small space ship was the perfect last leg for our test ride.
- The end -
Bram and Maya rode back to Cairo to return to London by plane. There they started to prepare themselves for the next part of their journey: The European loop.
Read more on Agence Future's adventures in Egypt: