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On the road . January 2011 . Egypt (during the revolution)

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Hathor Hotel [website], Aswan, Egypt, 26-01-11
Out of the commotion and into the calm

Cairo to Luxor
(13 cycle days; 1 rest day; 1406km; 3890m)

Cairo to 70 km after 6th October City (119km; 431m)
70 km > 6th Oct. City to 54 km > rest house (118km; 181m)
54 km > resthouse to 6 km past Iron Mine City (106km; 392m)
6 km after Iron Mine City to 28 km after Heiz (113km; 329m)
28 km after Heiz to Farafra (107km; 338m)
Farafra to 23 km after Abu Minqar (117km; 465m)
23 km after Abu Minqar to 37 km before Qasr (117km; 214m)
37 km before Qasr to Mut - Dakhla oasis (69km; 187m)

Mut (Dakhla oasis) to 21 km before Abu Turtur (126km; 316m)
21 km before Abu Turtur to El Kharga (67km; 145m)
El Kharga to 49 km after Bagdad turn-off (124km; 356m)
49 km after turn-off to 119 km before Luxor (104 km; 356m)
119 km before Luxor to Luxor (119km; 180m)

Chaos and cons
Cairo boils and bubbles underneath the thick black smog that hangs low over the city everyday. It simmers with chaos; it is riddled with cheats, but away from the tourist haunts, it still manages to echo a genuine welcome. Here you might see the average Egyptian at work, labouring over a water cooler or picking the metal coils off discarded motors. They might be collecting the hot puffs of pita as they rotate from the flame fuelled drum-oven or they may be making a living from sitting on the sidewalk, selling little packets of tissues. In any case, it is not hard to find these warrens of industry and work. Just walk around aimlessly and you'll stumble across them eventually. It is one of these places that I manage to find a new pair of steel cap work boots for just 130 pounds [16 euros].

With no price tags, no cash registers and no receipts, it takes forever to do the shopping in Cairo. You have to ask the price of everything, barter if you think it is too much - which it nearly always is - and then keep a running tally in your head of the total. Though I have to say, I've found the Egyptian shopkeeper's mathematics to be extremely accurate. Checking the price is not just restricted to the corner store, if you sit down for a cup of tea in a street cafe you also need to ask before you order. You could otherwise get a bill for 16 pounds for two cups of tea like we did. This is a little over the top considering a local can usually pick a cup up for about one pound.

Entering both the Egyptian Museum and the Giza pyramids costs 60 L.E. per person each time. Both are equally sad displays of just what can happen when the whole world flocks to see the same thing. The shabby 1950's museum display is bad enough with its faded type on discoloured info cards, but when you come face to face with ancient artifacts rotting away, gathering dust and clearly left to vandalism, you wonder just where all that money is going. And the place is packed every single day. There is rumour of a new museum being built, but with work ethics being as bad as they are in this country, who knows when this will be finished and who knows how much more damage to priceless objects will occur in the meantime.

The pyramids are just as exploited. At the entrance, security are physically checking inside every bag and sending everyone through a metal detector, while inside the gates, kids are carving their initials into ancient stones. Ironically, police will ask for bribes to touch or climb on the pyramids. Traditional Bedouin dress drapes over fake designer jeans and while one hand is tight the roped rein, the other is grasping a mobile phone. Every camel or horse owner in the region will try to get you up on their animal. The Giza Pyramid experience is far from authentic and the absurdity of it all upstages any feeling of magnificence or beauty these stone triangular mountains should arouse in you. Tourist buses are practically lined up to the steps of the first pyramid, rubbish is strewn amongst the copious horse and camel droppings and you are constantly hassled to hand over your money for some cheap thrill or gaudy ornament. It is like trying to find your way around one of the biggest tourist circuses I have ever seen.

view from pyramid over smoggy Giza

"Sir, horse cart?" a local cries
"No thanks," says Aaldrik
"Sir, you need horse?" he continues
"No, I don't," Aaldrik confirms
"Sir, I have horse for you," he prompts
"What part of the word 'NO' do you not understand?" Aaldrik asks
"Sir, I not very good school. My family poor. You horse sir?" he insists
"N, O: NO!" Aaldrik spells out and keeps on walking.
You camel?" the turbaned man yells from atop his animal.
"Who are you calling a camel?"
Aaldrik replies

A little boy runs up to us shoving a plastic bag containing a touristy Arab head dress in Aaldrik's hand " Happy New Year. Present, no money."
"I don't want a present," says Ali shoving it back.
"Present! I give you present!" says the boy dejectedly
"I said, I don't want your present." Ali returns the gift, but it drops in the sand.
"Here present", as the boy picks it up and hands it to me.
"I don't want your present either," I reply. Again, it falls on the ground.
We continue walking, while the boy, all of 10 years, collects his so-called gift and with a look of offence says, "You don't take my present. I try to give you present."

"Psst, psst! Here come." says the policeman. "You want to touch pyramid stone?"
"No, I don't," replies Aaldrik adamantly
"Come, okay," he continues.
"No, it is not okay," Aaldrik says. "You should be stopping people from touching the stones not asking them to do it."

The best part about Cairo is venturing into a couple of local cafes where we fill up on Koshary [spaghetti, macaroni and rice mixed together, topped with lentils, chickpeas, fried onion and served with a tomato sauce] and falafel [deep fried chickpea and fava bean patties]. Here, we are sincerely welcomed to take a seat. We are not ripped off; we are not given any presents; nor do the waiters hover around like flies trying to sell us things we don't want. We can finally relax after a day of chaos and con men.

Hello Sugar; goodbye boots
Saying goodbye to the old Dura-toe boots was a little sentimental, though I don't know why. We had a hate-hate relationship right from the moment I laid eyes on them in the shoe shop. They gave me blisters for 4 long months after purchase and whenever I walked in them for any length of time. I retaliated by not looking after them at all. They in turn constantly wore down the nail on my big toe and after ignoring good advice from a tour operator to protect them from the salt on the Salar de Uyuni, the leather ended its life with big cracks in it. But in all fairness, they did last me the entire journey from Canada to Egypt: 2½ years of pedalling, crossing the Andes 15 times, surviving several desert trips, the torrential rains of Brazil and a couple of river crossings. So, I guess feeling sentimental is okay; you do kinda get attached to your gear on the road.

Cycling out of Cairo however, plays more heavily on my mind than a pair of hardy shoes, but it needn't have, because it is shockingly easy. For one solid hour, we swerve in and around taxis, buses, motorcycles, donkey carts and pedestrians. Thanks to Ali's plan to follow the same route the bus used to get to the Giza Pyramids, we are cycling past the smog shrouded attractions after clocking up 16 kilometres. Not bad going for a 17 plus million capital.

From the outer boundary of Giza City, we follow a quiet service road for as long as we can. Continuing straight on at the main turnoff to 6 October City, we return to the highway and ride through a police post. We are not stopped, just waved on, though one guard gets things a little confused when he says "Hello sugar" to Ali and raises his thumb to me. Being booted along by a pleasant tailwind stops after a daily total of 33 kilometres and a right hand turn at the military's obelisk and tank monument. Pedalling is slowed considerably by sand banks encroaching the highway and a strong wind from the side. On the city's outskirts, empty buildings rise out of the earth in such numbers, it makes you wonder where all the people will be coming from to give these complexes some life. A more lively roundabout, 15 kilometres from the turnoff, shoots us left past dry mix factories and out towards the desert.

The occasional petro chemical plant, a few military bases - one of which we stop at for water- and an ambulance point dot the miles of nothing. Traffic is reduced to a bunch of friendly truck drivers, often travelling in convoys and all ready for a triumphant horn melody or light flashing show when they see us. The contrast is overwhelming at less than 100 kilometres away from the constant Cairo mayhem. A few hundred metres from the road behind the dunes, there are plenty of wild camping opportunities. With only a little bit of sand pushing, we find a perfect place for the night 70 km after 6th October City (119km; 431m).

cycling into the start of desert sandstorm in Egypt

Here Desert!
There is ice on tent as we crawl out of it this morning. Not something we expected from our desert ride. Strong side winds greet us too and for 50 kilometres, it is a long hard knee grind. A bend in the road finally sends us in almost the same direction as the blustery gale, though we wind somewhat in course. The offer of a cup of coffee couldn't have come at a better time, when we chance meet with Patrick & Verena, a young German couple on their way overland to Cape Town. The pick-me-up helps with the remaining kilometres to the rest house - 167 kilometres from Giza's outskirts, where the boys behind the counter try and sell a normally 1.5 Egyptian pound bottle of water for 10 pounds. When I exclaim that the price is a total rip off, they explain with the well rehearsed line "Here, desert!". Pointing at myself, I reply with "Here foreigner, but here not stupid. Do you have a tap?" They do and I fill up our empty bottles very quickly amid the pungent urine odour of the unkempt ladies toilets.

Touring Italians in a couple of 4x4's stop to take our picture and load us up with some extra food as a sandstorm brews from behind us. We dash off hoping to escape it, but it trespasses the highway like smoke boiling over a witch's cauldron. While there is sand all around us and it is difficult to see up front, we are flying with the flow at 30 kilometres per hour. The experience is not so bad. Kind of like a surreal pedal through an airbrushed painting. Up close nothing is clear, just a lot of smudged outlines. The sand blasting dies as suddenly as it began, though the wind is still forceful, making putting up the tent quite difficult 54 km after rest house(118km; 181m).

Headwind day
There is wind from the second we hit the road. We had known about this attribute of the western desert ride from other blogs. Pedalling the other way they mention headwinds for most of their ride. We had therefore expected tailwind and quite possibly straight-ish roads. This desert road however, winds its way through sandy terrain like a snake in raptures. At times my built-in compass - which contrary to most thoughts regarding women's directional skills is pretty spot on - thinks we have almost done a complete circle. One moment you find yourself flying along at 25+ kilometres per hour and you round a bend to be smacked in the cheeks with strong frontal winds. Every time I see the road veer right, my heart sinks: left, and I'm as happy at that desert snake.

The day just gets tougher and tougher and my speed gets slower and slower. It has something to do with aching knees from yesterday's fanatical pushing and the demoralising thought that this road is flat and with a just a little help from the wind you could be flying along at tremendous speed. Still, all I can do is throw on my MP3 and listen to some soul lifting music and be content with what my body will allow me to do. It isn't enough for Ali, who as per usual is as strong as superman himself. I really wish at times I could put some krypton in his morning coffee to weaken his physical condition.

Another issue is water. We have very little. Surprisingly enough, the frequent military bases and ambulance stops have disappeared momentarily in this barren landscape etched by the same winds hampering our progress. Dusty pink and white sand formations rise out of the earth with plateau tops. Eventually an ambulance station appears after 67 kilometres where we fill up every bottle we have and devour a delicious cup of sweet mint tea from the staff. We are welcome to camp too, but it is still early enough in the day to try and get a few more pedals in.

The next stop, 33 kilometres down the road, comes in the form of the oasis: Iron Mine City. It is a real novelty to see pine and gum trees growing in the middle of such arid surroundings. People wave us in for dinner and tea, but we are heading just out of town to camp behind the humps and bumps of this beautiful purple slate landscape at 6 km after Iron Mine City (106km; 392m).

finding a desert campspot in Egypt

Can't believe anyone
Yesterday, an Ambulance driver said that it would be the last day of wind, but unfortunately the first 36 kilometres leading to Al Bawity - Bahariya is a bit of a push. Plenty of rocky purple slate vistas on the way up to the top of the ridge where we look down into an almost black sandpit. The start of the oasis is visible and even though we are against the wind, it is a great drop down into the start of the town. Quite deceivingly, the centre is still seven kilometres from the first main turnoff right to Mandesha.

To avoid hassles with grocery prices, I like to stop at local stores on the outskirts of villages. You are more likely to encounter rip-off merchants in the heart, where everyone tends to shop. At first, we hit it lucky with a very honest general store man, but end up in the middle of town before I have had a chance to find bread and some vegetables. Sure enough the first guy I ask tries to charge me double for everything. I move further up and find another store with reasonable prices. A typical shark sparks up a conversation with us and tries to sell the bread from his shop. I don't want flat bread and besides he obviously wouldn't give me the right price anyway. "Bakery closed," he says, when I question where it is in town. One hundred metres on, I find the local bakery and it is, of course, open. This sort of blatant deceit wears very thin in Egypt. You just don't know who to believe.

Stocked up again and ready for a two day cycle we pedal out into the Black Desert. The only vehicles are a few local trucks and the 4x4's with canvas tents, carpets and a small upturned wooden table strapped to the top. The Bedouin camp experience out in the White Desert for those willing to part with the reasonable amount of 250 Egyptian pounds for a guide, dinner, breakfast and a traditional overnight stay under the stars. Otherwise, we are alone with kilometres of volcano shaped sand piles looking very much like someone has decorated their tops with chunky grains of black pepper. The solitude is interrupted by newly planted groves of olive trees. Water has been struck in this section of the desert. A fossil water supply, known as the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System spans across Sudan, Chad, Libya and Egypt, reaching as far as Sinai and southern Israel. Collected over thousands of years, this non-renewable source of water will eventually disappear, but estimations at this stage are for a capacity to supply water to these arid areas for a thousand years. In Libya, the Great Manmade River Project funded by the government and closely watched over by Muammar al-Gaddafi is said, by the leader himself, to be the Eighth Wonder of the World.

With agriculture surrounding us here in the middle of the desert, it does seem like somewhat of a miracle, though the downside is our chances of wild camping are made much slimmer. My achilles heel is giving me problem today, so the small climb up ahead is better left for tomorrow morning. We pull off and make our way over to one of the few sand dunes in this area. Dragging the bike the whole distance is really difficult. Ali makes it before I'm even half way there and comes back to takeover pushing. I hobble to our well hidden camp spot 28 km after Heiz (113km; 329m).

cycling through the White Desert in Egypt

God is great, but in Farafra greed is greater
Before we make it to the famous White Desert, we first need to pedal over the 77 metre climb in the distance. My right heel is killing me. The only godsend are prevailing winds in our back and the amazing downhill launching us into the start of these unusual white rock formations. The dirt roads we encounter further up are agonising, but as we near the end, the tendon in my heel pings like an elastic band. The hurt is somewhat alleviated and I can concentrate a bit better on the scenery around me. It is not as powerful in impact as I had thought it might be, which is probably due to riding on crappy roads more than anything. In hindsight, the photographs are quite spectacular.

For the rest of the afternoon my heel creaks as it stretches through each revolution, but it doesn't ache as much as previously. We are however, both plagued by a different type of ache and the ride at the end of the day is a hard slog. We just want to get into Farafra (107km; 338m) as early as possible, soak under a hot shower and wash everything. It has been five days since we left Cairo and after cycling and camping wild in the desert at around freezing point each night, not only do we need a recharge, but all the equipment batteries do too.

Plans just don't work out how we expected. The first little supermarket has an owner who wants to take me for double the normal price for everything. I am so pleased that we entered Egypt from the north, where people are way more honest and I learned quickly what things really cost. I move on to another store where a little boy hasn't yet become skilled at lying or consumed by greed. His prices are spot on and we even have a bit of a number lesson in English as well. Twelve for him is quite adorably, "eleven-two."

The guy at the bakery, who is far from adorable with his tobacco stained teeth and crafty smile, attempts to sell me bread at double the going rate too. I can't believe it and argue with him until I get the local value. Well, at least I thought I did. When we finally get to a hotel, I discover that he only gave me 16 rolls instead of the agreed 20. I storm back there on my bike and although he isn't around, his assistant knows exactly why I have a face of thunder. A few hand signals and number talking, gets me what I want. There's no room for pussy footing around in Egypt when it comes to money. Just be as ruthless as they are dishonest.

When I was initially purchasing the bread, a Swedish girl starts talking to Ali and she invites us back to camp where she and a group of volunteers are staying. Though her intentions were well meant, the exercise turns out to be a complete waste of precious time. The lengthy meeting they hold a few feet away regarding whether we can spend the night or not is also a little uncomfortable. Eventually the understandable decision, mostly due to difficult regional police, of not allowing us to camp the night, means we cycle away at dusk. The process of finding somewhere to spend the night just begins and washing all our clothes is now totally out of the question.

The El Badawiya Safari & Hotel offers us bare basic camping facilities for the ridiculous amount of 100 Egyptian pounds per night - a double room costs 240. I meet Jason and Günter at the entrance and learn that they too are travelling the same route, though lighter packed in comparison to us. While I'm chatting with them about their trip, Ali manages to get the owner to come down to 35 per person, but since we are desperate for an electrical supply as well, we opt to head across town to Al Waha Hotel.

They also want 100 pounds from us to sleep in a truly disgusting room, not including breakfast. The reasoning behind the high price, when I question and compare it to Cairo, is: "In Cairo many hotels. Here only two. Here no expensive". I demand at least a couple of towels for the outlay, which take a while reaching us, because they have to go out and purchase two new ones. At least they are fresh and clean, which is more than I can say for our bed linen.

Farafra's rip-off attitude makes the town not really worth the visit and my advice would be to stay away if you possibly can. Cycle out of town with your supplies and camp somewhere wild, unless of course if you don't mind parting with $40 US per night - a one month salary for many Egyptians - for a decent room and breakfast or if you want to organise your Bedouin camp experience in the White Desert from here. Overhearing a conversation from a couple staying across the hall from us, it costs 250 Egyptian pounds per person for a guide from 9am through to the next day when they drop you off at your hotel again. It is including a traditional dinner and breakfast and way better value than this greedy hotel owner is offering.

camping in Western Desert Egypt

Middle of nowhere perfection
We wake to find that the ceiling in Al Waha Hotel has dropped crumbling cement and paint over everything in the room - including us. Getting out of this grot box is easy, but not before some incriminating video footage and a short letter of disappointment to the management. Not that they will probably care.

At the 37 kilometre mark, we have already passed through four small villages and we are about to pedal under the arch, leading us away from civilisation and into the desert. There are no military to check on us, since they are all at the tea house. I wave to them as we cycle by. The whole tea house waves back.

Just past the four giant pigeon towers on our right, we stop for a mid morning snack. Günter rides past first and then Jason and Meghan follow a few kilometres behind. We all plan to do between 110 and 120 kilometres today, so a possible hook-up for camping this evening is on the cards. They move off into the distance much faster than we, or should I say I, can.

The next leg of the journey, as far as we both are concerned, takes us through some of the most spectacular desert views to date. Baron mounds of sand pop randomly up out of the desert earth. Flat ledges of rock balance precariously on top, defiant against the postcard blue sky. Synonymous waves of orange desert sand greet us at the top of a small climb and as we speed down the other side of the hill we bump into Patrick & Verena in their overland truck once again. Another Italian espresso coffee is offered, which in the middle of the desert you just can't refuse.

Cycling the coiling road towards the Abu Minqar check point - our 94 kilometre mark - shows us more stunning desert-scape. With all the changes of direction, the wind shifts from being our friend to foe continually. A short uphill is followed by a valley dive into a strikingly green oasis. The military boys, all of about 20 years of age, try to convince us to drink a cup of tea with them. Obviously they get pretty bored out here, but seeing as Jason and Meghan had waited here for an hour and are apparently just one kilometre down the track, we exit as quick as is possible. Another military boy stops us a hundred metres down the track. He wants to know our names and acquire himself a pen from Holland.

The one kilometre estimation is way out. We spy everyone, 23 km after Abu Minqar (117km; 465m), nestled between a couple of mushroom protrusions providing the only decent camp spot for miles. Pitched here hassle free, in the middle of nowhere is perfect and with plenty of getting-to-know-you chitchat, we are seen right through a stunning long shadow sunset and well into a freezing cold night. Our primus stove is a welcomed friend first thing in the morning. Coffee all round.

charcoal filtering system in the western desert

A day's cycle deserves a hot meal
A similar sort of ride as yesterday, though not half as undulating weaves us all through the desert. Time goes quick chatting with our new found friends and we barely notice the slightly annoying side wind. The scenery is of nothing much until we hit one of the dotted green oases along this stretch. They are interspersed by either rolling desert sand hills or never ending flat terrain.

Road is as sketchy in parts as the men we encounter, who like grabbing hold of Meghan whenever they get the opportunity to. We pass through only one military post today after 71 kilometres. Normally dotted every 50 kilometres or so a check point or an ambulance station makes for a perfect opportunity to fill up on water. While this water is shipped into the desert and considered safe for drinking, the Egyptians still pass it through primitive charcoal filters in clay urns. This means you will probably need to purify it in some way, before you drink it. At least we thought it necessary to pass this, often smokey flavoured water, through our Katadyn Pocket Filter. Occasionally, as you wait for your water bottles to be filled, you get a cup of sweet tea to sip on too.

Tonight's camp spot is quite a way from the road and Ali first goes to investigate its worth, cycling almost the entire length into the open sand. Waiting above, I let everyone know that his sand riding skills, even with a loaded bike, are above average. What he makes look easy is not necessarily the case. Jason dives in after him and stops about half way before pushing. Günter gets a third of the way and I look at Meghan who smiles, understanding exactly what I was talking about.

The spot at 37 km before Qasr - Dakhla oasis (117km; 214m) is great, except for the mosquito attack around dusk. We have a tonne of food and offer to cook for everyone. A long cycling day is so deserving of a hot meal. Besides the challenge is up to produce a meal for five on one burner.

They just can't deliver
The Dakhla oasis is sprinkled with traditional villages and overly lush farm fields. Today's cycle views are therefore of one long green belt stippled with a few arid spots. The highway ranges from good to being in bad need of repair. We are all itching to get into Mut - Dakhla oasis (69km; 187m) and spend a rest day just hanging out in a desert town. The old village in Mut is a warren of fallen mud brick housing and wonderful to wander around in. Shopping is way more painful. Prices vary from store to store and plenty of owners are not prepared to sell goods for the correct price.

We head straight for Hotel El Felson, recommended by a couple of motorcyclists we met on the way into Farafra. The Lonely Planet gives it the thumbs up and even mentions that the staff has a sense of humour. Rooms are traditionally pleasant and reasonably clean, though we have to ask for towels and toilet paper otherwise we wouldn't have got them. I would agree with the humour element too, though it is bordering on schoolboy-irritating at times. Even with our bargaining power of five people, the assistant wont budge from 90 L.E. per night for a double and 60 L.E. for a single. His reasoning is the breakfast is so brilliant with two different types of cheese, eggs, falafel, beans, salad and yoghurt that we won't be disappointed. He obviously hasn't seen five cyclists eat breakfast before.

At 7.30am the following morning they are hassling Günter, who is already awake, about when we are going to have breakfast. It is Friday and their weekend and they obviously want to get us out the way so they can relax for the day. At 8.00am, the time we had agreed upon, we all pile into the breakfast room and receive our plates of food. One person gets three cheap cream cheese portions and five olives and another only one of each. Everyone else receives two falafels, I'm only served one. Günter asks for some jam and gets the excuse that all the shops were shut, because it is Friday: An obvious lie, because the store next door is open until 11.30am. The manager also informs us that normally we would get two types of cheese, but the shop keeper this morning forgot to put it in the bag. Coffee arrives five minutes after we all have finished. Coming from the hospitality industry, this sort of restaurant sloppiness irritates me no end and especially when the breakfast was used as a selling point. We all I wonder if they will deliver tomorrow morning.

It is a relaxing day nonetheless and after the filling meal Günter generously shouted last night we are all pretty content. Another evening meal is planned for this evening at Anwah Hotel, where the owner boasts serving a great buffet with falafel or chicken, rice, salad, beans, potatoes, tahina and bread. We arrive to discover that there actually isn't a restaurant at all and our entire dinner is delivered in from outside. Another scam, though the food tastes pretty good. Still, it is hardly worth the 25 pounds per head charged. The owner has the audacity to badger us constantly at the end of the evening for the optional service charge. There is no way he is getting any more out of Jason and Meghan who kindly foot the bill tonight.

Excellent day for a ride
We had asked six times yesterday evening that our breakfast be ready at 7.00am. Of course it isn't. The hotel isn't even open then. At 7.30am the plates come out, but there are no falafel and no beans. This absence, the management deems as being our own fault since we want breakfast so early. Yesterday, a public holiday, they were itching to serve us before this time and there was no problem finding falafel then, but today it is somehow too difficult. Still, despite the late start and the proprietor walking away from us when we make a complaint, it is an excellent day for a ride.

Wind in our backs as we are spat out at great speed into the desert. A pastel pink and grey ridge runs to our left hemming in the patches of green farmland from desert nothingness. The blue skies just make everything even more enjoyable. We pass through three checkpoints in all. At the first we are stopped by the police asking for our hotel key. Obviously someone is pissed-off back at the hotel and trying to make life hard for us. The military guys just wave us on, which makes it look even more like a hoax.

At the last post of the day we collect water and an unwanted escort. The latter we manage to get rid of after signing a piece of paper stating that we don't want a police tail. Surprisingly enough, they actually leave us and we pull off alone to camp over a ridge near a power line 1 km before Abu Turtur (126km; 316m). It is the only sheltered spot we can find and while the wind was great for riding, it is not so much fun for camping.

deciding where to stay in el kharga

So much effort
It is almost as much effort today, getting into El Kharga (67km; 145m), as it was doing a little less than double the kilometres yesterday. The road glides its way to and fro through the desert dunes making the strong northerly winds more of a hindrance than help. A police van keeps tabs on us from Abu Turtur, where we stop for morning break. And as previous blogs had warned, we are tailed for the entire 45 kilometres into town and right to the door of our first choice of hotel. Unfortunately, the police presence doesn't make for good bargaining and with all the handshakes, I'm sure there is a bit of money slipping in and out of pockets as well.

We move on to the next lodgings of preference: Hotel el Radwan. A rather sad, old building with pretty miserable rooms and a contrastingly vibrant reception area decked out with plastic flowers and decorative carpets. Satellite tv and piping hot water are about the only bonus. Ali, Günter and Meghan check out the facilities while Jason and I stop the police from entering the building and messing up the haggling process. With quite a bit of effort, we get two doubles and one single room including breakfast for 250 L.E.

Dinner that evening takes us a long time to find, but well worth the nearly one hour walk. Once again Günter shouts us an excellent meal and with stomachs filled to the brim, no-one feels like walking back. So, we hail a taxi with an honest driver. It costs 2 L.E. - less that 30 euro cents - so much effort from one person, for so little reward. And once again highlighting how Egyptian daily life versus the Egyptian tourist industry is so badly disproportionate.

The first half of the journey is a massively hard fight against strong westerly side winds. By the time we reach the turnoff to Luxor after 74 kilometres, everyone has really had enough of it. The same sentiment is felt towards the police who have been trailing us since Al Kharga. Günther had planned to depart from the group here and catch a bus on to Aswan, but quoted prices of 500 Egyptian pounds are way over the top, so he decides to continue on with us. The police on the other hand leave us alone from this point on. Another guard at a post exactly 4 kilometres up the road, insists on seeing our passports yet again. While the military here might have nothing to do with the tourist police back at the turnoff, it still seems so uncoordinated and such a waste of time. A few tempers flair. Everyone has definitely had enough for the day.

Luckily, wind is now mostly in our backs and we are blown towards a little cove close to the road 49 km after Bagdad turn-off (124km; 356m). A nearly full moon doesn't help in disguising us and later in the evening we are visited by three men, who jump out of taxis. Both Ali and Jason greet them, which is enough to return them to their cars without much convincing.

rest house 56 km after Bagdad turn-off

It is only 7 kilometres to the next military point, where water supplies can be refilled and an empty rest house stands. While the building isn't that inviting, it does have four walls and a possible refuge from the wind for a night. From here, 247 metres above sea level, the easy climb starts reaching a peak of 410 metres after 8 kilometres. Unlike guidebooks mention, this is not the highest point of the plateau. A few minor curves in the road eventually straighten out into one of those direct to the horizon paths that just never seems to end. We are hammered by side winds until a slight right hand turn in our route puts the northerly winds more behind us.

That's when we hit 7 kilometres of dirt. Just as we have the chance to make up for the sluggish ride, we are held back by poor surface. But with sand dunes moving at a rate of 10 metres per year in the Western Desert, it is no wonder that the roadwork department has its job cut out for it. Not helping the situation are the antiquated machinery and surveying methods they use. Seems a little bizarre to see old fashioned tar machines and men marking road elevation points with little piles of rocks. The state of the military posts are also bewildering. Especially so, when 1.3 billion dollars of US money alone goes towards the Egyptian military each year.

We find a flat pit over a ridge, well away from the road and shielded from the wind at 119 km before Luxor (104 km; 356m). At this stage, we don't know that it is so far to tomorrow's destination. All but one strangely positioned road sign have indicated that Luxor is only 90 kilometres from here. After such a slow monotonous day, there is an appetite or five to satisfy, so we cook up everything we have between us for dinner. Even Günter takes seconds tonight.

Hello, welcome, money, money, money
The first 14 kilometres to the military checkpoint are sweet without the wind, but like everyday the bluster starts to pick up at around 10am and by the time we have done 30 kilometres we are being smacked in the face with cold currents. The rocky gorge like scenery takes us to our highest point at 520 metres above sea level after 41 kilometres in total and remains with us for the long slow descent to the turnoff to Aswan. Günter departs from here knowing he has 120 kilometres to go. At least he has a strong tailwind. We continue onto Luxor, still believing we have just 25 kilometres to go. Mind you we are all a little suspicious because we haven't seen a road sign since yesterday afternoon, at about 25 kilometres before we pulled off to camp.

mirror images in Nile river on west bank Egypt

And sure enough, just as the speedometer rolls over to the 87 kilometre mark, we hit a t-junction where we turn left towards Luxor. The blue board says there is still 28 kilometres to go. The journey along the West Nile bank is like parading along a giant outdoor catwalk. As far as locals are concerned, we are the ones in the spotlight and not the picturesque mirror images reflected in the river. It is a continuous scream of "hello, welcome and money, money, money". Children are absolutely everywhere you look and they are so out of control. I get my first piece of sugar cane thrown at me and when we stop for water in a little village, the boys engulf my bike. It is really intimidating and very uncomfortable. Ali tries to buy some water, but he is asked for 10 pounds for two small bottles, which is ten times the normal price. He leaves and goes across the road, where a more honest shopkeeper sells him what he wants.

We just keep pedalling, fast and furious without stopping, until we pass a checkpoint after 16 kilometres. We then turn right towards the Nile. Crossing the bridge after 5 kilometres sets us at the outskirts of the city. It is a more pleasant 12 kilometre ride along the East bank and through the city centre to Rezeiky Camp. Jason and Meghan find themselves a hotel in the middle of Luxor (119km; 180m).

The campground is not quite as impressive as the pictures on their website, so at first we are a little disappointed. The toilet facilities are old, run down and pretty dirty, but the water is blasting hot and to be honest after 120 odd kilometres, screaming kids and howling wind, I don't really care. I'm so beat, I just want to wash, eat, sleep and await tomorrow's arrival of Tour d'Afrique and our friend Cristiano, who we stayed with in Belo Horizonte in Brazil. Besides, it is not always about the accommodation. Mr. Rezeiky, the owner is a genuinely helpful man. His son Elie is just as cooperative in assisting us with tracking down our bankcard that has been sent from Holland and the day manager turns out to be a very caring man too. Camping will set you back 25 LE per person with a 25 LE per day per wifi connection. In comparison, a double with bathroom at Rezeiky Camp is 120 Egyptian pounds.

Take over; take off; and take for a ride
Tour d'Afrique arrives the next day and totally takes over. The place turns into something akin to a music festival, with 76 cyclists in one place. Only difference is there are way too many fancy bikes for that. Room prices have doubled overnight and the beer in the fridge takes a jump from 16 to 20 LE per bottle. Obes, our Italian neighbour is not one for crowds, so he takes off the day after they arrive. He is actually a very inspiring cycle tourist, having been all over the world on his 24 year old bike which miraculously still adorns the original front derailleur. And we thought our 14 year old cycles were legendary.

He came back to find his tent surrounded by other peoples' guy ropes after a rip-off visit to the Valley of the Kings and I think this added greatly to his disappointment. Jason and Meghan confirm this feeling too when they drop in after their day trip to the site. Apparently the best of all the recommended tombs are closed for renovations, so for your 80 Egyptian pounds, which restricts you to just three tombs in total, you have the choice of only a handful of tombs. This experience coupled with being screamed at for taking pictures of a random building on the side of the road and having the ferryman try and charge them 5 pounds each instead of one for the Nile crossing has pushed their departure date forward a day. They leave tomorrow. With two bad reports about the Valley of the Kings, we decide to save our travel nerves for something else and skip the visit. Besides, we need to first get our visas extended.

The Luxor Passport office [telephone: +20 095 238 0885] is easily found opposite the Isis Pyramisa Hotel on Khalid Ibn al Walid. Open Saturday to Thursday, from 08:00 to 20:00, the front of the building is marked Luxor Passport, but the entrance is around the corner and through a side door where you are lead into a long thin classroom like space. Behind tableclothed benches lining each wall, workers sit doing not very much at all. One woman, the only one with a pile of papers on her desk is pointed out to us. We approach and ask if it is possible to extend our visa. She replies with "How long?" The rest is even simpler: fill in the form and hand over a pass photo; copies of both your passport and Egyptian visa page along with your original passport and she'll say "Come back at two o'clock." We do just that; pay 11.25 LE and now that we have a two month visa extension, we can take our time. Little do we know, we are going to need it.

Karnak Temple in Luxor, Egypt

Fingers Burned
A walk around the town on the first evening indicated immediately how spoiled a town can become when strongly influenced by tourism. And Luxor has been very, very spoilt. At the bakery, the man serving me refuses to sell his produce at Egyptian prices. Even when an Egyptian person tries to purchase for us too. Luckily, it's a big city and there are more places to find bread and there are more honest men than this one. The hassle element in this town is enormous: the Koshari restaurant charges 5 LE when it is 3.50 LE for a large serving; people tug at your arm constantly crying "money, money, money"; overweight, well-dressed women at bakeries look at me and say "one pound; one pound for me"; little children drag at your heels with sad sorry faces yelling, "baksheesh, baksheesh"; a little girl offers me a berry from the pile beside her. Knowing full well, it is not for free, I refuse it. She throws it in my face; "Here scarf! Here spices! Here, you look! Here, no hassle!" Gosh! I'd hate to see what these people actually consider a hassle.

I've become poe-faced and avoid all eye contact and as far as I'm concerned, they are all just burning their own fingers. If I am not given the correct price straight up, I walk away. The man who tried to give me five pounds change from a twenty pound note for a kilo of apples lost my deal. I demanded my money back, even when he tried to rectify it by sticking three more pound coins in my hand. I would rather go to someone else. There are honest people out there, but they are just really difficult to find and in Luxor it certainly requires some hardcore searching.

While out there hunting down the best shops I stumbled across the perfect place if you are wanting to do your grocery shopping and can't be bothered pulling out the haggling skills. Head straight to the local supermarket called Masria Market on Sharia al Karnak [Karnak Road] between the two large churches in town. All the items are scanned at the cash register and you actually receive a docket. Prices are as cheap as you will get anywhere. The only problem is the shelves are badly arranged and identifying what each item costs before you get to the cash register is almost impossible. Staff though are very friendly and don't mind scanning things in for you before you buy them. It is probably the most hassle-free shopping you'll come across in all of Luxor.

All you need is baksheesh
Karnak Temple might be an amazing complex, but it is just another massive circus ground that costs 65 LE to get into. Apart from the phenomenal crowds, the amount of money exchanging hands from tourist to security guard or turbaned man dressed in shalwar kamiz is astounding. A continual "psst, psst! Come, come!" echoes through the 134 lotus blossom columns and grand obelisks. Follow these men and you'll be let into an area you shouldn't be in: for a little baksheesh of course. They may even show you something that you could have seen for yourself, but because they point it out to you, you should indeed hand over even more baksheesh. It is even possible - though I'm unsure why people feel the urge to do so - you will want to have your picture taken standing next to a stranger in traditional Bedouin attire. Again baksheesh is necessary.

More fingers burned
Fire is one of Mother Nature's elements I have always had cautious respect for. It can be so final, if it gets out of hand. While Ali is still unsure of how it all happened, when he was burning out something stuck in the pipeline of our stove, somehow the fuel bottle caught alight too. I turned around from cleaning my bicycle to see him run from an igniting flame almost as tall as me. It moves quickly across the grass and onto our tent which we both manage to stamp out before the whole thing goes up. I scream: "Fire! Help!" and try to get everything out of the way of the flame. Several people come running with buckets of water: not what you would normally throw on a petrol fire, but by dousing the dry grass around the flame is contained and the bucket eventually placed on top suffocates it altogether. While, all might have been rectified within seconds of the catastrophe starting, I am really shaken up and Ali is so lucky to only have minor - though still painful - burns on his hand. It was so close to not only everything we own going up in smoke, but a campground full of other people's tents too. It is way too scary to think about, but had that been the case, we both would have had our finger's severely burned.

toilet in Hotel el Fordos, Edfu, Egypt

Happy Land Hotel [website], Luxor, Egypt, 04-02-11

(2 cycle days; 235km; 403m)
Luxor to Edfu (121km; 70m)
Edfu to Aswan (114km; 333m)

Your sticks and stones may break my bones,
but my words are out to harm you

The first day of the two day ride to Aswan is probably up there as one of the worst cycling days we have ever had. The 120 kilometres of flat terrain along the West Bank, where no police escort is required, are as draining to cycle as twenty rounds in the ring with Tyson. The villages are close together, the bridges are within eyesight of one and other making it difficult to stop anywhere without getting mobbed by young children and teenagers: mostly idle boys.They become hysterical at the sight of us and run like crazy in a pack to catch us. They throw stones; sugarcane; they try to hit us and they scream: "money, money, money."

In Esna we are diverted through back streets - like every other cyclist that day, as we found out the following afternoon. The aggressiveness of the children is absolutely overwhelming. The streets are muddy and potholed, so we can't ride very fast and they just run alongside, grabbing at the bikes, smacking us and shrieking: "hello, money".

The rest of the path is kilometre long views of everything and anything to do with sugarcane: trucks are carting it; sugarcane trains run overloaded carriages between villages; donkeys cart the leaves around; men chew on the stuff like they are going to ban it tomorrow and some use it to ditch at cycle tourers. Just after the Luxor-Aswan province check point a really nasty person throws a piece from a truck at Ali. I hear the thwack from behind me, followed by his scream. Anyone else taking this route, I suggest strongly that you wear a helmet. By the welt forming on his arm, if this stuff hits your head with force, you could be dead.

Next major incident is when a young boy deliberately picks up a stick and tries to whack me with it. I am about ready to rip someone apart by this stage of the day. I am not saying hello to anyone; I am ignoring the welcomes; I am definitely not smiling and this kid is about to bear the brunt of all the malicious bullying we have had so far. Problem is they always runaway in the time it takes to stop, drop the bike and get off. Still I'm adamant about teaching him a lesson and scramble down the brick wall to start the chase. An old man tries to stop me explaining that it is just a child. This is the excuse we hear all the time. I heard it throughout Libya and I have heard it constantly here. It is almost as if they think children are immune from any form of responsibility. They can do what ever they like and not be punished for it, because "awwh, they are a widdle boy". I have completely different views.

It is so extreme. There are genuinely nice people with big smiles and welcoming hellos, but their hospitable warmth is doused with bitterness when there are the same amount of people, trying to make our life hell. One such person is the guy we meet at reception in Horus Hotel in Edfu (121km; 70m).

Horus Hotel is the only decent accommodation in Edfu and it is clear that hotel policy is racially discriminate. They blatantly rob foreigners, who know no better, by asking around double the true Egyptian value for their rooms. They do not offer full information when guests inquire about something cheaper. And many do, because $US40 per night - a little less than a monthly salary for some Egyptians - is really expensive and hardly acceptable for budget travellers. Instead, they rather sneakily send you to the hell-hotel in town: Hotel el Fordos. They know that many will return and begrudgingly pay the outrageous price, believing they have no other choice. There is somewhere else however, as we later find out. Hotel Al Medina is still very budget and a little dingy, but way more acceptable than our hell-hole and it is rumoured to serve a good breakfast. They are situated just off Sharia Gumhuriyya. With a bit of haggling you can get a double for nearly one fifth of Hotel Horus's price.

But before we decide on taking the disgustingly dirty room at Hotel el Fordos, I try to reason with the man in reception at Horus Hotel again. I could see tariffs of 100 and 120 LE in his registry book, so I ask him if he has something cheaper. Again his reply was: “No, other hotel”, which for a second time, I am directed to El Fordos. I demand to see proof that all other guests are paying 245 LE per night for a double. He refuses and closes the book in my face. I also ask him directly on several occasions if an Egyptian would pay 245 LE. He avoids my question every time and simply retaliates with: “Are you Egyptian? Show me your passport“. Before I leave, I enquire if he is Muslim. He answers: “Yes”. I ask him, if he is an honest man. I get no answer. I rephrase and ask him, if he is telling me the truth. Again, no answer.

The rest of the experience in Edfu is soul destroying too. Men jeer, suck and hiss at me as I walk down the market place; a kid tries to run me over with his bicycle, a motorcyclist cuts in front of me almost knocking me over; a man smashes a metal rod to the ground as I walk past; and everyone tries to rip me off. My efforts to find dinner and water are futile and I return to the overnight dump empty handed and in tears. That evening, not daring to step foot inside the shower, I sleep in my cycling gear, saving my clean clothes and sleeping bag from the filth. At least it makes for a quick getaway in the morning. Having had similar experiences here, I think Jason put it perfectly, when we met up with him again in Aswan. "If I never see the town of Edfu again, I'll be a happy man."

dirt backroads leading to Aswan on Nile's West Bank

Sighs of relief
We breathe a big sigh of relief as we hit the quiet streets of Edfu, just after 7.00am. From 6.00 to 9.00am is the only real hassle-free time to wander around in Egypt. Finding a bottle of water from an honest dealer is still difficult though. At the turnoff, after about 6½ kilometres, we make the decision, to continue straight on and not take the right hand highway through the desert. Our journey is so serene in comparison to yesterday's, it is hard to believe we are in the same country. It is also somewhat undulating in sections and the road is under construction for 21 kilometres. Even so, it is a great relief until we have crossed the suspension bridge, 15 kilometres from Aswan centre and begin winding ourselves through the village outskirts. Kids become painful once again.

Patrick and Chantal, the Swiss couple we met yesterday at the start of our trip are sipping on a cup of tea about 6 kilometres from the centre. They fill us in on their awful journey as well. Basically, they relayed the same experiences as us up until they surfaced from the child-ridden backstreets of Esnu. But they were then forced by police to cross to the other side of the Nile and travel in convoy with 5 other American cyclists. Chantal said the last 35 kilometres were awful because they were not allowed to stop and the Americans were cycling really fast. Tourist police then made them go to Horus Hotel, though the couple gave them the slip, when they found out how much it cost. Now, I'm really sure that a bit of wheeling and dealing is going on here. Today, they had followed the East Bank, and to their relief, also pretty well hassle-free.

Finding our way to Keylany Hotel in Aswan (114km; 333m) is easy enough, but it is fully booked and like every other place that gets into the Lonely Planet, rates have doubled to 156 LE per double per night. We move down to the Corniche and settle on Hathor Hotel with a Nile view room and breakfast for 120 LE Wifi is an extra 10 pounds for the length of our stay and we are quite comfortable in our bright airy room.

Wrong, twisted and they wonder why
Though not nearly as bad as Luxor, Aswan too has been tainted by a long established tourism industry. Nile river boats are full of speedo clad tourists paying anything up to four times the monthly Egyptian wage per day for the cruise privilege. So, it is no wonder that when they flock into town to wander the Souq, the locals are eager to have them part with some of their wealth. I certainly don't begrudge these tourists their lifestyle, but I do resent getting thrown into the same basket as them and I absolutely loathe it when a local will not sell me something for the correct price. Today, I visit the Koshary Restaurant near the train station where there are two menus: one in English and one in Arabic. I can read Arabic numbers perfectly and I am now able to make out most of the food options, but the restaurant owner refuses to sell me anything from the local list. If I want to order, I have to fork out nearly double the price on the English menu. This is really very wrong.

Two days ago, I established with one shop owner that I was going to stay in Aswan for a while and if he gave me the Egyptian price, I would come back to him time and time again. He said: "no problem". So, I tested his sincerity by asking the prices of a pack of spaghetti, a bag of chips and a ho-ho snack. He didn't even come close to the price I was prepared to pay and I corrected him each time. In the end he broke down and said: "okay, okay, right prices." But he refused to do business with me, making the woman in the shop handle everything. She was curt and didn't smile once as if to try and make me feel like I was the one who was doing something wrong. This is really very twisted.

Yesterday, I just popped into different stores, buying random items and seeing what would come of my transactions. Handing over a ten pound note to a man for a packet of chips, he gives me five back. He should have given me seven and when I ask for the rest, he starts talking to another man taking forever to return my change at which point he looks at me with daggers in his eyes. I ask a greengrocer what the price of his peas and carrots are. He says 8 and 4 pounds respectively. I tell him they are normally 5 and 2 and walk away. "Okay, okay" he calls after me. Another guy beckons me into his shop to buy cashews. He wants 120 pounds per kilo. They should be no higher than 80. Along the souq, I am approached about twenty times in a couple of hundred metres, each encounter a devious prospect for me to part with some of my money. "Hello Madam, I don't know what you want, but I have it"; "Hello, I am here"; "Hello, felucca?"; "Hello, look my shop. No hassle"; "Hello, what you want?"; "Why you look so angry?"; "Why you look so sad?"; "Why you travel alone?"; "Where you go?"; "Where you from?" And they wonder why I walk around with a straight face and ignore them all.

demostration gathering in Aswan, Egypt

You say you want a revolution
After Tunisia succeeded in kicking Ben Ali out of office, it seems that the rest of the Arabic world wants to join the ranks of revolution too. And who can really blame them after years of political repression from fat cats - who are now getting to be very old fats cats - ruling the country. While I raise a glass of non-alcoholic beverage in salute and full admiration for the people finally getting up and saying: "I have had enough", it is annoying if you happen to be travelling in the country at the time. The demonstrations have nothing to do with the irritation by the way, it is what the government does to counteract attempts at being overthrown.

In Egypt, Mubarak shut down all communication: internet and mobile networks; land-lines and television stations; there were no planes nor trains and no way of making contact with the outside world. We were left relying on the knowledge of the Egyptians around us and I can tell you that is not a very encouraging situation to be in. In our hotel, I can honestly say they are all completely hopeless and more eager to play with their mobile phones than find out the answers to your obviously pertinent questions. They are however dynamically pro-active when it comes to collecting your money.

According to one of the guys who works behind reception, a group of Chinese went out to Abu Simbel a couple of days ago on the local bus. Police have closed this road to all tourists. I asked immediately if they were still in the Hotel. "No. Leave." was the answer. Then I asked him, if they actually managed to get into the site or not? He said he didn't know. I further pried, why he hadn't asked them this obvious question and he said he hadn't seen them. His finger pointed to another guy who sits just as much behind reception as him. They start talking in Arabic and then he replies. "Today closed: maybe tomorrow". I said that wasn't the answer to my question. I wanted to know why they hadn't asked them for the all important piece of information. They just have no foresight unless you wave a few pound notes under their nose.

After six days of cyber-darkness, we are getting a little worried. Internet is our only way of contacting anyone, which includes our bank. Money is getting tight and we don't have a clue when things might return to normal. With talk of worse situations in Suez and possible demonstrations in Jordan, we are wondering if we should not head on into Sudan and Ethiopia instead. And while the idea enchants our travelling spirit, it too is fraught with problems.

The banks have been closed in Egypt for 5 days and cash machines run dry. We would need to take two months supply with us, because there are no ATM's in Sudan and Ethiopia. Furthermore, the Egyptian pound is pretty well useless anywhere but at our first border post. We need American Dollars and they are virtually impossible to find, with all exchange offices closed and banks not open for business. Does this guy Mubarak, actually realise what he is doing? Egypt must have lost so much money and international investment in the last days of protest. His actions clearly show the need for reform. One man cannot be allowed to think he is so powerful. Come on Egypt: you say you want a revolution? You can rise above tyranny and political thuggery. You really can!

Alternative Egypt, guide for the independent traveller

Summary of events in the past week in Aswan, Egypt from Ali

Friday 2801: After Friday's midday prayer, the first small demonstration passes our window. I go out later in the afternoon to the city centre (station square), where hundreds more have joined the protest. Some youths scale a building at the station square and tear down a huge portrait of Mubarak. The crowd, which numbers a thousand now, is ecstatic. The march later goes towards the police department, where another poster of Mubarak gets taken down. There are reports of tear gas in the evening.

Saturday 2901: Demonstration starts early and is a bit bigger than early yesterday. But there is a cordon of riot police around the demonstrators now. We see several police and riot cars heavily damaged after yesterdays alleged fighting. Later in the afternoon, the station square is filled with tear gas. There is graffiti everywhere: "Go out Mobarak". Cruise ships are not mooring on the main land, but on the islands instead. Around 4pm the police is shooting tear gas in the streets along the Nile. A small group of rioters (150) take over the main boulevard, the Corniche. All parked cars are removed by the owners. Passing police cars and truck are being pelted with rocks. More tear gas is the result. All cruise ships leave Aswan later in the afternoon. Around 7pm traffic can freely pass below our hotel window again. Second day of protest in Aswan seems to be over.

Sunday 3001: Everything is quiet this morning. The internet is still not working (third day in a row) and there are no flights out of Aswan (because there are no flights from Cairo to Aswan). Our trip to Abu Simbel this morning was cancelled, because the road is closed. We heard from other overlanders, that they can't leave the country for Sudan, because they can't get clearance from the authorities. The cruise ships are all docked a few kilometres down the Nile, away from the city centre. There is a small demonstration at station square of about 200 protesters this afternoon; today equipped with megaphones. There is heavily armed military in the main market street; a lot of stores are closed today. I went to the Aswan Governate office and the police headquarters this afternoon for information regarding internet and transport to Abu Simbel and Luxor, but they don't know anything... There is supposedly no internet in Egypt (!) and the road to Abu Simbel is closed till further notice, because of security concerns, which is utter nonsense. There is no security concern in Aswan what so ever, just a few demonstrators against a regime that has pulled the plug on all internet traffic and almost all television channels (even Al-Jazeera!). No wonder they are protesting...

street demonstrations in Aswan Egypt

Monday 3101: Everything seems to be back to normal again. Cruise ships have permission to anchor in the city and we might be able to get to Abu Simbel tomorrow. No internet so far, but… No news about the return of internet to Egypt or the possibility of getting to Abu Simbel. We've decided to see what's going to happen tomorrow, otherwise we'll leave for Luxor the day after.

Tuesday 0102: Still no news about either Abu Simbel or the internet. Time to move on... went to the tourist police this morning, but they can't tell me anything either. They don't know when things are going to be back to normal here, all depends on the situation in Cairo. But what is the situation in Cairo? If you don't have access to any news... Al-Arabiya television says there are even more people demonstrating in Cairo than before. It is eerily quiet in Aswan today and loads of shops are closed. There are no trains running any more and the computer of Egyptair is down, so no flights either. We are thinking of taking the ferry to Sudan, which leaves on Monday. I went to the consulate today and they want our passport, two photos and 100 USD each for the visa. The tickets on the boat are 500 LE per person and 50 LE per bicycle. Unfortunately we only have 100 USD and 140 € left. And we can't do any internet banking either. I think the banks are still closed as well... And there are no ATM's in Sudan, or Ethiopia...

We went to station square this afternoon and there were more people than I've seen before. They are more organised as well, with speakers and banners and loads more Egyptian flags. Everybody wanted to say to us that they didn't want Mubarak any more and some translated the slogans shouted by the crowd. It is all quite calm really. We watched on television that there are huge crowds in Cairo and Alexandria, they say in their millions... Trying to make a phone call seems to be a bigger problem. The communication centre was shut, but should be open from 9am tomorrow. If I can make a call via a land line, needs to be seen; rumours are, land lines are out too. It looks like the only form of communication is via mobile phone, but since most of the shops are closed today, I couldn't buy any credit to use on somebody else's phone. Maybe tomorrow... If we really want to go to Sudan, we need cash (USD or Euro) and since I can't do any internet banking, I have to call Holland and get somebody to transfer money into our account via their computer. Then we have to take EGP's out and change it into USD or Euro at our hotel, since all the banks are closed till further notice. But is there anybody that knows what the exchange rate is?

Wednesday 0202: There are counter demonstrations today, after Mubarak's televised message yesterday. But this is a different type of protest. Car horn honking and motorcycle revving through the streets, waving placards with Mubarak's face on it. It all feels a lot more aggressive and I only stay for a few minutes at station square. I feel kind of sad for the Egyptians for letting the momentum pass. I do get through to my sister in Holland to get her to transfer money via internet to our account and I wait in long lines to get maximum 500 Pounds (€ 65) out of the ATM. And then, surprisingly, the internet is working again. We finally are able to get some insight in the situation in Egypt and answer a lot of mail from worried people around the globe. Looking at the situation and after consulting the Dutch embassy in Cairo, we decide to head to Luxor tomorrow, pick up our bank card, that is waiting at Rezeiky camp and cycle towards Suez and Jordan.
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