Chapter 15 – He’s not the Messiah – he’s a very naughty boy.

So… did we do Turkey for Christmas?  Alas No.

Syria and Libya were descending into civil war and chaos, all the ferries from Egypt had been cancelled, and Fanny was not allowed to ride or drive a vehicle in Saudi Arabia (not for being Chinese, but because she’s a woman!). 

Also, the prospects of motorcycling in Europe during the freezing cold winter were not particularly appealing to either of us and so we decided to stay in Dahab, a small and beautiful town in the Sinai on the west coast of the Gulf of Aqaba….at least until the end of February when, one way or the other, we would have to get our KTMs and ourselves across the Mediterranean Sea and into Europe.

After a moderate amount of hassle and a few long detours to various government offices in El Tur, Cairo, Sharm El Sheikh and Nuweiba we extended both our Egyptian visas and our bike permits for a few more months.  This included Fanny, because she is a Chinese citizen, having to be interviewed by the head of the Sinai’s “Security Police”  which involved Fanny not being interviewed at all, and the Chief and I swapping police stories over tea in his office for several hours.

The force is strong, young globetrotter.

Whilst we were in “form filling” mood Fanny also managed to extend her British visa in Cairo and so Dahab with its sunny weather, reasonably cheap accommodation and Red Sea activity is where we slummed out Christmas, Chinese New Year and the worst of the northern hemisphere winter.

We also managed to extend our stay at our apartment at a fraction of what similar accommodation would have cost anywhere else in the world. We chose a German owned apartment as opposed to any Egyptian run place because Fanny is allergic to sewage coming out the shower head and being electrocuted by all the appliances. She’s fussy like that.

We also got our bikes serviced at the very impressive KTM service centre down in Sharm El Sheikh and they did an excellent job, although the bike service parts and oil are hard to come by in Egypt because of high import taxes and a loused up economy and so it was not cheap.

More details on all the technical stuff of our bikes and kit in the “Bikes and Equipment” page of this diary.

Fanny and I riding around Dahab

Fanny and I riding around Dahab

Look Fanny ... mini pyramids

Look Fanny … mini pyramids

Fanny making friends as usual

Fanny making friends as usual

Relaxing next to the sea at one of hundreds of restaurants and coffee shops along the Dahab front

Relaxing next to the sea at one of hundreds of restaurants and coffee shops along the Dahab front

Our apartment.. nothing worked in it and it was a health and safety nightmare .. but it was right  next to the sea and the views were amazing..

Our apartment.. nothing worked in it and it was a health and safety nightmare .. but it was right next to the sea and the views were amazing..

Our garden

Our garden

Riding around in the Sinai on our motorcycles

The Sinai desert is absolutely stunning, but locations near its human occupants are often dirty, scruffy and littered with human detritus, such as this abandoned tank… or is it an armored personnel carrier?

Me and my bike at the pyramids in Giza, Cairo.

Me and my bike at the pyramids in Giza, Cairo.

Our home for the winter… Dahab… a narrow band of human development between the beautiful Red Sea and the bone dry red mountains of the Sinai

Attack of the goats

Christmas in Dahab.

Sunsets and sunrises were always spectacular times of the day

Fanny learning to windsurf

The KTM garage (background) and enduro race track in Sharm El Sheikh

The super staff at the KTM Centre in Sharm El Sheikh where we serviced our motorcycles.

Learning to dive with my very patient instructor,  Laura from H2O Divers

Laura and I preparing to dive – PADI Open water and Advanced Open water courses with H2O in Dahab. I was not particularly good at scuba diving as I suffer slightly from claustrophobia and thrash about too much and consume too much air. Later after many failed attempts to teach me to conserve air the dive masters gave up trying and decided to give me huge yellow air tanks… far larger than anyone else’s.

Beautiful marine life and coral reefs along the entire coast.

Beautiful marine life and coral reefs along the entire coast.

http://www.h2odiversdahab.com/ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-tJRZueVSU

So what have we been up to?  Well serious idling of course. When there was nothing on Fox Movies (the only English TV channel) and nothing to do to the bikes, we mooched about town chatting to people and wandering around.

Fanny became immersed in local life and community and was greeted with “ni hao?” where ever she went and occasionally “konnichiwa,” which she wasn’t so keen about. Through her Chinese websites she had become “our woman in Egypt” and was an unpaid ambassador and fixer for the increasing number of visiting Chinese to the Sinai peninsular.

 

I kept myself reasonably occupied and did manage to get my PADI Open water, and indeed Advanced Open water diving qualifications. Swimming with the marine life in the Red Sea is fascinating, unworldly even, but the real joy of diving is that you don’t have to listen to or talk with anyone for 50 minutes while you bob about underwater looking at seaslugs, coral and your depth gauge.

Fanny persevered and mastered windsurfing, but I abandoned learning to kite surf.

Whilst I am pretty good at handling and controlling kites and parafoils–through many years of paragliding I suppose–no amount of time was going to keep me upright on a wake board on top of the sea and I got fed up being dragged through the water inhaling plankton …and so I  jacked it in. A man’s gotta know his limits. My other activity was annoying the local police on my KTM as I cruised about in my standard Sinai biking configuration of flip flops and shorts, refusing to stop and refusing to pay bribes.

The incompetence of the local old bill was only matched by their colleagues in the ubiquitous Egyptian military.  How they must miss their despot dictator, but at least Mubarek told them which end of a falafel to start eating and stopped their incessant bickering.  Now they wander around like lost souls with only calls to prayer and loading their AK 47 rifle magazines to occupy them. Pointy ends forward, chaps.

As well as practicing my sand riding and off road motorcycling, I decided to get back into serious running mode, get fit and so found some amazing runs in the desert mountains that surround Dahab. The only fly in the ointment was that I became aware of a creature called the Burton’s Carpet Viper that makes its home in south Sinai.

Damn those Wikipedia people — I was quite happy in blissful ignorance.  Apparently, this evil viper is a monster of legend and is lurking in every nook and cranny and under every stone in the desert, poised to give anyone who crosses its path an agonising death.

If I am to believe the numerous emails from my friends and former colleagues in the Big 4 forensic accounting practices and consultancies around the planet this might be preferable to going back to work, but even so, evil vipers that one doesn’t share children with? It doesn’t bare thinking about.

Serious idling

Fanny windsurfing in the lagoon.

Back in Dahab

The view from our apartment in Dahab

Dogs and cats run amok in Dahab.. it’s a bit like Mui Wo on Lantau Island.

Moggy and I writing up this blog in our apartment in Dahab. How do you spell “kat”?

Look “Health and Safety” Brits… no green hi viz jacket and no safety goggles either.

A truly daft pose in the desert mountains (pic by Gary Corbett)

Lion fish … no touching

Going for an evening ride in the mountains …. and another wonderful evening sky in Dahab. The KTM 990 Adventure R is such a superb bike. They have taken us across Africa without any problems at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the interest of my continuing pursuit of Mandarin fluency, I continued to work on my Chinese everyday and wrote some rather basic articles for various magazines and websites which seemed to be appreciated by my three followers. Fanny was also very busy with articles for various publications and continued in her attempt to secure sponsorship to cover the pricey entry fees for both of us and our KTM bikes to enter into China, but times are tough and I suspect that the funding will never materialise. I am inclined to miss out riding into China and finish our trip in Europe unless Fanny achieves the impossible.  She is very determined though, has a following of more than three million people and has some influential people and Chinese PR companies on the case so you never know. (Note: we did ride 13,000 kilometers across China in the end .. but on CF Moto 650 TR motorcycles which were excellent)

Video links to China and Africa below-

http://youtu.be/XjPi7XJ9xdc

It seemed I was not the only Englishman to find refuge in Dahab during the winter months and we became close pals with two others.  One a retired and rather smashed up former 22 Regiment Special Air Service non-commissioned officer in his 70s from Merseyside and the other a chap about the same age as myself from East London who was studying for an Anthropology degree at Oxford University and in the distant past would have been a Metropolitan Police C11 (flying squad) target.

So…  an ex special forces soldier cum dive master, a London blagger cum academic, a Chinese intelligence specialist cum biker chick and a Hong Kong cop cum forensic accountant … what an eclectic bunch to hang out together drinking Bedouin tea and putting the world to rights.

Occasionally when the internet was running I would chat with friends around the world on Skype, including my friend, Nick Dobson and his Dad, Chris, a former Daily Telegraph war correspondent, war historian and author.  On one call Chris Senior reminisced back to the late 60s and early 70s when he rode on the back of an Israeli tank through many of the places we had ridden our bikes in the Sinai.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/3710300916/ref=cm_cr_rev_prod_title

Amazing tales.  So, friendly and chaotic Egyptians running Sinai, or grumpy and efficient Israelis?  Seems you can’t have everything in life… but perhaps the Egyptians have it. We like friendly.

In Egypt, Fanny is a popular name ...

In Egypt, Fanny is a popular name … “not” an internet search term!

Our buddie, Tony

Andrew Durant and I exploring  Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai

Our respective landships parked up in Dahab

Andrew and I go for ride through the Sinai desert to St Catherine’s monastery

Diver Rupert & Windsurfer Fanny

The H2O team doing a clean up dive of bay (Tony, Andrew Durant and myself included)

 

I also spent time with an old colleague from my Arthur Andersen days who has now become a serious motorcycle fan, with five very nice bikes in his garage in Kent, UK and an assortment of off-road and track courses under his belt. Apparently arriving to work in Surrey Street, London on my Suzuki GSXR 1300 Hayabusa one day sparked off his interest in bikes.  And quite right too… awesome bike.

Andrew came out to Dahab for a few days vacation, mainly to scuba dive, but we took the KTMs out for a spin to Saint Catherine’s monastery– which lies just below Mount Sinai where the Old Testament says Moses received the ten commandments.

Although it was very a bright and sunny day in the desert, it was uncomfortably cold on the motorcycles in the morning shadows and I should have worn many more layers of clothes. However beautiful the surroundings, it really is miserable being cold on a motorcycle.

We toured around the fascinating monastery buildings and then on the way back to the coast I had a big wobble on a bend in the middle of the desert.

I initially thought I had veered into one of the large cracks that the desert diurnal temperature difference makes in the road surface through continual expansion and contraction. But after wobbling to a stop I discovered that I had in fact picked up a six inch nail in my back Pirelli tyre.

To exacerbate my misfortune I had left all the tyre levers, the air pump and puncture repair kit back in the panniers back at the apartment in Dahab and so we managed to flag down a Bedouin pick-up “bakkie” and load my bike onto the back and return 100kms + to Dahab.  It required manoeuvring the bike from a small sand embankment onto a flat back truck and then pushing the bike off the flat back onto the back of the pick up and securing it with my tow rope.

Off roading

Off roading in the Sinai

Middle of the Sinai

Middle of the Sinai

Six inch nail embedded in my back tyre in middle of Sinai desert… annoying!

Fanny, myself and friends from China in Dahab

We had to take ferry up Lake Nasser (dammed upstream) of the Nile from Wadi Halfa in Sudan to Aswan in Egypt. I would have loved to have ridden this part of north Egypt, but the human inhabitants have some scam going on so that you cannot actually ride across the border. In Egypt we would run into literally hundreds of police and military road blocks across the entire country.  we would

 

Like my home in the small village of Arniston on the southern tip of Africa, each day in Dahab was like an episode of  BBC Radio 4’s “The Archers”, but without all the British mealie mouthed political correctness and popularized deviance.

Always some minor drama that got all the locals excited and yet in the big scale of things, irrelevant and unimportant. The real troubles in Cairo seemed a long way away.

I am not sure how long one has to stay somewhere before a place becomes “I lived in” rather than “I stayed at”.  Perhaps being given the  local “German Bakery” coffee shop discount card was a defining  moment in permanent residency.

Fanny got heavily involved with helping visiting Chinese find accommodation, transport and general assistance in return for them bringing in supplies from China.  Such supplies included a new Canon camera to replace the one I dropped, a helmet video camera to replace the GoPro that was stolen outside the Mosque, and an intercom set kindly donated by a Chinese OEM manufacturer. We also got very welcome supplies like Chinese spices, chili sauce, green tea, food ingredients and daft but useful things like flip-flops.

I checked out a few more dive sites in the Red Sea and got into the swing of scuba diving, free diving and snorkeling, but was getting itchy feet to go exploring again and so I decided that since we were unable to travel through Syria on the bikes that I would hike through Jordan and Israel and to the Syrian border to do a recce and generally do the tourist thing.

Fanny was not really interested in backpacking and sleeping rough in ditches (no idea why), and had friends coming over for Chinese New Year and so she decided to relax and hold the fort in Dahab. I packed a very small rucksack lent to me by our lovely landlady, Beatte (from Germany) and took an early local bus to Nuweiba where I hoped to catch the ferry to Aqaba in Jordan, which is just north of the border with Saudi Arabia.

I very much wanted to ride my bike but the temporary import duties and custom fees for Jordan and Israel were far too expensive, especially the fees to get back into Egypt and so I decided to travel light and use public transport instead. When I got to Nuweiba it was full of Syrian trucks queuing up to take the ferry to Jordan.

I wandered through the port and up to the ferry which was moored up and chatted with various drivers who all seemed very friendly and told me all about their woes in Syria.  I was very disappointed we could not travel through Syria and as each day passed the situation seemed to get worse and worse.

Two hours after the ferry should have set sail we were invited to board and my passport was checked and I was sent back to immigration as somehow or another I had managed to navigate myself around every single security, customs and immigration check point in the port during my walkabout.

Passport now stamped with an exit chop I boarded the ferry and after settling down I realized I was the only non-Arab passenger on the ship.

As we cross the Gulf of Aqaba we sailed close to the deserted coast of Saudi Arabia, a country that looked, at least from the sea,  pretty much like other parts of the Sinai.  However, because of the restrictions imposed by Saudi’s ultra extremist inhabitants could have been the far side of the moon.

As I scanned the deserted coast I pondered that the diving must be absolutely glorious because Saudis just hang about in air-conditioned shopping malls and rarely venture away from creature comforts.  It seemed strange that it is a land that Fanny is not allowed to ride her bike in. Indeed I don’t think women are allowed to do very much at all except hide in the shadows and make new little Saudis.

Rupert & Fanny in the Sinai

Rupert & Fanny in the Sinai

Fanny of St Catherines

Fanny of St Catherines

Another road block

Another road block

Fanny and I loaded up and parked up for another great Egyptian lunch

On the ferry from Egypt to Jordan

The Saudi coast.. looking very barren. Everyone is in the city shopping malls buying Victoria Secret’s knickers.

Huge Jordanian flag flying above Aqaba. Could see it for miles

Hiking in the stunningly beautiful Wadi Rum in Jordan

Wadi Rum in Jordan

 

On arrival at Aqaba port I was given a free visa, but I had to wait for an hour as the immigration officer had left his post and gone AWL.  As the only foreigner, and indeed only person left in the terminal I paced around looking at the numerous pictures of King Abdullah II Al Hussein that adorned the walls of the arrival hall.  In fact his portrait is all over Jordan and he always looked cheerful and well dressed in western suits, Arab finery, or more often than not in various types of military uniform with a chest full of medals that he had actually earned through military service as a young man.

The King is a well-educated chap and has been recognised for promoting progressive policies, economic growth and social reform since he came to the throne. Rare qualities in a leader and a stark contrast with Jordan’s neighbours.

As I exited the port I was descended upon by a huge number of touts and taxi drivers and to their surprise I sprinted away into the darkness of the desert. My escape and evasion was successful, but a few minutes later I realized my mistake as Aqaba town was actually about 8 kilometers away from the port and so I orientated myself, programmed my GPS and started my hike along a well made but deserted motorway into the town.

Actually I had walked only a few kilometers when a friendly bus driver picked me up and dropped me off in town by the biggest flag pole I had ever seen with a tennis court sized flag billowing in the wind… a flag I would later see from miles away on the Israel side of the border.

I wandered around town and found a restaurant that served excellent sheesh kebabs and barbecued chicken, after which I wandered around a bit more looking for a place to rough camp in my sleeping bag.

The town was very modern and had lots of bars and clubs and fast food outlets, but there was something strange about Aqaba that I could not immediately fathom and then it dawned on me. There were no women. I suppose there were woman, but definitely not on the streets after sunset.

I inquired about staying in a hotel and found out another interesting fact… it is bloody expensive in Jordan and so I found a quiet bit of beach, unpacked my sleeping bag and went to sleep. One of the joys and freedoms of traveling alone.

I woke many times in the night as you do when you are roughing it on an uneven surface and was quite pleased when I saw the red glow of dawn and got up and headed to where I had been told the mini buses go to Petra.  I found one, but it was not moving until it was full and the only occupant so far was a Chinese guy from Canada called Yee.

We decided we would upgrade and share a taxi and entered into negotiations with a local driver. Eventually we agreed on a trip to Wadi Rum, where we would stay for half a day to look around and then continue on to Petra. I found out that Yee also lived in Shanghai and worked for Disney Education.

Whilst Yee could also speak Mandarin he seemed more comfortable in English, although he spoke with exactly the same accent as Agent Smith in the movie “The Matrix”. When we were chatting about previous work and things he said ‘Oh, yes, the famous OORTHOOR ANDERRRSEN’, which made me snigger out loud, and so I had to tell him.

 

IMG_0163

A desert dog running with us in Wadi Rum in Jordan

Hiking in the stunningly beautiful Wadi Rum in Jordan

Amazing colours….

Petra in winter

Riding aboard a Bedouin 4×4 in Wadi Rum in Jordan

 

Wadi Rum is an absolutely stunning bit of Planet Earth. Beautiful.

On reflection even better than Petra which is pretty damned amazing in itself. We hired a Bedouin guide and a rather ropey 4×4 “thing” and toured the famous landmarks, including a Spring named after Lawrence of Arabia who camped there, allegedly. Our guide pointed in the direction of a gloriously picturesque open valley that disappeared into infinity and told us that Aqaba was three days camel ride away. Now that would have been an adventure and in retrospect I wish I had been impulsive and just done it, camping each night Bedouin style by a fire with the camels under the stars.  It would be damned good fun on a KTM 450 EXE as well.

I was wishing Fanny was with me and could see the desert. If she had been we would have probably have been impulsive and done the desert hike.

It was a crisp day, dry as a bone, the sun was blazing in an otherwise azure blue sky with just a few whiffs of cloud here and there. The desert colours were truly breathtaking and so we hiked around a bit taking in the amazing scenery. We were shown a small mountain with high sand dunes and our guide said he would meet us on the other side, no doubt so he could save fuel and whittle away some client time as we climbed the rocky hill.

Yee was not a Bear Gryls type of person, in fact far from it and he struggled a bit in his totally unsuitable shoes but eventually we made it to the peak and slid down the dune to the other side and carried on with our hike.

I was regretting not being in the more flexible position to change my mind and spend the whole day hiking about and then camp up at night in the desert by a Bedouin fire, but I had a taxi driver waiting and a companion who was keen to get on to Petra.

Another time.

After getting back in the taxi we had another 100 kilometers to drive to Petra and slowly climbed up into the mountains to an altitude of about 2000 meters. As we drove along deserted roads high up on the plateau I had to double take at the surrounding hill tops outside.

The pink landscape was dusted with white snow and ice!

I hadn’t seen snow since the summit of Mount Kenya but a bracing stop to take pictures brought it all flooding back. Bloody hell it was cold.  Freezing my nuts off on the equator in Africa and now re-freezing them in the middle of the desert in Jordan.

It’s not what you expect.

Hiking in Petra. The rock colours were amazing and some had distinct layers of colours  that looked like Licorice Allsorts and so I added some good specimens to my world tour rock collection that I keep in Arniston.

Icy Petra… I was not expecting snow in Jordan

 

As we got nearer to Petra I could see the deep valleys that the famous pink rock-hewn churches and monasteries were cut into.  I could also see hundreds, if not thousands of caves where the ancient troglodytes had lived, and some Bedouin tribes still do. A bit drafty, I thought.

Both Fanny and Yee had researched and recommended the same backpackers to stay in called, for some unknown reason,  The Valentine Inn  and that is where we decided to go.

http://www.valentine-inn.com/

When the taxi arrived I saw that the Valentine Inn was decorated with lots of red hearts like a garish brothel in Kowloon Tong. Oh Lord. But as it turned out it was actually a pretty decent hostel, warm, with very reasonably priced dorm rooms, and with an excellent and very reasonably priced evening meal and breakfast.

On arrival Yee applied all his attention to a young Korean lady from New Zealand who lived in Hong Kong teaching music, and I was left on my own, as indeed middle-aged sole travelers usually are in such places. Glad I had a book.

The next day I escaped from the prowling guides and touts and blagged my way into the grounds of Petra for free using the remains of someone else’s three day ticket thus saving a staggering 70 UK pounds!

It was also the first day of the Year of the Dragon and so there were hundreds of Chinese on holiday to annoy and impress with my cunning linguistic skills. As I was wandering about I bumped into a Hong Kong movie star wearing an Indiana Jones hat… de rigour attire for all the well-heeled tourists in Petra.

I tried out my Cantonese on Mo Lan-yung, or whatever he was called, and he asked me, how come, since I was a former Royal Hong Kong Police officer, my Cantonese was so rubbish.  A bit blunt I thought.

I was quick to retort and he seemed a little taken aback when I suggested Cantonese in this day and age was as much use as Welsh or Afrikaans and was therefore a language destined for extinction and thus pointless making any effort to learn or remember.  I waffled on about how I thought the only languages worth learning were Mandarin, Spanish, Arabic and English.

He was no more impressed or convinced by my argument than my Boer or Welsh friends.

Petra is quite an amazing place, especially the rock formations and colours. It was bigger and more dramatic than I expected, but unlike my fellow tourists I refused to ride a donkey up the 800 steps to the famous monastery at the top of the mountain and so I yomped up.

There were many sheer cliff walls with long drops and of course no western style “health and safety” fences to prevent people inadvertently cliff diving off the edge.  At the top on a precipice was a small hut with a breathtaking view over the valley and deserts that stretched out towards the horizon.

caves

Of course, that famous shot in Petra .. Indiana Jones style

 

There was a Bedouin man warming himself by a small fire inside the hut and I asked him if there was an alternative route back rather than hiking along the well trodden tourist path. He said there was,  but I would need to employ a guide. There was no way I was going to employ anyone, but it did mean it was possible. ‘How long would it take?’ ‘About three to four hours’, he replied.

Of course, that meant it would take two hours. Everyone always exaggerates, I thought, and so I disappeared quickly before his sales pitch could start and I scrambled down a cliff path into a dry wadi that suddenly fell away to a sheer drop of about 4-500 meters.

‘kin ‘ell. I looked back up at the Bedouin guy and he looked down at me and we both contemplated the situation and then he disappeared and I escaped before he could appear and say he told me so.

Through trial and error I tried every path I could see and could not for the life of me find the alternative route down to the valley. And then I saw it. A goat path zigzagging along steep slopes above more sheer cliffs. I nearly gave up, but then I thought bugger it, don’t look down and take it steady.

And so started my rock climbing challenge for idiots without proper kit. It seemed I was steadily climbing higher and higher rather than going down into the desired direction of the valley ….and then it happened.

The path momentarily disappeared and started again a few meters away. Between was a crevice of only a meter or so, but a seemingly infinite way down.  Nothing I thought. Pretend its just a short stepping stone and jump.

But I hesitated.

I was suddenly flushed with a severe bout of acrophobia. What if I fell?  That would be it.. game over. Worse… what if I fell and got stuck 127 hours style?

And then I just did it. I jumped and felt elated for a nano second until I realized my surroundings and discovered I had in fact jumped onto the top of a Wile E Coyote cartoon type column of rock.

For crying out loud.

Breathe deeply, gently turn 180 degrees, focus on a  landing spot on the other side of the chasm and leap.

Except I was still completely frozen on the spot …on all fours.  Petrified in Petra.

I reflected on my predicament for what seemed like an age. No one knew where I was. I had no phone.  No ID. And I had someone else’s three-day ticket–with their name on it. 

And then I thought through the indignity of being rescued … probably by some  “I told you so”  Bedouins on mountain camels that would tip toe along the narrow and precarious mountain ledges.

Before I could think too much more I was back across the void and scrambling away the way I came. Thank fuck for that was my only thought.

When I got back to the wadi the Bedouin fellow was waiting for me and I flinched and cowered in embarrassment as he said,  ‘Not that way- it’s very dangerous’….. ‘That way’, and he pointed to a glaringly obvious well trodden path that had somehow been invisible before. ‘Oh yes’,  ‘just looking around’, I lied, ‘ Thank you…’ and waved as confidently as I could and started along the “correct” route which took pretty much four hours of hiking, exactly as he told me it would.

While I was hiking back I managed to see some amazing temple ruins and caves that were off the tourist trail and also passed through the local village known as  “Little Petra” that appeared very run down and very poor.

I smiled at some small grubby children who were playing in the road and they looked up at me in astonishment, burst into tears and started howling and so I quickened my pace and checked frequently over my shoulder to see if an angry mob with burning torches was in pursuit.

As the sun was setting I entered the common room of the Valentine Inn and could see my traveling partner, Yee still trying his luck with the Korean girl, but clearly getting nowhere. He was waffling on about reading palms and deciphering human auras and the girl was doing a really bad job pretending that she was interested.

I wondered whether I should intervene and help him out, but I decided chatting up girls is something he is going to have to work out by himself and so I left him to it and set about planning my route to Jerusalem.

The next day Yee, two Japanese guys and I shared a minibus to the Jordanian Capital, Amman from where we intended to get another bus to the King Hussein border and into Israel.

When we arrived at the Jordanian side of the border the crossing was thankfully very quick and we took a bus for another 5 kilometers across no-man’s land to the Israeli border which is called Allenby.

There were many rather striking Israeli female soldiers in combat uniforms with M4 machine guns and punk haircuts manning the checkpoints and public areas.  As expected the security was tight, but the immigration and customs process was pleasingly efficient and quick.

Lunch at bus station in Israel

 

 

I had heard you could get an Israeli immigration stamp put on a piece of paper as a stamp in my passport would prevent me from entry into Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan, and perhaps Iran and Pakistan.

They interviewed me politely and were very interested in our adventure, especially our trip through Sudan.  I waxed lyrical about how amazing the country was and what wonderful people the Sudanese were, and did they know Sudan also had pyramids like Egypt? Blah Blah!

What I had realized throughout the trip was the quickest way to get through immigration and customs was to bore the officials to death so that they would quickly process the papers.

They did ask me if I wanted a piece of paper stamped, but I said ‘No’,  I didn’t see why I had to pander to childish and petty political nonsense. However, I had an ulterior motive as this would give me justification to apply for a second passport from London.

I had tried unsuccessfully to get a second passport from the British Consulate in Hong Kong and now I had a plan.

In any case, I have been to Sudan already, Fanny is not allowed to ride in Saudi Arabia, my connections at the border with Syria told me it was about to descend into civil war, and at the time Iran and Pakistan were at risk of being nuked by Israel and the US.

I managed to lose my Japanese fellow travelers somewhere near Syria and Yee had stayed in Amman, and so I got a cheap  mini bus back down and through towards Jerusalem which I was thoroughly looking forward to.

Israel already looked the most advanced country I had been to since South Africa. Trees everywhere, smart shops, well-built cream coloured stone houses and offices, and generally a feel of being well organised.

The most striking initial impression was that there were military personnel everywhere, mostly young teenagers armed to the teeth.

The second was that it is a smorgasbord of races and religions.  The most obvious are the Haredi or ultra orthodox Jews who scurry about in their black uniforms, eccentric hats and religious paraphernalia. They were not very friendly, I guess because they make a serious effort to isolate themselves from everyone and look disapprovingly on anyone else’s lifestyle.

There were also a lot of Palestinian, many more than I expected to see and many were quite aggressive looking and again, unfriendly. Adding to the mix of cultures and beliefs were lots of orthodox Christians and pilgrims from Greece, Turkey, Russia and Armenia.

With such a mixed and eclectic population, and with such a long and violent history you would expect Jerusalem to be a tinder box, and I think it is. It felt edgy and hostile, but the police and security forces looked professional and well able to deal with it.

With all due respect to the Israelis, I think it is fair to say it is not a particularly friendly place, in fact many of the people I met were rude and overly aggressive.

There were also a lot of tourists milling about, especially Americans who were noticeably absent in most parts of Africa and the Middle East that we had traveled through thus far.

Some of the tourists I met were open-minded, moderate and interested in visiting the epicenter of the Holy Lands;  others were clearly barking mad religious extremists who were engaging in some kind of spiritual orgy.

Still, each to their own. So long as they don’t make it compulsory is my attitude to religion.

Where the crucifixion is said by many to have been… Jerusalem

An Orthodox Jewish chap bustling along the streets of Jerusalem

Tourist tack being sold next to the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus is said to have been crucified.

 

I stayed at a very well run and clean backpackers in the middle of the city called Abraham Hostel

 

http://www.abraham-hostel-jerusalem.com/

 

It offered a very good breakfast, cheap dorms, good facilities and a travel center that could arrange all sorts of tours, including the free Old City tour that I went on the next morning. A bit of an evangelical happy clappy youth missionary feel about it, but then Israel is what it is, the 51st State of America and so I suppose it was to be expected.

Whilst the tour was ostensibly free, Naomi, our four foot tall and four foot wide tour guide reminded everyone on the quarter of the hour, every quarter of an hour that she survived on our tips and our generosity-just like those irritating waiters we Brits have to suffer every time we try to eat something in America.

My name is like Chuck and I’ll like toadally be your like toadally tax dodgin” wayda and like interrupt you like toadally like through your toadally like entire meal …like”….. “Have a toadally like nice day like”.

 

Anyway, despite being in the middle of winter, it was a sunny and stunningly beautiful day and we were shown around the maze of the Christian, Muslim, Armenian and Jewish quarters of the ancient city.

We were also  given an introduction to the incredibly rich and complex history of Jerusalem, much of which was new to me and I have to say absolutely fascinating. I actually spent quite a bit of time researching and reading up about places I visited, although getting a secular or independent version of events was not that easy. Most people are already indoctrinated and convinced of their own point of view that little they see or experience is going to change their mind.

For me my visit to Jerusalem has strengthened my view that all the religions are manifestations of superstitions that play to the frailties of human beings and have been used very effectively by the powerful to control other human beings, and for the powerless to tolerate being controlled by other human beings.

Whether there is in fact a God or Soul of the Universe I still don’t know …but the reality is neither does anyone else. I feel there is, but such beliefs are private matters and not to be inflicted upon others.

Amen.

People  who know me will be astounded that many years ago as a small boy I was actually an Alter-boy and I used to serve at Mass at Saint Joseph’s Church in Burton Upon Trent in Staffordshire.

On occasions, usually Good Friday, we used to perform a Benediction Mass and “Stations of the Cross”, a service that requires a meditation at each of the 14 stations that feature around the inside walls of all Catholic Churches.  Now in Jerusalem I was able to follow the real thing up to the The Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

At the 11th Station there was a small stall renting out wooden crosses to pilgrims and even some shops selling crowns of thorns and little baby Jesus dolls.  I knew Filipinos were prone to mixing up their Catholicism and Austronesian superstitions and were particularly fond of  a good torture re-enactment when the supply of Virgin Mary-like tree stumps and mud fish was running low, but I was surprised such superstitious devotions occurred in Jerusalem.

Of course I had to try one out and immediately thought of the Monty Python film, “Life of Brian”  with all those great sketches and stir it up blasphemies.  The crosses were all half scale sized, either for crucifying dwarfs or because the Israeli department of health and safety was worried about tourists putting their backs out.

As Naomi was telling us about a recent punch up between Greek and Armenian Christian monks outside the site Jesus was allegedly crucified, I was caught singing and whistling,  “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” with the cross on my shoulder and was immediately admonished and left in no doubt I was in disgrace by everyone around me.

No sense of humour some people.

He’s not the Messiah .. he’s a very naughty boy.

Wailing Wall

 

So what else was there to see?

Well no trip to Jerusalem is complete without a visit to see the West Wall which in itself is just an old wall, but the wailing and head nodding by the faithful was mildly interesting, if not rather bizarre.

I had to buy a Jewish skull-cap to go in and look at the wall myself, so I bought one from a stall that was selling an assortment in different colours and patterns. Some had Rastafarian colours with five leaved plants on them (?), some with pictures of Homer Simpson (??). All very at odds with what I thought the point of the bodily adornment was for in the first place. Anyway, I found the perfect skull cap….  embroidered with the Chelsea Football Club badge. It looked great and I thought might come in useful one day if I am ever granted an audience with Comrade Abramovich.

I also saw the Dome of the Rock and the Temple Mount.

We were told we would not be allowed bring in any Bibles or engage in any praying at the Temple Mount and this prompted a huge Texan in our group to ask if he could bring in his iPhone as it had a Bible App?  This caused a bit of a debate as I think the Romans, the Knesset, Mohammed, King David, Angel Gabriel, Herod and the whole bunch of humans who make up these rules had overlooked the possibility of this technological advancement.

The foundation stone in the Temple Mount is believed by some, including many in our tour group, to be the first ever rock from which the world was created and so arguably the most religious site in Jerusalem, if not the World.

I was reliably informed by my Jewish guide, and this was confirmed by a lady from the fundamental autonomous region of South Carolina that it is the oldest thing on the planet… and therefore about 5,000 years old.

Huh?, I thought.  My mother’s pug dog in Abbots Bromley is older than that!

But there was no point arguing the toss. It seems that Jerusalem has been argued over, conquered, knocked down and re-built over and over again throughout its 3,000 year old history. It’s difficult to keep track of which religious group or sect owns which bit.  According to Wikipedia Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times.

Enough religious stuff, it was now time for a bit of shopping, not that I could afford much.  I wanted some Israeli Defence Force T-shirts for Fanny and as presents for friends. An Israeli flag to stick on my panniers to match my Israeli stamp in my passport.  I also wanted to replace my punctured inner tube as the bastard Sinai 6 inch nail had done a bloody thorough job making several large holes. I had in fact patched up the inner tube but I had nagging doubts about the quality of my handiwork.

The T-shirts were easy to find from one of the many army surplus shops in the city.  I got the inner tube from KTM Jerusalem, which didn’t have many KTM bikes or parts because imports are taxed sky-high in Israel,  but they did have a 150/70 -18 ultra heavy-duty tube and so I took it.  My efforts to find an Israeli flag sticker were not so successful so I bought a Palestine Liberation Organisation one instead. No one will know the difference.

For me, two days in Jerusalem was enough. I am glad I went, but wont be disappointed if I don’t go again. It’s like being a kid and living in a household with parents who fight all day. Tense, miserable and damaging to the soul.

I wanted to leave Israel by the Eilat/Taba border back into Egypt, but also wanted to stop off by the Dead Sea for a swim. The buses took a bit of juggling but I eventually found one and was thrown off at a place called Ein Gamph, right next to the salt encrusted shores of the Dead Sea where the water is ten times more saline than normal sea water.

Israeli emergency response police with a BMW GS 800 they use for patrolling.

Rupert having a swim at Dead Sea

I wasted no time and I stripped off down to my underpants which really needed a wash anyway after five days hiking and jumped into the water which turned out to be warmer than I expected and had a sort of slimy feel to it– I think due to the salt rather than my underpants.

Of course, the oddest thing is the incredible buoyancy and you float on top of the water rather than in it.  No Dead Sea swim is complete without getting some water into your eyes which is excruciatingly painful. It also burns your tongue if you stick it into the water, which of course curiosity dictates we all have to do.

After a dip in the water and a wallow in the medicinal mud, which is supposedly good for one’s health and skin, I got out feeling good, but no different to how I normally do and went to the bus stop and waited optimistically for the No.444 bus to Eilat which eventually came 2 hours later and swished by me without showing any inclination whatsoever to stop.

It was the last one and so when my jaw lifted and my mouth finally closed I accepted that I might be staying a bit longer in Mein Kampf. In fact another 14 hours until the next No.444 came by at 8.00 am the next day.

I thought how lucky we were to have our “go anywhere” bikes on this trip and really missed my KTM which would have been great fun in Israel and wouldn’t have left me stranded.

Anyway, there was no point blubbing by a lonely bus stop and so I wandered around for a while, found some crisps to eat for dinner and watched Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy on my laptop whilst wrapped up in my sleeping bag by the shores on the Dead Sea…. as one does.

I had a good night’s sleep under the stars at 480 meters below sea level and despite a very rare rainstorm during the night I stayed warm and dry in my sleeping bag. As the sun was rising I had a dawn dip in the Dead Sea and later found a fast food kiosk that opened up early, made me coffee and some toast for breakfast and had an interesting yarn with the ever so slightly insane owner.

I then went to the bus stop and boarded the bus which arrived at exactly 8.00am and then I got dropped off at 11.30am in the sunny and very touristy southern Israeli town of Eilat. It was from here I could see the huge Jordanian flag in Aqaba on the other side of the gulf.

I arrived at a completely deserted border crossing as all the officials had either gone off to prayer or to have a midday snooze and when they arrived back I breezed through the Egyptian border town of Taba.  Again as far as I could tell I was the only tourist at the border crossing and I was the only person to board a mini bus that took me down the beautiful Sinai coastline, and by 3.00pm I was back in Dahab.

After telling Fanny about my adventures over tea and falafels I spent an afternoon wrestling my tyre off the rim of the rear wheel and fitted the new inner tube I bought in Jerusalem. I thoroughly cleaned both bikes, re-greased and oiled whatever parts required and pretty much got the KTMs looking like new, although I had to admit both could really do with new tyres.

After 23,000 kilometers both sprockets and chains looked in great order. That proved we had the bikes perfectly set up and our campaign of reasonably limited hooliganism had been successful.

Meeting one of a very few fellow adventure riders in Dahab. This German RTW rider had a beautiful BMW, one I would far rather ride than a modern GS1200.

Biking meet diving – Dahab

Andrea, Gary (The Corbetts) and Rupert preparing to dive at Canyon, Dahab. A deep dive into a volcanic fissure

John (dive instructor) and Gary and Andrea Corbett, Canyons, Dahab

Camels and KTMs at Blue Hole, Dahab

 

We also had some more visitors to Dahab– Andrea and Gary Corbett from Derbyshire in England. I went to school with Andrea in Staffordshire back in the day and she is a Ducati Monster rider. Her husband, Gary, comes from Scotland and is a fairly recent convert to motorcycling and rides a Yamaha XJ 900.

They are both big climbers and ex mountain rescue team members in the Derbyshire Peaks and they had come out to Dahab to join us in some diving, snorkeling, biking, running and of course idling about.

As luck would have it, their visit coincided with Dahab’s once a year storm and so they endured not only the less than perfect weather but my constant reminders that the weather wasn’t normally like this and that it was very sunny before they arrived.

The politest way I can describe Andrea is that she is vertically challenged and this clearly annoys her because her feet cannot touch the ground on 95% of all motorcycles. This meant that Gary, with much less motorcycling experience than Andrea would have to ride Fanny’s KTM with Andrea on the back as pillion.  She was not happy about this at all.

As we went for a ride we used Fanny’s new Chinese helmet video camera and managed to record Andrea looking absolutely terrified perched up on the back of the pillion seat. She was especially displeased when we decided to do a bit of off roading and racing about, particularly when Gary decided to steeply lean the bike around corners despite me warning him that the tyres really were on their last legs.

We left Dahab at the end of February with mixed feelings. It’s a beautiful place, and we enjoyed the laid back life by the sea, but we had both started to get itchy feet again and wanted to move on. Fanny had been told that China Shipping had a Ro Ro (Roll On Roll Off) leaving Alexandria on the 28th and we aimed to put our bikes on it and take a flight to Istanbul and then take a bus to Mersin on the south coast of Turkey to meet the ship a week later.

China Shipping promised to pay all the fees at the Egyptian side, a promised they later reneged on and in the end we had to cough up. Not sure what went wrong, but for other potential explorers coming through Egypt please note that everything to do with customs, immigration and import and export of vehicles in Egypt is hideously expensive, risky and uncertain, and will take considerably longer than anyone tells you it will.  Copious amounts of patience, good humour and good luck is needed.

Like any good plan, always have fall back options and contingencies. Since we had seven days to ride to Alexandria we decided to spend a few days on the most southerly tip of the Sinai, called Ras Mohammed. A diving paradise and a beautiful place to camp and relax. After we left Dahab we got there fairly quickly and had a chance to dust off the gear and do some snorkeling in some of the best coral reefs on the planet.

While we were camped on the deserted sandy beach I actually decided to sleep outside the tent under the stars and give Fanny a break from my feet.  There was no one around, we were on the isolated southern tip of the Sinai peninsula and because of the dry air and lack of pollution the northern hemisphere constellations were crystal clear and an amazing finale to our unintended five months stay in Egypt.

Ras Mohammed, south tip of Sinai

Camping at Ras Mohammed, Sinai. Fanny reading a copy of “Ride” magazine, not that she needed to because we were having the ride of our life.

Sand riding at Ras Mohammed, Sinai

Its a beautiful world if you make the effort to see it

Our boots on the KTM mirrors look like creatures against the setting sun

 

The next day was gloriously sunny and I decided to go snorkeling right in front of our tent and bikes. The water was a degree or so warmer than Dahab and that made all the difference. Once inside the water there were initially only sand beds but in the distance I could see an underwater coral island teeming with every fish in the Red Sea “Marine Life” book.

I knew it would be my last chance for a while, if indeed ever again, and spent a good part of the day free diving down to join by far the best life in Egypt. We spent another glorious day at Ras Mohammed and then we then decided to join up with John and Jan, fellow KTM 990 Adventure riders from Sharm El Sheikh and take a few pictures and join them at the local English pub for a very well attended boule competition.

Given the number of evenings I have played this game with my cheating friends in Arniston on the cliffs above the bay with a glass of cheeky I breezed through to the semi finals, but ultimately it was not to be my day and I was beaten by determined local talent.

Jan very kindly put us up at his villa on the cliffs above the harbour with his five dogs. A beautiful house from the days when style was en vogue and dustmen were in employment in Egypt. On the way to Jan’s house we had to ride the bikes precariously close to the edge of the crumbly cliff. As I had been drinking in the T2 pub and Fanny had not I decided to ride the bikes. Naturally.

Bright and early the next day we set off north to Port Said on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and the port closest to the mouth of the Suez Canal. Although we had about 600 kilometers to ride we were in no real rush and I savoured probably my last ever view of the Sinai, the Red Sea and the desert mountains. It really is a barren, but beautiful bit of Planet Earth, spoiled only by us, its human inhabitants and our debris, pollution and trash.

We stopped off for lunch at the best falafel restaurant we had been to in the whole of Africa, at a place called Ras Sedr just south of the Suez tunnel.  Falafels, bread, salad, tahina and bedouin tea with mint… the whole lot for a quid. Very very delicious and made a very slight credit to our “being ripped off on the trip” account. Huge debits are to come later on in Alexandria. Oh well, one should enjoy the little victories when one can.

T2 English pub in Sharm El Sheikh with four KTM 990 Adventures in the car park.

These bikes are the real deal and between the four of them have seen some real adventures.

Port Said… continuing troubles that plague the whole of Egypt. Having chatted with many Egyptians and Sinai/Sahara Beduoins I predict even more trouble.. sadly.

I love this picture. This one image describes what our adventure was all about. The bikes in full adventure mode, a new and exciting location, meeting the locals, eating and drinking the real deal, relaxing, and being with Fanny

Cruising along good roads towards Suez. The same stretch of road we experienced a huge sand storm a month or so early.

We had a bit of a refueling crisis after lunch as Egypt, which sits on huge oil and gas reserves and has oil refineries polluting the environment up and down the Red Sea, often has no petrol at its own fuel stations.

My particular theory is that this fuel shortage is due to the urgent demand for oil to make gel and hair products for Egyptian men. Anyway, this particular town had not only run out of 95 octane which our bikes like, but had no petrol whatsoever.

After a frantic double back along the road we had just ridden we found 90 octane at a grubby station and so I thought it wise to add the remainder of our octane booster additive as I really hoped that would be the last that we would need it, going to Europe and all.

That said we kissed goodbye to 15-20 pence a liter fuel and braced ourselves for the most expensive fuel in the world…Europe, and in particular, Turkey.

As we approached the Suez the military presence got heavier and heavier with tanks, armoured personnel carriers, and armed soldiers at every junction. They never gave us any problems and always waved cheerily at us, and if we did get stopped went through their usual practice of asking pointless questions and giving our bikes a cursory “look up and down”.

Not once did they ever check what was in our panniers or perform a proper check. If I was their commander there would have been some well delivered lectures and quite a few “bollockings”. But it’s not my problem and never will be. We are just guests in a country going through a very turbulent and often violent transformation. The best one can do is keep the good-humoured smile going, despite one’s mind thinking otherwise.

Inside the Chinese Consulate and Ambassadors home in Port Said.

Fanny and our bikes outside the Chinese Consulate in Port Said. A big thank you for their help.

While we were in Port Said we went to visit and say thanks to Mr. Xu (徐先生), the Chinese Ambassador in Alexandria and Port Said who also happened to be the head of the Chinese state-owned firm, COSCO in Egypt. He had been kind enough to help us with various things and had got to know Fanny very well.

He lived and worked out of probably the nicest house is Port Said, an art deco palace of sorts that used to be an Italian residence in better times.

After drinking tea in the Ambassadors office we waved our goodbyes and headed off along the International Coastal Highway to Alexandria which was about 250 kilometers from Port Said.  The coast was not that pretty and the towns were chaotic and run down.

When we got to Alexandria I was a tad disappointed.  Its glorious Greek, Hellenic, Roman, Ottoman, and British history, architecture and monuments had been obliterated over the years and what we found was a crumbling version of Bognor Regis surrounded by a sea of rubbish and environmentally hostile factories and grubby warehouses.

What a karsi.

All that is left are the ruins of a small Roman theater, the new and forgettable  Bibliotheca Alexandrina (!) and  Pompey’s Pillar (!!).  Alexander the Great might well be a tad disappointed as well.

The Bay in Alexandria

Whilst in Alexandria we stayed at the Union Hotel, which was not bad and had great views over the harbour, but it had no car park or secure parking and so we had to park our bikes outside the front door on the pavement and pay a watchman,  who subsequently disappeared, and so Fanny and I maintained a vigil on a bench in our sleeping bags throughout most of the night.

Despite our efforts we found in the morning that both bikes had been subjected to minor acts of vandalism such as pulling off indicators, bending mirrors and peeling off country flag stickers from the panniers. Some people, huh?

Later in the day we were met by one of Fanny’s Facebook motorcycle buddies, called Omar, who had ridden a Honda Africa Twin across Africa in 2009.  We were later to accept his kind hospitality and stayed at his house on the outskirts of the city where, importantly, we could safely park our bikes and have peace of mind.

Whilst riding with him through the city I quickly discovered that I had got a puncture in my rear tyre.  It was very soon after we set off and so I do not think it was an accident, but rather another act of mindless vandalism as a small nail had clearly been pressed into the rubber tread and I suspect while it was parked overnight outside in the street.

So, I set about repairing the puncture near a busy road junction and I quickly got the tyre off and found that the inner tube I had bought in Israel was seriously perished and had a huge tear where the small nail went in. This inner tube must have been on the shelf in Jerusalem since Pontius Pilate was a boy.

It was too big a hole to patch up and so I threw it away and replaced it with a normal gauge (thin) inner tube that we carried along with other spares in my panniers and which is better suited to riding on the tar roads ahead anyway. AND SO….  was to begin our day(s) from hell in Alexandria.

After wrestling the beading of the rear tyre back into place with water, washing up liquid, blowing it up to 3 bars and bouncing it about I put the wheel back on and I discovered that I had lost my sunglasses. Not only that, one of the legs of my only trousers had finally given up the ghost and literally fallen off, but worst of all I found that the rear WP shock absorber of my 9 month old 2011 KTM 990 Adventure R had failed.

Luckily, unlike a BMW rear shock that will collapse, the WP shock on a KTM will support the weight of the bike, just, but there is no rebound and so it will bounce about and bottom out very easily. It is just about ride-able on very flat and smooth surfaces and very slowly, which of course is nigh on impossible in Egypt.

The suspension was now extremely spongy and research through KTM forums on the internet suggested that the gaskets had failed and the nitrogen and oil had probably escaped. Clucking Bell. What else could go wrong? Clearly a lot– there were still a few more hours left in that day for fate to ruin the day even more.

Omar supervising, while I repair the puncture to my rear tyre on the side of the road in the city center of Alexandria

The gasket seal has ruptured and the nitrogen gas and oil has leaked out of the WP rear shock . Luckily the KTM WP suspension allows the weight of the bike (and me) to be supported by the orange spring..just!. Its not ideal but allows you to ride slowly to a location to get it repaired. The strong point about WP suspension is that it can be rebuilt and made as good as new. However, this is not something you can do yourself and it needs to be sent away to an expert with the correct tools and of course re-build kit. This is an advantage over the BMW which is not as robust as the KTM for true off roading and RTW adventure.

I’m looking for the right word to describe my state of the art WP rear suspension… ???

I contacted  KTM in Cape Town, from where I bought the bikes and from where over the years I had spent in excess of half a million Rand, and they said the shock absorber was not covered by the warranty and further added its to be expected on a trip like ours and best that we ride to an authorised dealer to get it repaired. Wonderful advise, thank you so much.

So to all Cape To Cairo potential explorers make sure you are always near an authorised dealer, and carry a clean handkerchief and don’t talk to strangers. Deep breathes and relax… aaahhhh!

That said one must note that the Long Way Down team on their BMWs had several suspension failures and so it happens to all the best adventure bikes I suppose. Still, the reason why I chose KTM was that this should not happen. It’s a hassle of note, and a very expensive one which will make a huge dent in the expedition budget.

We were also very excited to find out through various forums and from Omar that a new ferry service was being introduced between Alexandria and Mersin and that the first would depart Alexandria on the 28th. Of course we were very keen to get on as it would be quicker, cheaper and easier than the RoRo cargo ship from China Shipping… but sadly like so much good news in Egypt that wasn’t going to happen… not for now anyway.  Oh well, 没办法。 http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/middle-east/trying-reach-turkey-egypt-any-62770#post368714

The next day whilst enduring yet another day of bureaucratic purgatory and being shunted from one squalid “government” waiting area to another I was to find out that the offer of free shipping for our bikes by Mr. Mohamed Roshdy of China Shipping Line wasn’t free after all either.  In fact, we had to pay everything at both the Egyptian and Turkish sides.

Certainly, if I had been on my own, I would have risked riding through Syria at that moment. In fact, all in all I regret that we did not make a run for it. It was still in the early days of the civil war and we could have made it over the Jordanian border and skirted the trouble zones up to the border with Turkey.

Or we could have got shot or captured by Syrian rebels or Government forces. Either way we would not have had the chance to actually enjoy Syria or see Damascus which was on our list of things to see.

Decisions decisions.

Fanny (center) and the Chinese Ambassador  徐先生 (right)

 

The whole idea of riding to Alexandria rather than going through Jordan and Syria was predicated on the fact that Syria was risky and China Shipping Line had promised Fanny they would help us cross the Mediterranean for free.

Of course, I was annoyed about the extra expense and paying ten Egyptians to a do a job that doesn’t even need doing by one person, but what upset me the most was that Fanny was extremely upset and hurt by the whole incident and had lost face.  A very bad thing for Chinese people.

As far as bureaucratic red tape goes, the whole Egyptian leg had been seriously time-consuming and ten times more expensive than all the other African countries we had been through put together. It is very fair to say that Egypt is a complete rip off and in all honesty I cannot recommend that anyone brings in their foreign registered vehicle, unless they have serious money to burn and have some sort of perverse masochistic streak.

I was reminded of the German expedition we met just south of the Sudanese border who were fuming about how they were treated in Egypt and now I knew how they felt. Scuba divers and sun-seekers on a package holiday to Sharm El Sheikh may not know what really goes on under the surface of Egypt and they don’t really need to.

They breeze in on Easy Jet, get picked up by a charming hotel driver from the airport and are deposited on their beach deck chairs and then a week later they go home with pictures of Bedouin fires and stripy fish, whilst clutching a stuffed camel.

Any foreigner living in Egypt for any length of time will know all too well what all the negatives, dangers, and inefficiencies are already, and for those that don’t live there they will not stay long enough to worry.

But I will say that for a country that sits on oil and gas reserves, generates huge revenues from the Suez canal and is blessed with both natural and historical wonders you would think Egypt has it made. However the reality is that it is quite the opposite.

Five thousand years of civilization …  in reverse.

Some of the receipts and invoices we incurred in Egypt totally over US$1000 for absolutely nothing…

Our wonderful bikes left in a very dusty Egyptian Customs Department warehouse in Alexandria… I felt like a parent that had left the children to be looked after by Jimmy Savile.

Anyway, suffice to say after 5 months a move was well overdue and we were very exited that we were moving on to Turkey and Europe.

Predictably, I suppose, the ship never arrived on the expected date and so we had no choice but to leave our bikes in a customs warehouse in Alexandria in the hope that three days of excruciatingly painful and expensive paperwork will see them eventually loaded onto the cargo ship, the MV Grand Napoli on the 1st or 2nd of March.

This cargo ship, once it actually sets sail from Alexandria, was scheduled to arrive ten days later in Mersin on the southern coast of Turkey from where we planned to collect our motorcycles from the port. We were to take the short cut and fly to Istanbul and after a few days take a bus across Turkey to the south coast. 

I am pleased to say that we eventually managed to get both motorcycles’ carnet de passages (trip ticks as the locals call them) signed off by the authorities and we were both very relieved to get our passports returned to us.  

Assuming both bikes actually arrive, as there is always a risk, my KTM 990 Adventure R will go into the KTM garage in Mersin where the mechanics will attempt to re-build the shock and then we will ride along the southern coast in early spring, an area of Turkey that is supposed to be amazingly beautiful.

(Post Note : KTM Turkey did an awesome job and rebuilt the WP like new and shipped it to Mersin where it was expertly fitted by the local KTM garage… job done) 永不放弃   or perhaps  愚公移山                                  

The MV Grande Napoli .. taking our bikes from Alexandria in Egypt to Mersin in Turkey…or so we hope!

Chapter 12 – Keeping two KTMs on the road in Egypt

Apart from very heavy down pours in Ethiopia, our KTM 990 Adventures hadn’t been cleaned the entire trip and had gradually started to look a bit battle weary. They were both mechanically sound, but badly in need of a service. There was nothing really wrong with either of them, but I could tell from the engine sound and performance that the time had come to for them to visit the bike spa.

It had been more than 9,000 kms  and some tough roads since we left Nairobi where both bikes had been given a basic and rather mediocre service at enormous cost and I am still reeling over the fact that KTM Nairobi had failed to check the tension of the chains, nor lubricate them and had the audacity to say that doing so would cost extra. The bikes had not been cleaned either, always a red flag of a bad service.

Before we set off, I had worked with KTM Cape Town on the 18,000 km service on Fanny’s bike and my new R had had the initial 1,000 km service which basically entailed changing the “run in” oil and tightening things up.

Now both bikes had done 21,000 kms across the continent of Africa in conditions and surfaces ranging from volcanic rocks in north Kenya, salty humid Tanzanian and South African coastlines,  4,000+ metres plateaus and rain storms in Ethiopia, scorching hot deserts in Sudan, sandy gravel roads in Namibia,  blinding sand storms in Egypt and sliding about in mud in the Masai Mara.

 

 

We found out about a KTM shop in the surburbs of Cairo which turned out to be a rather small sales centre. The KTM service centre and mechanics were actually in Sharm El Sheikh, only 100 kms away from Dahab where we were to live for a couple of months.

We found out that KTM Sharm had excellent mechanics and a state of the art workshop, however they did not carry all the spares needed for a full service, especially those needed for our LC8 engines and so we had to wait some time while they sourced the correct engine oil for our motorcycles, which they did, Motorex 20W-60 fully synthetic oil endorsed by KTM. When I asked the price I assumed the answer had been given in Egyptian pounds. No…. Euros.. All one hundred and ten of them for 4 litres! Clucking Bell.

 

Luckily we were carrying spare fuel filters, spark plugs and oil filters– which we had carried all the way from Cape Town, but we didn’t have any air filters which are actually a bit bulky and we only had a few litres of oil for top-ups. Fanny’s old 2009 Kawasaki KLR 650 used to drink more oil than petrol, but our LC8s barely used any.  The KTM user manual recommended  10W-50 fully synthetic, but allegedly a memo had been sent by the KTM factory in Austria to service centres around the world recommending 10W-60 Power Synt which was what KTM Cape Town put in our bikes and we were carrying.

 

So what was this 20W-60 liquid gold stuff? It seems that the oil grade numbers describe the viscosity ratings required to protect rotating parts from heat and friction at ambient temperatures. Different brands and grades also contain different types of additives and detergents that are critical to keeping engines running.  However, depending on what material, say, engine bearings are made of can mean a particular oil can be either beneficial or harmful over extended periods of time.

All very confusing, but suffice to say the more specific an oil needs to be the more technical and expensive they are. Whilst, one could put common 10W-30 multi-grade in an LC8 engine, it would almost certainly degrade quickly causing damage in the long term, or indeed in the short term during a demanding rally race in the desert, or extended and demanding use on a motorcycle expedition such as ours.

According to to the manufacturers, Motorex 20W-60 was made specifically for KTM rally racing in hot desert conditions, such as the famous Dakar Rally. In the absence of the recommended 10W-60 Power Synt oil, this higher specification oil would be fine, albeit being more suited to higher temperature environments like Africa. How it performs in the cold of a European winter we will have to see, if indeed the starter can turn the engine with such thick oil.

Fanny and I made an appointment with Hossam, the boss at KTM Egypt and then rode through the desert mountains to the southern tip of the Sinai peninsular.  A great ride, and I was thoroughly looking forward to the return ride after the bikes had been serviced when we could enjoy giving the bikes a bit of a blast.

Each bike required about 8- 10 hours of labour and Fanny’s still had a few minor problems to sort out due to her involuntary cartwheels in the Namib desert and a few spills here and there.  The chief mechanic had been sent to KTM in Europe for training and was very familiar with all their bikes.

When we arrived we were very warmly welcomed and also given a guided tour of the very impressive facilities and workshop. There was a truly amazing desert training track and an impressive collection of KTM 450 EXEs.

The training school and guided desert tours were run by Ricardo from Italy, a seasoned KTM rally racer.  The school provided all the safety equipment and clothes, in addition to the bikes.

http://ktmegyptcallingdakar.com/eng/index.php

While we were waiting in Sharm we stayed with Desi and Marko, friends of Ricardo who run a very beautiful Bed & Breakfast called Sinai Old Spices http://www.sinaioldspices.com/inglese.html.

The B&B is located out towards the mountains in a more local and industrial part of Sharm but that added to the charm.  The whole B&B and our room were extremely well designed, spotlessly clean and well appointed and had satellite TV that could reach 700 channels–300 of them daft Italian game shows, 300 religious ranting shows (both Christian and Islamic for balance), 99 channels which appeared to be reviews of Arabic porn websites (never knew they had any), and CCTV 4.  I know all this because I flicked through every single channel, three times just in case I missed anything vaguely watch-able .

In the end we settled on a Mandarin program about pots from the Qing dynasty for our evening entertainment…. or read the KTM manual… over and over again. A new book would have been nice and later I managed to swipe a very old Michael Palin travel book called “Himalayas” which would prove to be very apt as later we would ride through many of the same places.

At KTM Sharm I explained to the mechanics how the starter relay had been repaired in Sudan and replaced with a Chinese one. The mechanics, in Fanny’s presence, were less than complimentary about Chinese motorcycle parts and recommended they get it out as soon as possible and replace it with a safe and reliable Austrian one before something really bad happens. Fanny made the big mistake of asking KTM mechanics what was wrong with Chinese bikes.

I guess a laugh is the same in Arabic as it is in Mandarin or English. But let’s be fair, was there a KTM starter relay to be found anywhere in the Nubian desert? No. The Chinese one found its way to a small shop in Jebel Barkal, it was cheap and it kept us going for several thousand kilometres.

When we collected Fanny’s bike we dropped off mine. KTM Sharm El Sheikh had done a great job. The steering and front forks that were still slightly twisted from the Namibia tumble in the sand had been completely straightened out, the fairing plastic had been repaired, and the bolts holding the back end together had been replaced. We were shown several bent bolts which was the reason why the exhaust and pannier brackets had been asymmetrical and out of shape.

They told us we were lucky it had held together so long and that the bolts were close to shearing. Apart from that, the mechanics said that the bike and its engine were in pristine condition.   It had been thoroughly cleaned and polished and looked magnificent in its classic orange livery.

And one more thing, along with a thorough service and tuning that included re-mapping, valve clearance adjustments and shim changes, the baffles had been taken out of the Leo Vince exhausts as recommended. It now not only looked great, but it sounded like a Phantom jet on after burners. I guess only a few people of my age or older know what that sounds like. Well its very loud.

Whilst waiting for my KTM 990 Adventure R to be serviced we rode around Sharm on Fanny’s bike and explored the tourist areas. Not that interesting or particularly appealing I must say, and full of too many charmless Russians, package tourists and local touts. Not my cup of nai cha. We considered doing a training course with Ricardo, but the service of both bikes was going to dig deep into the budget and so we decided as we were half way to El Tur that we would ride there to extend our visas.

El Tur is the administrative centre for south Sinai and a bit soul less. When we got to the administration offices they were completely derelict and surrounded by lots of soldiers and police as riots and protests had started throughout Egypt again.

We filled in our forms and two hours later after we had paid our fees I was given my passport back with a six month multi entry visa. I checked Fanny’s passport and there was no visa extension inside, just a date stating she had registered for an interview with the security police.

I queried the staff who were thoroughly disinterested and so I invited myself in for a chat with the chief of immigration who was in his office watching movies. He said Fanny could not extend her visa and had to go to see the police in Nuweiba some 300 kms away after about 6- 8 days (maybe longer) to arrange an interview. Why were the security police not in the same location as the immigration department? A smile and a shrug of shoulders was my answer.

 

After the interview, if successful, Fanny’s “special” application would then be sent to Cairo where it would be reviewed –maybe a month later given the troubles and breakdown in the civil process and administration.   It would then be sent back to Nuweiba where Fanny would have to go for yet another interview.

If successful, and there was by no means any guarantee, she would need to go back to El Tur, again, to apply for a visa for a month. Then and only then could we apply to extend our motorcycle permits.  Public servants the world over… do half as much work as the private sector, take ten times longer to do it and still want to continue to get paid the same when they retire.

Given that an Egyptian tomorrow is more like a week and an Egyptian week closer to a year, it was near on impossible to get Fanny a visa extension before the bike permits ran out and so our arm was forced to get out of Egypt before the year end.

We were back to square one yet again and Fanny was back on the phone discussing with “China Shipping” whether we could get the bikes transported from Alexandria to Mersin in southern Turkey before the end of the year.

 

 

We rode back to Sharm rather disappointed and angry at Egyptian inefficiency and inequality. It seemed unfair to me that Chinese citizens are subjected to such restrictions, and yet the many European and Russian body pierced hippies we saw chain smoking in the waiting room with their daft hippy uniforms, daft haircuts and daft ankle bracelets could keep extending their Egyptian visas indefinitely. To my mind, a very short sighted policy given where the balance of power is heading in the world.

At least some of the hippies had completely daft Chinese characters tattooed on their bodies. The tattoo artist was either illiterate or had a wicked sense of humour. Anyway that cheered me up a bit, but not nearly as much as the girl with a bolt through her nose who had the Chinese characters for “Wardrobe” tattooed on her neck.

We collected my bike the next day and it looked brand new. All the filters had been replaced except the air filters that had been cleaned and re-oiled as they did not have any spare in stock. The valve clearances had been adjusted, the shims had been swapped over and the ECU tuned. In fact, better than new as I didn’t have to run it in.

Brakes, chain and sprockets, gaskets and other items were absolutely fine and would last a good deal longer. Our tyres could have done with being replaced, but we would manage to squeeze another couple of thousand out of them ….if I ccould resist hooliganing around.

 

 

Having thanked all the KTM team for their great work and made our farewells, we rode back to Dahab, both of us enjoying putting our awesome bikes through their paces along empty desert roads and through spectacular yellow rock mountain passes.

If our tyres had been better we could have pushed the bikes to over 200kph, but instead we stuck to a safe 140-160kph or so as we leaned side by side around the many sweeping bends.

I was very aware that we were in biking heaven and this would not last for ever as cold weather, icy roads, speed cameras, expensive fuel, and general European restrictions against motorcycles lay ahead north of the Mediterranean Sea.

cropped-p1030975-1.jpg

Photos at http://www.facebook.com/bigbiketrip

Video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7iSKpW-9V4

Chapter 10 – Egypt – (Part 2)

As we were now stuck in Egypt we thought we should make the most of it and see the country and take in its amazing culture and history. To do that we were going to have to extend our visas and also the permits for our South African registered KTM motorcycles, and that meant we needed to go to the capital, Cairo.

Riding a motorcycle into Cairo isn’t for the faint hearted. As we exited the Suez canal tunnel and found our way onto the correct highway into Cairo the peace of the desert finished and road madness began and got steadily worse until we were grid locked in the heart of a city with perhaps the worst driving on the planet.

All the signs were in Arabic and despite memorizing the hieroglyphs for a few words like Cairo, Suez, Alexandria, Port Said, entrance, exit, etc…  I was still having some problems making sure we were heading in the right direction. For a reason I was only to discover much later in our expedition, the GPS was showing the most basic of details in north Africa and was for the large part no more than a compass with a few out of date roads. In fact the Garmin Zumo GPS became more and more erratic and dangerous, to the extent that sending one up the wrong way of a Cairo street is pretty damned dangerous.

Again, we would get honked at, shouted at, waved at, and people would start animated and persistent conversations with us out of the windows of their vehicles that we could not hear in our helmets. Egyptian drivers might not think its important to look where they are going but my experience of motorcycling is that its a very good idea. The millimeter collision avoidance style of  driving could almost be described as skillful, but it would scare the hell out of me and so when we did arrive in Cairo we both decided to leave the bikes at the hotel and walk for most of the time. Occasionally we took a taxi which is an experience most people should also consider leaving off their “things to do before I die” bucket list, unless of course its the very last item on such a list.

We decided to head to the Zamalek area, an island in the Nile in the center of the city, where we heard there was a decent backpackers hostel called the Mayfair (http://www.mayfaircairo.com/). After riding along every single street in Zamalek, twice, sometimes three times, we found the hostel four hours later and then I had a pointless argument with their management and security guard about where to park our motorcycles. In the end I relented and moved our bikes all of three meters right into the middle of the footpath to where they said we should park them. Why?

I never found out, there was no given or obviously logical explanation for placing the bikes in the center of the footpath causing what looked like an obstruction. However, the night guard of the hotel,  at least a hundred years old, parked his chair under a tree right next to the motorcycles and waved his stick at anyone who dared to look at them.

We got to know many of the local people and soon after everyone in the immediate vicinity of the hotel got to know the bikers who had ridden up from South Africa and greeted us warmly whenever we walked up and down the street.

The motorcycles stayed in the center of the pavement unharmed for five days among huge crowds of pedestrians and protesters, not 50 meters from the Libyan embassy where celebrations started the day we arrived as Kadaffi had just been captured and summarily executed. The crowds were quite big and the noise they made was loud and unrelenting. We were after all right in the middle of the Egyptian “Spring” Revolution.  History was being made right around us.

 

Me and my bike at the pyramids in Giza, Cairo.

Me and my bike at the pyramids in Giza, Cairo.

The natural and the unnatural.

Hope it doesn’t roll off

Bikes squeezed into a space in Cairo

Bikes squeezed into a space in Cairo outside the Harley Davidson show room

I know him... lives in Hong Kong

I know him… lives in Hong Kong

 

Fanny making friends as usual

Fanny making friends as usual

 

Tahrir Square with the building we have to get our visas from at the top left hand side

Tahrir Square with the government building we have to get our visas from at the top left hand side of the photo.

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Zamalek and Old Cairo reminded both Fanny and I of Shanghai–a lot.  Splendid British colonial architecture that had either been restored by the new elite into hotels, clubs and apartments, or more often than not, allowed to decay and left to deteriorate.  By far the nicest places were the embassies and consular homes in the diplomatic quarter. Many of the building had classic Art Deco style lobbies staircases, windows and verandas, including the Mayfair hostel we lived in. Many of these large houses had beautiful gardens right in the middle of prime real estate. All very impressive, but many had seen much better days.

Perhaps the most ostentatious and vulgar symbol of the huge gap between the “haves” and “have nots” was a golf course right in the middle of Zamalek. At first I assumed it was a public park, but as we tried to go in we were herded away by dozens of white clad security guards. Later, I peered through the fence into a huge expanse of privately manicured grass that had a total of two people wandering around wearing ridiculous golfing clothes and pulling along their golf bats in shopping trolley things. Perhaps in this post Mubarek era it will be turned into a public park that more people can enjoy? It seemed there were many places that were private in Zamalek and off limits to riff raff like us.

The main reason to be in Cairo was not to allow Fanny to eat at every street-side store, although she tried, but to keep up efforts to get to Europe and extend our visas and motorcycle permits. We also wanted to see the pyramids and the Egyptian museum, both very much highlights of our trip to Cairo.

The pyramids in Giza really are on the edge of the city and its quite an astonishing surprise to see them looming up above the buildings and houses of Cairo as you approach them from the city center about 10 kilometers away. Some people literally have them as their next door neighbours. As we approached the pyramids on my motorcycle I had to be careful not to stare at them too long and get distracted from the important task at hand of proactive impact avoidance.

When we arrived there were some security people manning various gates and so I parked up my bike next to the security gate and Fanny and I went in and wandered around. The pyramids are quite the most amazing human constructions I have ever seen. Firstly, they are absolutely huge, the largest being made up of 2.3 million limestone blocks and nearly 500 feet high, and secondly they are some of the only structures that have survived over four thousands years of modern human history. You are mesmerized just looking up at them. Also, like much of ancient Egyptian antiquity they are extremely accessible and I was surprised that we were allowed to climb and scramble over them.

Unlike more famous motorcycle adventurers who have visited the pyramids we did not go inside them. There was a fee for doing so for a start and both Fanny and I suffer from claustrophobia. I was of course interested to know what was inside these gargantuan tombs, but not so much that I would ever venture inside and so we spent the morning hiking around the two huge pyramids, one medium sized one and three small ones.  We could also see the Sphinx from a distance but it was much closer to the built up part of Giza and so we decided we would go back to our motorcycle and ride over to it for a better look.

I was surprised to see that the Sphinx was not only much smaller than I expected, but also very badly eroded and it seemed to be crumbling away. Our attempts to ride up to it on my bike were thwarted by being stopped and detained briefly by the police. We were actually very close to being arrested but managed to talk our way out as a crowd of increasingly agitated officials started to gather around us. All of a sudden I caught a glimpse of a very angry and obese senior police officer waddling towards us waving his fist, shouting and swearing and so we decided that was our cue to escape. I slide the bike around 180 degrees on the soft sand to a roar of Akropovik exhausts causing the crowd to rear backwards and in a cloud of dust powered our way back through the gates with Fanny hanging on for dear life.  It was a close shave as it would have been an excuse for the authorities to confiscate our motorcycles and no doubt squeeze some cash out of us. Thank heaven for donuts.

Dash in and ride around the pyramids .. or not? decisions decisions

Dash in and ride around the pyramids .. or not? decisions decisions

Just gone out for a ride on the bikes... What did you see?  Oh just Table Mountain,  The Great migration in the Serengeti and Masai Mara, Zanzibar, the Big 5, Mount Kilimanjaro, largest sand dunes in world, Okavango Delta, Mount Sinai and Moses, Red Sea, Sahara, Nubian, Namib deserts.... and .. oh yes the Great pyramids at Giza..

“Just gone out for a ride on the bikes…  Table Mountain, The Great Migration of the Serengeti and Masai Mara, exotic Zanzibar, the “Big Five” animals, Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya, Mont Blanc, Mount Everest, the largest sand dunes in world in Sossusvlei, the Okavango Delta, remote African tribes in the Rift Valley, the cradle of civilization, the great lakes of Africa, Great Wall of China, Rock hewn churches in Lalibela, Mount Sinai and Moses, The Red Sea, The Nile, the Sahara, Nubian, Kalahari, Namib and Gobi deserts, the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau, the Himalayas, lived with Tibetan lamas, saw the source of the Yangtse and Yellow Rivers, ruins of Pompei, the Colosseum,  Stonehenge, the Arab Spring uprisings, …. and .. oh yes the Great Pyramids at Giza.

Chased away by police

Riding around the car park at Giza pyramids

Uck the Police?

Walk like an Egyptian with a crash helmet.

Walk like an Egyptian.

Don't climb on the wonder of the world... doooh!

Don’t climb on the wonder of the world… doooh! You’ll notice I didn’t climb very high up…

Right, English slave ... I want that stone put at the very top.

Come on, English slave … there’s one missing at the very top.

Fanny wondering what sort of tourist site this is without any food.

Fanny wondering what sort of tourist site this is without any food stalls. Must have been at least half an hour since she ate something.

Look Fanny ... mini pyramids

An idiot abroad.

我饿死了

我饿死了 .

In Egypt, Fanny is a popular name ...

In Egypt, “Fanny” is a popular name … ( and doesn’t mean a bottom or another body part)

An aerial picture of the pyramids showing how close they actually are to the urban area.

An aerial picture of the pyramids showing how close they actually are to the urban area.

The Sphinx .. much smaller and eroded than I expected.

The Sphinx .. much smaller and much more eroded than I expected.

Having been thrown out by the police

Having been thrown out of the Sphinx enclosure by the police I find another place to try and take a picture.

Can I stop here and take a picture?  No?  OK I'll move on..

Can I stop here and take a picture? No? OK I’ll move on then.

Iconic

Motorcycling in Egypt

Extended visas .. good for another month or so. Now we have to go to the airport to get customs to extend the motorcycle import permits and endorse the carne de passage

Extended visas .. good for another month or so. Now we have to go to the airport to get customs to extend the motorcycle import permits and endorse the carne de passage and we are done.

Fanny wandering around Cairo

Fanny and I wandering around Cairo

I actually think Cairo has some wonderful architecture .. not just the pyramids Looks very much like the British and French Concession areas in Shanghai in places… I guess due to the British colonial influence.

P1040149

Egyptian museum

Egyptian museum

Fanny outside the Egyptian museum

Fanny outside the Egyptian museum with a burnt out building from the riots in the background.

Egyptian Museum

Inside the Egyptian Museum.. quite possibly one of the best I have been to. Later we also went to the British Museum in London which was also excellent. However, the joy of the Egyptian museum is everything is very accessible. You can get right up and touch the exhibits.

Tutkankhamun mask very accessible inside the museum

The magnificent Tutankhamen mask. I have actually seen it before when it was exhibited in London many years ago. But on that occasion it was a long way away and surrounded by guards, fences and huge crowds. Here in its home in Cairo you can get very close and inspect the workmanship and see how it was made.

Roundabout statue

Roundabout statues..

Egypt meets England

Egypt meets England

Interesting architecture

Interesting architecture, but sadly some of it falling into disrepair like this one.

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To get our visas extended we had to go to the huge and chaotic immigration building in Tahrir Square right in the middle of the city. We had been told by many people not to walk there, and in particular to avoid going passed the central television station building, and so we ignored them all and that is exactly where we went.

We walked across the bridge from Zamalek over the Nile and as we got closer to Tahrir Square we saw that the streets were lined with hundreds of black clad tactical police officers and soldiers who were guarding the damaged TV headquarters that had previously been the focal point for protesters during the early stages of the revolution. Across the street were thousand of people, some of them presumably protesters and some just people going about their normal business. So we walked between the two lines waving and smiling and everyone waved back at us and shouted “Welcome to Egypt”

For the police and army, I supposed, any distraction from their boring duties was welcome and they engaged in light hearted banter with Fanny and myself as we walked by. Fanny was as usual eating local street food and they were asking if she liked it and were delighted when she gave an enthusiastic thumbs up.

I was looking at the riot police and reminiscing back to the days when I was in a similar position. As a young policeman in London in the early 1980s my colleagues and I had to deal with violent riots in Tottenham, Southall, Brixton and Wapping. Later as a police tactical unit commander in Hong Kong I led my platoon during the taxi riots in Mong Kok and Yaumatei. The Broadwater Farm riots in Tottenham, north London I remember very vividly as they were extremely violent and destructive and one of my colleagues from another district, called PC Keith Blakelock, was hacked to death by murderous thugs as he was protecting the fire brigade .

People forget that the police are human themselves and just doing their job, usually a thankless and sometimes dangerous one. But things were not always violent. During the Miner’s Strike in the UK during the early 1980s Metropolitan Police officers like myself were sent to the mining communities “oop north” to assist the local constabularies with public order duties. For my part I spent most of my time asleep or standing around a coal brazier at a picket line outside a colliery together with decent down to earth miners who were striking to protect their livelihoods. We were thrown together by circumstance and most of the time chatted amicably about sport, politics and the usual subjects men talk about.

Now in Cairo in the middle of the Egyptian revolution Fanny and I were walking between the ranks of the police and the protesters in Tahrir Square. Like my experience on the “Miners Strike” nothing particular was happening and so the press and media had nothing to report. I wanted to take some pictures, but security aside I didn’t think it was the right thing to do, and so we waved and smiled to both sides and they waved cheerily back at us. Everyone was friendly and some Egyptians came up to us, welcomed us effusively and thanked us for visiting Cairo.

After we had got our visas extended, quite quickly I might add, at the huge passport and immigration center we decided to explore the rest of the area and visit the famous Egyptian Museum which, like the government offices, was right next to Tahrir Square.

Before going into the museum all visitors were subjected to body and bag searches. I had forgotten that inside Fanny’s bag was our arsenal of self defence kit and was not sure what to do with it all. We could hardly hide it, throw it all away or hand it in and so we nonchalantly walked through the x-ray and scanner machines with a bag containing pepper spray, a 1.5 million volt zapper and my trusty catapult. I felt a pang of  “Midnight Express” panic when the buzzer went off and our bags were searched. The security officer rummaged through Fanny’s bag and took out our camera and placed it in a locker for safe keeping as photography inside the museum was forbidden. The rest of the booty, including our camera phones (?) were left inside and we were allowed to proceed.  I made a mental note to dispose of our arsenal before we entered Europe. As lax as the UK Border Agency appears to be I did not want to take any chances.

We thoroughly recommend the museum. Simply an amazing and very accessible collection of some of the worlds greatest treasures, including the famous Tutankhamen gold and a huge collection of ancient statues, paintings and Royal Mummys.

Now that we had our visa extensions we needed to extend the permits for the bikes which were stamped only to the end of October. After a few inquiries I found out this would have to be done at Cairo airport so we decided we would leave Cairo and go back to the Red Sea, via the airport and perhaps rent an apartment for a few months in Dahab.

We checked out of our hotel, loaded up our motorcycles and again got lost and spent a couple of hours trying to escape from the center of Cairo. The GPS was still playing up and had no idea about one way streets, of which Cairo has many, and so we went round and around in circles until by chance we found a sign with a picture of a aeroplane and followed it to Cairo International airport.

We found the car customs department at the airport fairly easily, once of course we had managed to navigate through some shocking traffic jams. As we were parking our bikes outside the car customs offices a man came up to us and explained he was a customs agent and could help us if we had the correct documentation. We did, and after negotiations we settled on a very modest fee and he set about his work while Fanny and I waited with the customs officials and shared cigarettes, cigars and soft drinks and joked about…. Fanny being her usual loud self, laughing, guffawing, and generally amusing everyone.

Waiting around at the customs offices at Cairo Airport for our motorcycle documents to be processed.

No idea what it says but it looks official and allegedly allows our carne de passage to be extended. Phew.

The impounded vehicle park full of cars covered in dust. There were Bentleys, BMWS. Mercedes and also one or two motorcycles. Each vehicle having a history of misery for the owners who did not complete the correct import procedures for Egypt. Each would later be sold at a ‘closed’ auction.

Thanks to our customs fixer at Cairo airport we have documents sorted out for another months or so.

Fanny and I with our customs fixer at Cairo airport

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Whilst looking down upon a huge car park of dust covered impounded vehicles, that included a disproportionately large number of German and South African registered luxury cars,  I found out how “the big customs scam” operated and worked.  I have been in the business of investigation and intelligence for many years, often leading teams on complex financial enquiries and so I guess I am quite good at interviewing and finding things out. A little immodest granted, but with my weaknesses, of which I have many, I know my strengths, and at my best I’m pretty good at getting people to tell me things.

Why tell someone something anyway?  Well, everyone likes talking and everyone weighs up the net gain advantages of engaging in any activity against the risks of doing so. My Arabs customs friends realized we had the correct papers and that our engine numbers and documents matched to the digit, found us reasonably amusing and non threatening, and had made a few bucks through their fixer and our fee ….and importantly they were bored and were showing off to a fellow member of the cloth how they made substantial profits at the expense of dumb foreigners.

Anyway… we got the carnets, import receipts and other documentation, bade farewell to our amusing hosts at Cairo airport customs and headed back along the highway to the Suez canal tunnel. I cannot tell you how happy I was to be seeing the back of a very congested and hectic city and heading back into the desert and towards our target destination of Dahab by the Red Sea… a none too shabby place to mark time while we considered and researched our options.

After going through the tunnel yet again and waving at all the soldiers we got to a major junction in the road. The left fork took us across the Sinai through Bedouin bandit desert lands, and the road ahead took us back down the 400 kilometer road to Sharm El Sheikh. My lying gypsy Garmin GPS  showed that the route across the Sinai desert was off road and so I stopped and asked Fanbelt which way she’d like to go.

‘Is there sand?’, she asked.

I looked left and the top bit was azure blue and the bottom bit from horizon to horizon was white. ‘Might be a bit’, I answered honestly.

I think it was the prospect of staying in “The Shining” hotel again that swayed Fanny to choose the desert route and so we blasted off eastwards knowing we would not get across by night fall and so I would have to keep a good look out for a place to bush camp off the desert road. That would be fun.

Downtown Cairo

Downtown Cairo

KTM Cairo... no servicing though Servicing and bike maintenance is done a thousand kilometers away in Sharm El Sheikh

KTM Cairo… no  servicing ….. bike maintenance is done a thousand kilometers away in Sharm El Sheikh on the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula

Fellow bikers in Cairo

Fellow bikers in Cairo

A armoured personnel carrier at a road junction in the middle of the Sinai

The Sinai

Having a rest stop

Fanny in Sinai again... taking a break

Fanny finding a secluded spot for a “rest break”.

Heading back to Dahab via Nuweiba

Heading back to Dahab via Nuweiba

Back in Dahab

Back in Dahab

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The road was actually OK, with a few sections of gravel and sand where it was under repair. There were very few vehicles on the road that continued right across to the desert to Eilat in Israel at the border with Aqaba in Jordan. The riding was absolutely glorious and we watched as the sky put on a display very few people ever see, unless of course they are in the middle of a desert as the sun goes down. Blue, violet, green, turquoise,  purple, yellow, pink, purple, black.  Quite stunning and surreal.

I saw a great place to camp in a wadi about a kilometer off the road, and importantly saw a track to get there. I did not want us to be observed riding off the road and told Fanny that we should ‘get the cluck on with it’ when the time was right and get out of sight.  Fanny was not comfortable riding on the gravel and down the embankment through sand and so I rode my bike first, parked it near to a suitable secluded camping spot and then hiked back to the main road to get Fanny’s bike.

As I climbed back up the wadi embankment to get Fanny’s bike I saw a pick-up on the main road bridge stop, reverse and disappear backwards. Not good.  No more than three minutes later a white pick-up truck suddenly appeared above the wadi and five men, all wearing Yasser Arafat gear looked at us and entered into a discussion among themselves.  Again I felt uneasy about this, my defence instincts were heightened and I felt particularly uncomfortable about the whole situation. They never bothered to engage us in any conversation and then they drove off.

Fanny was tired and wanted to rest and set up camp. It had been a long day, but I broke the bad news that we should go. Paranoia?  Perhaps, but it did not feel right.  Again I worried that we may have a middle of the night visit and I wasn’t going to spend all night on guard duty brandishing my Masai warriors sword waiting for whatever. If I had been on my own I would have ridden much further into the desert, found a secluded spot and been quite at ease. In this situation I had a responsibility towards Fanny and to err on the side of caution was the right thing to do.

As we rode off the sand track and back onto the road, I looked back and was fairly disappointed that the human risk element had prevented us enjoying a camp fire in the middle of the desert under the stars. In Sudan it would have been no problem, in semi anarchic Egypt not so sure.

The sky was now quite dark, but after thirty kilometers I spotted another potential bush camping site and rode off the road down a sand bank and then beckoned towards Fanny to follow. After some hesitation she did, and as she descended the sand bank I clearly saw her touch the front brake with the expected result that the front wheel washed out and she dropped the bike on the slope. Damn. I knew that was the last chance.

Fanny is very capable of handling the bike on most surfaces, she has proved such on the expedition, but along her biking evolutionary scale she had reached the level many very experienced riders reach and often stay at… a complete fear of sand. To move on she will need to do some off road courses with Leon and team at Country Trax in South Africa or perhaps the UK Yamaha adventure riding team in Wales to get her over this hurdle and then she’ll be fine.

Earlier on our trip in Kenya, we met two BMW riders from England, Russ a thoroughly nice guy and all round gentleman and his bullying and arrogant companion, Darren, a thoroughly selfish and unpleasant individual who reminded me of a colleague I endured at Arthur Andersen a decade ago who was a weekend warrior and a bit of a “merchant banker”. Darren commented that Fanny could not handle the large and powerful KTM 990 Adventure and was critical of me for allowing her to do so. He was even more critical of me for my robust and none compromising encouragement when she occasionally eefed it up. Little did he know that Fanny is made of much sterner stuff and can handle her Mad Max riding companion perfectly well, the KTM and still have time for noodles and tea.

Fanny is one of the strongest and toughest people I have ever met and dumbing down to an F650GS is not in her nature. She insisted on the KTM as it is clearly the best adventure bike there is and has an enviable reputation throughout China because of its Dakar heritage. I am quite sure a week or so throwing a smaller KTM, CF Moto 700 Adventure or a Yamaha enduro around some sand dunes, through woods and up and down the hills in South Africa or Wales with a good instructor will set her up for anything. She has the attitude, determination and strength and the skills can follow in good time. I also accept I am not the person to instruct her. Anyone who has tried to teach their wife to drive will know full well its a futile exercise, especially if you have the instruction style of the drill pig in “Full Metal Jacket”.

Anyway, back to the Sinai desert and a KTM on its side and nose pointing down a sand embankment.  With some effort, but by now quite well practiced, Fanny and I hauled her bike back up the sandy slope and we had no option but to carry on to the next town, some hundred kilometers away, or push on towards Taba and Eilat in Israel, or even through the desert roads south east to Nuweiba . The sky was now pitch black and filled with tens of thousands of stars. In South Africa I was used to seeing the southern hemisphere sky filled with stars above my house, but I was unfamiliar with constellations of the northern hemisphere sky. In England, Europe, China, and Hong Kong where I have spent most of my life there is too much ambient light and air pollution to really see the stars clearly. Here in the heart of the Sinai desert it was absolutely spectacular.

We pulled the protectors off our headlights as the orange glow ahead was just a bit too… well… orange. There was not too much on coming traffic, but the few there were could be seen for many miles ahead and as they passed us they rarely dipped their headlights which was a tad annoying and uncomfortable in the pitch darkness. Actually, we rarely rode at night on the Big Bike Trip as its considered a big “no no” in adventure riding, but we were in middle of desert on a good road, and despite not being able to see much we had to admit we loved every minute.

We eventually arrived in a dimly lit small town called Nakhl right in the middle of the Sinai which was full of soldiers and tanks. I have done some boring jobs during my early police force career, but sitting on a tank in peace time in the middle of the desert struck me as particularly dull by any standards.  They all seemed quite friendly though, and very interested in our bikes and Fanny whose name we learned is popular in that part of the world.

They told us there had been very recent skirmishes with Bedouins who had been robbing travelers and raiding Egyptian properties.  Apparently, these itinerant desert dwellers felt that in the new post Mubarek era they had remained excluded and dis-empowered and were not happy. Everyone seemed to agree we had been lucky not to get robbed, although I thought this is was perhaps an over exaggeration or a ploy to frighten off travelers. That said, I looked back to our experience a few hours earlier in the desert and the non too friendly Beduoins who pitched up and I thought we made the right decision not to camp in the desert on this occasion.

We stayed in the only hotel in town, despite many people telling us there wasn’t one. It was a truly awful place and basically a construction site, but we got something to eat and a place to park our bike in the corridor right next to our dreadful room where we set up camp with our much used and treasured mosquito net.  Where mosquitoes come from in a dry desert I can only guess, but they are persistent little buggers and can ruin a nights rest. We did not hang about the next day and got up very early and rode to Nuweiba through amazing mountain passes, deserts and palm tree lined oasis.

Trying to learn to kite surf and wake board in Dahab

Beautiful sunsets in Dahab

Fanny walking to our apartment along the beach… happy days

Fanny's daily windsurfing lessons

Fanny’s daily windsurfing lessons

Me coming back from snorkeling and free diving

Me coming back from snorkeling and free diving

Relaxing evenings after windsurfing or snorkeling. I could snorkel for hours and often did.. immersed in a parallel universe of strange and beautiful creatures. I later learnt to scuba dive, but I far preferred the peace and unencumbered freedom of snorkeling. And the Red Sea is one of best places to do it.

Relaxing evenings after windsurfing or snorkeling. I could snorkel for hours and often did.. immersed in a parallel universe of strange and beautiful creatures. I later learnt to scuba dive, but I far preferred the peace and unencumbered freedom of snorkeling. And the Red Sea is one of best places to do it.

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We then descended out of the mountains into Nuweiba where the ferry departs to Aqaba in Jordan. After a spot of lunch/breakfast at a rather deserted, but pleasant beach resort we then turned south and back into the mountains and coastal passes towards Dahab.

Dahab is one of the best water sports and diving centres in the world and if we were to spend two months there we needed to occupy our time with more than just idling about and trying to work out logistics to get across the Mediterranean sea.  The last time we stayed at the Ghazala lodge and this time we took a more modest, but pristinely clean room at the German run “Sunsplash Lodge” which was next door and run by the überragend Anita, an adventurer and diver of note. http://www.sunsplash-divers.com/eng/start_e.htm

We then started looking for an apartment to rent and, like house hunting, we saw some great places that were out of our budget and thoroughly nasty places that were in it.  Eventually we found a small one bedroomed apartment right next to the sea. It wasn’t great, but the landlord told us it had TV, internet, fresh water and a kitchen. The selling feature was the garden which was essentially a private little beach with four massive date palm trees that swayed in the sea breeze.

Mohammed, the landlords son who dealt with us, was either a complete idiot, or thoroughly untrustworthy, I suspected both. He looked 45 but was actually 22 and his attire would swap between orthodox Islamic white robe with matching red Yasser Arafat headgear to the laughable clothes that lead actors in Bollywood movies wear with slicked back bouffant hair, tight jeans, garish shirt opened to his navel… ooh and a few gold medallions. Its not a great look.

At Mohammed’s insistence we handed over the cash (including water surcharge) and later found out there was no internet, the water supply was in fact sea water and the TV gave whoever changed the channel an electric shock. Fanny and I would endure the many local channels that showed real time images of pilgrims walking round and around the big cube at Mecca for hours and hours until we managed to suss out how to change channels with an insulated stick as we never ever found the remote control and we got fed up repeatedly asking our landlords idiot son to give us one. But all these things were minor as we were living next to the stunning Red Sea with the majestic Sinai desert mountains behind us. Not too shabby at all.

Our apartment.. nothing worked in it and it was a health and safety nightmare .. but it was right  next to the sea and the views were amazing..

Our apartment.. nothing worked in it and it was a health and safety nightmare .. but it was right next to the sea and the views were amazing.

Our garden

Our garden

The reef outside our garden … with our friend Tony Noble worrying the fish

Fanny has found herself a furry friend.. or is it sweet and sour goat night?

We don’t know where your kid went … honest.

The rubbish collectors

The rubbish collectors wandering through our garden

The serious rubbish collectors

The serious rubbish collectors

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Our neighbours were either local Bedouins, beach bum kite surfers, serious scuba divers or hippies with loads of kids. Not those cool 1960s type hippies with colourful tie dye clothing and affros, but the 2010s grungy types with ugly cloths and grumpy disapproving faces full of studs and tattoos. These hippies all looked the same to me because in their attempts to non conform they all conformed to the same uniform you see worn by hippies the world over.  At least Fanny was not the only person in Dahab wearing “effnic” MC Hammer trousers with a crotch below the knees. They were the only ones in KTM orange though.

I got to know one of our immediate next door neighbours when I was engaged in a bit of panel beating in our garden in the middle of the afternoon. As I was applying hammer to one of Fanny’s metal panniers to try and knock them back into shape a head appeared out of an upstairs window next door and shouted,’ I’VE GOT A BABY’

‘What?’ I shouted back

‘A BABY’

‘What kind of baby?’ I answered

‘HUH!?’

‘Yes, what kind of a baby? ‘If you have a baby West Africa Black Rhino then I’m interested, otherwise I’m not’, and I carried on panel beating

‘Its sleeping’, ‘Babies like sleeping in the afternoon’

‘And I like sleeping at night. Is it the same baby human that howls all night?’

And with this harmonious neighbourly relations were firmly established. Actually, I finished panel beating pretty soon after,  just as afternoon calls for prayers from our local mosque had started.

‘HAAAAWWWWAAAAAHHHH  AKBAAAAR’ —-The panniers now looked as good as new and the next door baby started crying.

Not too shabby

Eel garden

Fanny learning to windsurf in Dahab

Fanny giving the Russians a lesson in how to play beach volleyball.

Our bikes parked next to our apartment

Local transport

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Both Fanny and I took kite surfing lessons for a few days in the lagoon, an ideal location, but we soon gave up. I hate giving up, but Fanny was having trouble controlling the kite and I spent the whole time being yanked under water inhaling plankton. Whilst I could handle the kite easily enough, years of paragliding I guess, I could not stand up on the wake-board how ever much I tried and I was running out of money and my instructor was running out of patience. I even tried wake boarding behind a boat to try and hone some skills and even that instructor gave up on me.  So we decided on windsurfing lessons for Fanny and free diving practice for me. Despite the perfect location, I had little interest in scuba diving and even less bobbing around underwater with all that restrictive diving clobber and so I invested in free diving fins and a mask.

Both of us became quite good at our new hobbies.  Our days of idleness were interspersed with researching how we would proceed further on the Big Bike Trip –applying for visas and permits,  planning routes, and getting the bikes back to pristine condition.  Fanny perfected her sleeping expertise and got better and better at wind surfing and the rest of the time impressed all with her beach volleyball skills. I went running everyday to get back into shape, practiced Mandarin with Fanny and studied my Chinese lessons.  Occasionally, I would run up into the mountains whilst studying Chinese being careful not to fall into one of the many gullies and have to cut off my hand to escape. The rest of the time I went snorkeling and free diving right outside our house.

Free diving was introduced to me by Alexey Molchanov, a Russian and world champion who was training at the nearby famous “Blue Hole” that goes down to a depth of over a 120 meters. His mother is the women’s world record holder and I have actually seen her featured on the Discovery Channel a few times diving to incredible depths wearing a huge mono fin. Its an amazing and rather scary sport and requires more skill than you would think. Alexey can hold his breathe for 8 minutes, 31 seconds in a zero exertion submersion situation. He can also swim ten laps of a 25 meter pool underwater. My pathetic efforts improved somewhat and I was getting down to about 15 meters and holding my breathe for about a minute and a half. Not that impressive, but my main objective was to be able to go snorkeling and hold my breathe long enough to enjoy the amazing coral reefs and swim with the incredibly colourful and varied marine life of the Red Sea.

Beautiful marine life and coral reefs along the entire coast.

Beautiful marine life and coral reefs along the entire coast.

Tony Noble teaching a Chinese girl how to swim

Aswan 15 … my bike

Some of the restaurants along the Red Sea at Dahab

Relaxing next to the sea at one of hundreds of restaurants and coffee shops along the Dahab front

Fanny relaxing next to the sea near our apartment

Taking the horses for a cool down. Not sure what salt water does to a horses skin, but they seemed to like it.

Got to find something to do in the evening as the TV electrocutes us each time we touch it.

Got to find something to do in the evening as the TV electrocuted us each time we touched it.

Next …. Chapter 11… He’s not the Messiah … he’s a very naughty boy.   (more goings on in Egypt and also Jordan, Israel and finally leaving the African continent for Turkey)

Chapter 10 – Egypt – (Part 1)

The “Night Boat” up the River Nile to Aswan was anything but luxurious, but we were very pleased that everything had gone according to plan and we were on our way to Egypt. We camped for eighteen hours on the hard deck of the ferry and our carefully chosen spot was quickly hemmed in with bodies of all shapes and sizes. This ferry crossing from Sudan to Egypt had to be the most inefficient and ridiculous ways to cross a land border and I could only guess that some money making cartel was behind such an illogical bottleneck along a huge land border that stretched from Libya in the west to the Red Sea in the east.

If one looks closely at Google Earth, as I have done on many occasions, you can see newly built roads meeting each other along the desert border all the way to the coast. I asked many people why it was impossible to use one of these roads and never got a straight answer.

Just after entering Egypt the sun started going down and so we were unable to properly see the ancient temple of Abu Simbel which was on the left hand side of the ferry.  As night settled and the sky became ablaze with stars the boat and its occupants soon settled into organised chaos and when most of the passengers weren’t kneeing down or bent over praying they were eating. The only other distraction was a very disorderly queue to get passports stamped by the on-board customs official.

By late in the evening the only two people, it seemed, who hadn’t had their passports stamped were Fanny and I. Fanny because she had some funky diplomatic visa that they hadn’t seen before and thought should be left to more senior officials in Aswan to deal with, and me because I didn’t have a visa.

I was a tad concerned about this but we were assured everything would be OK in the morning and so we settled back down to a hard but reasonably comfortable night under the stairs on our camping mattresses, alongside about a hundred other people. Below deck in the cabins were about another hundred and fifty people who had paid considerably more than us. I thought we had the best deal though, fresher air and a much better view.

We woke at sunrise and we were impatient to get off and get going but still had a few hours to sail into Aswan.  When we did see the town in the distance I was very keen to locate our motorcycles, eagerly scanning the moored barges until I spotted them. What a relief.

When we arrived, with of course the customary Arabic faffing about, Fanny was whisked off the boat to see a senior customs official for tea in his office and I was left on the ferry, the very last person, whilst waiting for my visa.

Sunset over the Nile in Aswan, Egypt

Sunset over the Nile in Aswan, Egypt.

The desert sun setting for another day

Goodbye sun and another day

Ferry from Wadi Halfa in Sudan up the Nike to Aswan in Egypt

Ferry from Wadi Halfa in Sudan up the Nike to Aswan in Egypt

Abu Simbel Temple along the banks of the Nile

Abu Simbel Temple along the banks of the Nile

Approaching Aswan

Approaching Aswan

I have spotted our KTMs on the deck of the barge moored up at Aswan port.. what a relief.

I have spotted our KTMs on the deck of the barge moored up at Aswan port.. what a relief.

Keeping my eye on the bikes and now wondering how I will get them off and what hassles lay ahead with the authorities.

Keeping my eye on the bikes and now wondering how I will get them off and what hassles lay ahead with the authorities.

Where there's a will.... there's a family

Where there’s a will….

Thinking about riding them off the barge onto the jetty, but not doable so in the end five of us literally lifted each bike up and carried it .. with all the kit and full panniers.. easy in the end.

Thinking about riding them off the barge onto the jetty, but not doable so in the end five of us literally lifted each bike up and carried it off .. with all the kit and full panniers..

They had to be carried because there was a big metal post

Now my bike.. They both had to be carried because there was a big metal blue post in the way.

Fitted with Egyptian plates..

After clearing customs and immigration our bikes are fitted with Egyptian plates.. Aswan 15 for me and Aswan 3 for Fanny … Looks like 10, but Arabic numerals have a zero looking character for 5.

We had to take ferry up Lake Nasser (dammed upstream) of the Nile from Wadi Halfa in Sudan to Aswan in Egypt. I would have loved to have ridden this part of north Egypt, but the human inhabitants have some scam going on so that you cannot actually ride across the border. In Egypt we would run into literally hundreds of police and military road blocks across the entire country.  we would

We had to take ferry up Lake Nasser (dammed upstream) of the Nile from Wadi Halfa in Sudan to Aswan in Egypt. I would have loved to have ridden this part of north Egypt, but the human inhabitants have some scam going on so that you cannot actually ride across the border. In Egypt we would run into literally hundreds of police and military road blocks across the entire country. we would

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Eventually I was given an official looking shiny sticker in exchange for eleven Egyptian pounds and told to affix this visa onto a blank page in my passport. Some Arabic was scribbled over the  top allegedly specifying I had a month of stay. As all this was happening I watched with amusement as fifty or so people with bags, boxes and other cargo tried to squeeze through the exit door at the same time and they were not giving in to anyone, a scene reminiscent of old Cantonese crones elbowing their way onto the mass transit railway in Hong Kong.  Amongst goats and dodgy looking piles of cargo piled up on the dock I had to find and employ a local agent to help me negotiate getting our bikes off the barge which was moored inaccessibly between other barges a couple of hundred meters away, and later help us through the inevitable inefficiencies of Egyptian customs. There was no other way.

Two hours later, after paying a small fee to every man and his dog to move the barge to a more suitable location, I had to manually lift the bikes off the barge with help from a couple of hired hands as they weighed more than 280 kilograms each. Whilst the fee I paid them was not a lot, I thought the amount of time being wasted was far too long. These people could get a PhD in faffing about and squabbling.  Freddie Golbourne (my grandfather who happened to be in north Africa in the early forties) told me about his Egyptian colleagues when I was a small boy. Seems things hadn’t changed.

I was told, however, that I was lucky as it was not uncommon for foreign vehicles to be held hostage for days, weeks, or as we would later see in the Egyptian custom department’s impounded vehicle “grave yards”, indefinitely.

The penny had dropped. Now I knew why Egypt demanded ridiculously high deposits for the Carne de Passages— its a huge scam.  For slight infractions of the ridiculous Egyptian red tape vehicles were confiscated for un-affordable ransoms and later sold at “fixed” auctions where the spoils were shared among the corrupt officials. My suspicions were confirmed when I saw all the expensive foreign cars and trucks covered in dust at Cairo airport in the foreign vehicle “graveyard of misery”. Suitably imbued with charm and supplied with cigars and soft drinks my newly acquired friends in the customs department later told me exactly how the scam operated and how they shared the spoils, and by the way,would I like some Hasish?  Some people, huh?

With both KTMs now on the slipway and Fanny still being entertained by the head shed at immigration, probably fretting she was President Hu’s daughter or something, I checked over both KTMs and they were in perfect order. No worries at all.

My recently hired local agent told me there was still more fun to enjoy and so my day out with Egyptian customs and immigration was to continue for another three hours or so, with a subtle threat that if I make any fuss whatsoever they will make it two days, or even three.  And so, I filled out more forms, signed Arabic documents that could have been confessions to drug trafficking for all we knew, photocopied more documents, handed over more cash and in return got a wad of paper and two sets of  Egyptian motorcycle number plates to affix over the South African ones. Aswan 3 for Fanny and Aswan 15 for me.

Whilst we were waiting around next to some bored teenage soldiers with heavy weaponry, Fanny mastered how to read and write the Arabic numerals, and I concentrated on trying to be a good boy, smiling sweetly and keeping my mouth close.

Its always tea time in Egypt. Love it.

Its always tea time in Egypt. Love it.

Time for a haircut. How do you say … “a little off the sides please” in Arabic

Lost in translation so for the first time in my life I have been  shaved completely bald

It seems there is just one haircut on the menu. Apart from looking like a boiled egg its very comfortable, especially inside the helmet

Outside our hotel, The Hathor in Aswan.. a very reasonably priced and very decent hotel.

Aswan as seen from our hotel room

Aswan skyline … tall minuets

Camels in the back of a pickup heading north (like us) towards Cairo

Riding along by the Nile

Riding along by the Nile

One of many tourist carts being pulled by scruffy ponies in Luxor .. not for us thanks

Ancient Luxor

Wandering around the back streets of Luxor

Doing the tourist thing

Posing against the ancient statues in Luxor near the valley of the Kings.

Fanny posing against the ancient statues in Luxor with the Valley of the Kings in the background.

Lots of touts in Luxor ... all good natured banter, but wasting their time with us.

Lots of touts in Luxor … all good natured banter, but wasting their time with us.

The Nile .. our companion for many weeks

The Nile .. our companion for many weeks

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We had arrived at the port in the early morning and we managed to escape by late afternoon. As we left the customs area we were immediately stopped at a heavily armed police roadblock, one of literally hundreds we got stopped at during our stay in Egypt. Some were literally just a few hundred meters apart and it took considerable restraint not to point this out as the authorities re-checked our passports and driving licences again and again and again.

A policeman with AK47 variant of an assault rifle looked us up and down and then asked, ‘Where you come from?’

Me (clearly thinking this is stupid question at the Egypt/Sudan border) ‘ Sudan’

Policeman ‘What in bag?’

Me ‘ Our things’

Policeman ‘ Open up’

Me ‘OK’…. ‘It’ll take a bit of time… hang on a bit’

As I was getting off my bike to take off all the straps and open the panniers the policeman then said ‘ Ah.. no need, haha…’ and then added, ‘ Anything nice for me?’

Me ‘ I don’t pay bribes’ (eye to eye), ‘Actually I used to be a policeman and think policemen like you are an insult to the cloth, you make the job of honest, conscientious policemen more difficult and more dangerous’ rant rant…

Policeman (grinning like an imbecile and waving me on) ‘ haha .. you can go’

Policeman to Fanny ‘Where you come from?’

Fanny ‘China’

Policeman to Fanny ‘ You got present for me?’

I turned around and shouted ‘ HEY! – I TOLD YOU’

Policeman ‘Haha.. OK you go’

This encounter was reasonably common, although using my “I used to be a policeman” trump card and of course the language barrier prevented us actually handing over the prerequisite fifty pounds that many of the local Egyptians, expatriates and fellow travelers had to part company with all too often. Fanny maintained that I am a scary mad bugger and that most people are just happy to see the back of me. Well that’s a good thing.

Fanny in Luxor

Out exploring the sites in Luxor

All noses cut off statues .. why?

Stopping off for lunch by the banks of the River Nile

Stopping off for lunch by the banks of the River Nile

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We rode past armoured personnel carriers, tanks, dozens of soldiers on every corner and crossed over the heavily guarded Aswan Dam and into town which was very touristy, with Nile cruise ships moored end to end along the banks of the river. And then I saw them, glowing down at us, the golden arches… Ah!… McFul. Yum.

Some Germans we met in the desert in Sudan recommended an excellent hotel right in the middle of Aswan and we found it easily enough and managed to park our motorcycles safely around the back and were given a very decent room at a great rate.

The tourist industry was still reeling from the Spring revolution, the economic downturn and the repercussions of blowing tourists up with fire-bombs and so good deals were to be had, but on the negative side the touts in Aswan, and especially Luxor were swarming like flies and descended upon us whenever we stopped and were relentless in whatever pitch they were pitching. Felucca rides across the Nile and horse and cart rides through town being the most common. We even got asked if we want a taxi whilst sitting on our bikes. That’s desperate or dumb.

This was the first time for a while we saw, how do I put it, “common people”. Most of the tourists we had seen so far were the adventurous interesting types and people who get off the beaten track and read the travel sections of  the colour supplements in the broadsheets. Here in Egypt there were the sort of tourists who were too old to go to Ibeefaa, too fat to get on the rides at Alton Towers and were too slow booking themselves and the kids, Chesney and Tracy into Butlins at Skeggy. You know, Man United Torremolinos Watneys Red Barrel chip eaters with annoying regional accents. A snob?, I sincerely hope so, but mainly I just don’t like them or their vulgar ways– and don’t want the touts to keep bugging me as if my first name was Wayne.

Aswan, as well as having the American fast food chains, also had an HSBC bank and their cash points to completely empty my account, ice cream parlours, chip shops, a bazaar selling mostly Chinese tack, mosques on every street corner and a Catholic church. The latter, we enjoyed visiting, but I spared my heathen travel companion from having to attend a full Mass.

Aswan was also the location where extremist Muslims burnt down a Coptic Christian church, sparking a huge demonstration in Cairo that resulted in 30+ deaths. I even went for a haircut and my attempts to ask for a little off the sides were lost in translation, and for the first time in my life (as I was born with a long barnet) I had a completely shaven head. It was very comfortable but did look more William Hague, than Jean Luc Picard.

Most importantly there was 95 Octane petrol in Egypt and it was as cheap as chips, less than 8% of the price that people in the UK have to pay at their pumps. Since all oil actually costs the same for a barrel the variance between countries is due to the tax that governments levy so that revenues can be raised, for instance,  to fund aid payments to Africa where a lot of oil comes from in the first place. What a strange world we live in.

Crazy politics and economics aside, it meant we could ride our motorcycles cheaply throughout Egypt, and we would, putting thousands of kilometers on the clocks as we zigzagged across the country and back and forth across the Sinai peninsular, a particularly stunning and interesting part of the world.

But our next stop was Luxor, arguably Egypt’s most important city historically and so we followed the Nile northwards along rather shabby roads, and in a high state of alert as Egypt may very well have the world’s worst drivers. They are absolute shockers, worse even than those in China or India. We both found the atrocious driving standard very stressful and very annoying.

Local farms by banks of Nile near the Valley of the Kings

Faluccas sailing down the Nile near Valley of the Kings

Valley of the Kings, Luxor

You don’t see those everyday when out for a motorcycle ride

Still taking in the sites … a motorcycle is definitely the way to do it and avoid the touts and go where you feel like.

Ancient Egypt at night

Ancient Egypt at night

Ancient ruins in Luxor lit up at night

The ubiquitous Peugeot

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Maybe the ubiquitous old Peugeot cars are to blame for the poor driving, but most likely its because everyone is too busy shouting into their mobile phones as they drive along.  I even saw a taxi mount a curb as the driver attempted to tackle a roundabout with one arm twisted on the wheel and the other stubbornly clutching the telephone to his ear. Rather than putting the mobile phone down to use both arms to control the car he preferred to continue talking and veer off and into some pedestrians on a footpath. Every car we saw, whether new or old, is covered in scrapes.

White lines, it seemed, are for aiming along rather than delineating lanes to drive in,  and vehicles always swing left before turning right and visa versa. Unexpected U-turns, stopping in the fast lane, speeding, drifting, macho acceleration, erratic maneuvers, double and triple overtakes, and a complete disregard for other road users is common place.  There were even young children recklessly driving old Fiats and Peugeots with their foot constantly buried into the accelerator and their hand glued to the horn.

Often vehicles would draw up along side our bikes while we were nervously riding with inches to spare and the driver and occupants would just grin at us like idiots and ask  questions that we couldn’t hear in our helmets.  And the worst for a motorcycle, being converged on from the left and the right at the same time causing nerve-wracking evasive action to prevent a collision. And yes… our headlights are always on… no need for everyone to keep telling us by waving and miming to us to turn them off. We call it a safety precaution in developed countries so that motorcycles can be seen.

It seems if its Allah’s will that one should crash and die–then so be it. Insha’Allah (إن شاء الله)

When we got to Luxor we searched around and found a marvellous little hotel in a very moody narrow lane in the old town called “Happy Land”, — www.luxorhappyland.com

The motorcycles were parked under our balcony in the street and apart from the occasional kid who would sit on them, or use them as a background to take pictures, they were safe and secure. I also got a chance to do some routine maintenance in peace such as chain adjusting and oiling.  The bikes were absolutely fine. Nothing wrong with them, although the front off road M/T 21 tyres really needed changing back to the 50/50 Pirelli Scorpion M/T 90s, which I would do later.

We took the Adventure R (my one) and Fanny rode pillion as we explored the sites of Luxor, museums, temples, and over to the west side of the Nile to explore the Valley of the Kings. Again we paid for nothing as we rode around famous statues and monuments, occasionally chased off by security people who would make some half hearted effort to catch us.

The only tourist site we actually paid for in Egypt was entry into the Egyptian museum in Cairo which was absolutely awesome.  I would like to know why all the statues have their noses missing. Theories include Alexander the Great defacing them, the style of sculpting and conspiracies against black Africans (yawn).  A prize of a mystical healing crystal pyramid to the person with the best answer in our comments.

After a few days of playing the tourist we were getting a bit bored and I had been pouring over the maps wondering whether to follow the Nile to Cairo or head east to the Red Sea.

‘Where to then, Fanbelt?’ I asked.  Red Sea was the reply and so we turned right at Qena and very soon left the greenery of the Nile and back into the desert… our destination Al Hurghada.

Typical stretch of Egyptian highway.. not that busy here… but around Cairo and the north very hectic.

Hurghada and chips

Cruising across the rocky desert towards the Red Sea coast

Cruising across the rocky desert towards the Red Sea coast

Never Eat Shredded Wheat .. sun sets in west so must be heading north (ish).

Never Eat Shredded Wheat .. sun sets in west so must be heading north (ish).

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As we approached the coast we descended through some spectacular mountains and then we saw the sea, an amazing turquoise blue that stretched from north to south as far as the eye could see. The town of  Al Hurghada was stretched along the coast and as we got nearer it looked like a construction site, or perhaps, as I suspected, an ambitious tourist industry project that ran out of funds. There were miles and miles of unfinished hotels and resorts, concrete skeletons stark against the azure of the water. There were also high end tourist coaches, with curious occupants, mostly European peering down and pointing at us as we roared passed them on the bikes. I presume they had been picked up at the airport and were being ferried to their resorts. Their journey being considerably shorter than our own.

We continued following the signs to the centre of town and it was even more touristy than Luxor or Aswan. Hurghada was a location one sees posted on the windows of UK high street travel agents, except it became obvious that it was probably advertised much more in Moscow or St.Petersberg. There were Russian signs everywhere and we were to see many Russian shot-put figured women and some more svelte like glamour models with their James Bond baddie boyfriends.

We stopped off at a roadside cafe in the bustling high street and had a late lunch and thought about what to do next. Finding a place to stay seemed logical and Fanny used the free WiFi which was everywhere to research budget hotels and we found the perfect one. The Sea View Hotel http://www.seaviewhotel.com.eg/ in the old town area and when we found it we booked into a very clean and simple room.  In fact all the Egyptian budget places were superb when compared with those we had seen in Ethiopia or Sudan. I would have much preferred to camp, but in this part of north Africa it seemed this wasn’t a common option.

At the request of the hotel owner, our bikes were parked outside on the pavement next to the entrance, much like Chinese mansion gate lions. The owner was a larger than life character with mannerisms and an accent that reminded me of one of the Greek or Egyptian entrepreneur types characatured so well by Matt Lucas and David Walliams in their comedy sketches. He did run a very good place and had very friendly and helpful staff, especially the manager. Sea View was a good choice.

We were persuaded to book a whole days snorkeling on a cruise boat for a total of ten Euros each and so I was not expecting much, but we were taken by a very competent crew, on a top quality diving boat to several of the best reefs in the area. This included the snorkeling equipment, a water guide, lunch and at the end of the day an impromptu party and dancing.

I actually hate organised trips of any kind and especially boat trips. In Hong Kong people would often hire a junk and spend the day cruising the islands around the territory, swimming, partying and drinking beer…finishing off the day with a seafood dinner at one of the restaurants on Lamma Island, Cheung Chau or Lantau.  Whilst this may sound a great way to spend a weekend for many, I hated such trips and used to count down the seconds until I could get off the boat and go paragliding in Sek O, go running, or ride my motorbike.

In the Royal Hong Kong police we would have a day off each year to take our respective teams or units that we commanded on the “Annual Launch Picnic” that involved taking the team off on a boat to some government facility on an island where the team would play Mahjong, drink beer and eat strange things incinerated on a barbecue.  I enjoyed the company of my colleagues and especially seeing them enjoying themselves. It was good for morale, team spirit and esprit de corp, but I secretly hated every minute and longed to be back on the streets and back alleys with triads, bank robbers and investment bankers.  Its a strange thing I know, but I really do not like boat trips.

Fortunately on this boat trip it did not last long before we got to the snorkeling sites which were superb. I hadn’t been to the Red Sea before and I have to say it was one of the best places in the world to scuba dive, snorkel or just wallow about in the sea. Most importantly, Fanny was enjoying herself and that made up for everything.

Fanny and I going on a day trip snorkeling in the Red Sea near Hurghada… stunning water and amazing marine life and coral.

Getting ready for snorkeling

Getting ready for snorkeling

Very reasonably priced days out on a boat to go snorkeling in beautiful seas

A very reasonably priced snorkeling trip to some beautiful reefs and coral islands.

Hurgharda diving and snorkeling

Lots of other diving boats doing the same thing.

Diving boats

Quite busy,  but a lot of fun for 10 Euros

Crystal clear waters

Crystal clear waters

Our KTMs together with Miquel and Alicia’s BMWs outside our hotel in Al Hurghada

Miquel and Alicia from Spain outside our hotel… BMW meets KTM

Alicia and her globe trotting BMW GS800

Alicia and her globe trotting BMW GS800

Alicia's BMW GS800 lowered for her.. Not much ground clearance

Alicia’s BMW GS800…..not much ground clearance for those rocks later on in north Kenya…!!

Saying farewell to Alicia and Miquel who were heading off south on their loaded up BMWs. They were two of a few globe trotting adventure bikers we met on our own big bike trip.

Soldiers across the road … they were everywhere in Egypt

Fanny and I riding about exploring the area on my R … there were lots of unfinished hotel and holiday complexes throughout Egypt and some resorts had more unfinished projects than competed ones.

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Whilst on the boat I saw my first Egyptian “duck“, not the feathered kind but the gigolo type. This particular chap had got charming middle aged and rather unattractive ladies down to a fine art and on this occasion he was with an exceedingly “plain” looking middle aged British woman. I guess it was the opposite way around to the western old farts one sees in Thailand, the Philippines etc…with their young female chickens.

I have nothing against this entrepreneurial activity at all, provided consent is mutual and age is appropriate, and on this particular occasion his lady seemed to be having the time of her life, being given all the affection and attention any women could possibly want and probably hadn’t had in a long time. I guess its not only the sun that makes a perfect holiday.

Whilst we were in Hurghada we tried to get a ferry across to Sharm El Sheikh which is on the southern tip of the Sinai peninsular and apparently much better than Hurghada in terms of beauty and marine life. However, despite the distance being less than 20 kilometers, all the ferries had been cancelled and the only way was to ride over a thousand kilometers all the way to Suez, go underneath the canal and then back down south again to Sharm El Sheikh. So that is what we planned to do  in a few days time, and in the meantime we would explore Al Hurghada on our bikes and enjoy the many wonderful seafood restaurants and tea houses.  

Whilst riding back to our hotel, no helmet, wearing the classic motorcycling attire of  shorts, flip flops and an Arabic headscarf, I saw two BMW adventure bikes, all kitted out with the latest accessories by the side of the road. I stopped and introduced myself to the two riders, Alicia and Miquel, two Spanish riders who had just arrived from Italy and were looking for a place to stay. The hotel they were looking at was over three hundred pounds a night and I recommended our hotel, which was less than a quarter of that price and so they followed me back and booked in. It was great to meet them and a very welcome opportunity to chat with fellow bikers and swap notes.

Miquel told me they were riding around the world and following the routes of Spanish explorers over the ages. After being educated where most of these places actually were it seemed that they were embarking on an adventure of considerable note. It was a well planned expedition, perhaps better than our own and certainly better financed as they had secured sponsorship from many different motorcycle and accessory companies, and a major deal with the accounting firm, BDO.

I must say I was a bit down when I reflected upon the fact we had managed to secure no sponsorship or help whatsoever from anyone, save two water proof bags from a generous manufacture in China.  In fact, I had no idea how to go about publicizing and marketing our trip and indeed whether there was any commercial value to any organisation in doing so. Miquel, however, was an expert at sponsored adventure motorcycling and also the author of four travel books and this particular trip was providing the material for a fifth book. His website is at http://www.miquelsilvestre.com/

Of course they were riding BMWs, an enormously successful automotive company that has a global network and very a well oiled marketing strategy. BMW motorcycles were reaping the rewards of successful campaigns like the “Long Way Down”, “Long Way Round” and “Race to Dakar” TV series and also the adventures of real riders like Miquel and Alicia.  Through their adventures mere mortals could live vicariously and emulate their lifestyle by owning a BMW adventure motorcycle and of course other accessories such as enduro jackets, trousers, boots and helmets.

I actually think BMW make quite good bikes.  I wouldn’t mind a GS 1200/800 Adventure or an S1000RR myself… I would also like a Yamaha XT 660/ 600/500,  a Triumph XC 800, a Ducati Multistrada 1200, a CF Moto 700 Adventure and a classic Honda Africa Twin 750. I like all motorcycles and have owned many different types of the yars.  However for what we were doing I really think our KTM motorcycles are the very best on the market and are designed and engineered to go anywhere and ride on any surface. Real tough globe trotters.

Alas, KTM are not that great at marketing nor very interested in people like Fanny or myself. Unless you are going to win the Dakar or a Rallye Raid in the Atacama desert KTM will not sign you up for sponsorship or assist in anyway.  Maybe with the release of the new KTM 1190 Adventure they may be able to haul in BMWs dominance of the market, but I suspect without a shift in their marketing strategy and an improvement in their global after sales support it will be unlikely…. sadly.

Relaxing in Old Hurghada and having our lunch with some delicious Bedouin tea

Superb seafood restaurants throughout Al Hurghada

Fanny chilling out.

Fanny having an in growing toe nail removed by a local doctor .... ooow!

Poor Fanny having an in growing toe nail removed by a local doctor …. Ouch!

Out about town for lunch

Out and about town and trying out more of the delicious Egyptian food

 

Our bikes

Our bikes loaded up and ready to ride

 

Another road block

One of hundreds of police and army road blocks we had to ride through. For many of us from the west we take for granted our freedom to go where we like.

 

Idling in the day and idling at night... Shark Bay

Idling in the day and idling at night… Shark Bay

Shark Bay

Our hotel room and view at Shark Bay

Snorkeling with my Go Pro

Snorkeling with the Go Pro camera (before it got stolen outside mosque)

Our hotel at Shark Bay in Sharm El Sheikh

Our hotel at Shark Bay in Sharm El Sheikh

Off roading

Off roading in the desert… My bike in the distance dodging the litter.

An Egyptian tank in the desert ... there were lots

An Egyptian tank /armoured personnel carrier in the desert … there were lots

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Anyway, we were back on the road again and heading north along the east coast of mainland Egypt … the Red Sea on our right and the rose coloured rocky mountains on our left. The scenery would have been quite pleasant if it wasn’t for the numerous oil fields and the noxious smells coming from the refineries. Not very pleasant, but it does clear the sinuses. Egyptians, like the Chinese actually, have a habit of throwing their rubbish in the streets, by the side of the road or into rivers and canals and so any areas with populations nearby always had lots of human detritus everywhere which was a bit depressing to see.

As I was riding along I reflected upon the fact that Egypt is actually a very lucky and privileged country. It sits on huge oil and gas reserves and has some of best tourist sites in the world. The beauty of the Red Sea and surrounding deserts is unmatched, and of course it has the legacy of Ancient Egyptian and the wonders and treasures it left behind.The Suez canal generates incredible revenues due to the huge commercial shipping traffic that uses it as a short cut between Europe to Asia. Whats more, and probably not appreciated by many people in the world, the Nile Delta is one of the most fertile and productive agricultural regions in the world. I really hope following the over throw of the Mubarak regime that it remains accessible to people like us, secular and tolerant… unlike some of its middle east neighbours.

As we were heading north along the coast of the Red Sea we thought we would stop in El Gounawww.elgouna.com a new development aimed at the well healed who want every convenience and luxury right on their doorstep without having to leave the pool. To get there we left the main coastal highway and rode eastwards along a dry sandy track and then through some gaudy gates…. and then we saw it… brand new, soulless and expensive. Definitely not our cup of tea. It was one of those plastic resorts that the new moneyed adore and old money hates. Disneyland, the Stepford Wives and Discovery Bay (Hong Kong) all rolled into one.

We had a drink at a bar that could have been anywhere in the world, looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and both said in unison  ‘Let’s get out of here’.

Because of the stop at El Gouna and because we had failed in several attempts to camp in the desert, having been chased away by soldiers and police, we had not made the progress we had hoped for that day. Just after it had got dark we arrived in a very small town called Ras Gharib and booked into the only hotel, right next to the petrol station. In every respect the perfect adventure biking resting place…. cheap, good food, a secure corridor inside the hotel to park our bikes, some interesting people to talk to and a petrol station outside selling 95 Octane fuel at 40 cents a gallon.

Later in the evening, whilst eating some excellent fish, we met the owner of the hotel, who, if he had been wearing a Fez, would have looked like one of those Egyptian police characters in a Peter Sellers movie. He was an interesting chap though and very well traveled with a home in Germany and several in Cairo and other parts of Egypt. He was quite an entrepreneur and visionary and knew very well that Chinese tourists and businessmen were coming to Egypt in increasing numbers and so he had set up a small stall selling instant noodles. ‘I buy them for five pounds and sell them for eleven– good,eh?

‘Yes, they like noodles’, I replied ‘You’re going to be a rich man’. This endorsement of his cunning plan by two people from China really seemed to cheer him up.

The next morning we continued our ride towards the tunnel under the Suez canal and after more army and police check points we were in the Sinai. For the first time in a while we were heading southwards with the sun setting to our right hand side.  We got to Sharm El Sheikh in the late afternoon after some pretty fast and enjoyable riding along very good tar roads with only a short stop at an oil refinery town along the way for some falafels and bedouin tea

Sharm El Sheikh, at the most southerly tip of the Sinai peninsular, was a pretty impressive place with many high end hotels, luxury resorts and beautiful beaches. It was also one of the world’s greatest diving locations and after following the GPS coordinates for the town’s seemingly only camp site we arrived at Sharks Bay. Unfortunately the GPS information was four years out of day and the area had been developed into a resort. It appeared that there were no camp sites any more in Sharm and as it was late we checked into one of the rooms and stayed for three days, mostly snorkeling and idling about. Wish I had something more interesting to report but that was basically it. A typical beach resort holiday.

The room was nice, but we were both getting a bit bored and it was costing too much and so we rode about 70 kilometers north to Dahab and found a very peaceful and beautifully located former Bedouin fishing village, now one of the best diving and water sports locations in Egypt. We checked into Ghazala http://ghazaladahab.com/ , a very laid back and pleasant beach side lodge and after a day of idling about started thinking where we should go next and how.

We have been exploring all sorts of options to get from Egypt to somewhere in Europe. We were very nearly successful as the Chinese Ambassador to Egypt stepped in to help Fanny and arranged a COSCO cargo ship to take us from Port Said in Egypt to Piraeus port in Greece. The arrangement needed approval from COSCO’s headquarters in Beijing and when we heard it had been granted we had to get to Port Said as soon as possible to prepare the paperwork and get the bikes loaded onto the ship.

We decided that instead of taking the same highway back to the Suez Canal that we would ride across the desert and see Saint Catherine’s monastery on the way.

The road from Dahab to the monastery was motorcycling heaven. Long stretches of twisting and turning tar through desert mountains and valleys. Stunning colours, blue blue skies and a perfect temperature. Both Fanny and I were riding quite fast, but I had already changed my front tyre back to the M/T 90 Scorpion semi road one. Fanny on the other hand still had the knobbly M/T 21 rally cross tyre on her front wheel and so cornering at 180 kilometers per hour was not a good idea.

I was thoroughly enjoying racing about and would blast ahead and scorch around the bends, accelerating out of the apex in the power band causing the wheel to rise up and then to over 200 kilometers per hour before finding the line through the next corner. Great fun, but at these speeds the 150 kilometers was covered in no time at all. It might sound irresponsible to ride at such speeds, but there is always a time and place for everything, and if I am going to meet my maker, then the oldest working monastery in the world and where Moses received the Ten Commandments was probably a good place.

Fanny was uninfluenced by my biker hooliganism, quite rightly she rode at whatever speed she thought was safe and appropriate for her regardless of what I did.  Often I would take a break and wait for her to catch up and we would carry on. Both of us reduced speed considerably as we cruised into the spectacular valleys below Mount Sinai. Wow!

Mount Sinai is not the highest mountain in the range, but it is a truly special and spiritual place and one I remember learning about from about the age of six or seven. At this impressionable age, I was fortunate to attend The Holy Rosary Primary School in Burton Upon Trent, Staffordshire, right in the heart of England. It was here that Miss Hingorani, Mrs Nelson and their colleagues forged lasting memories about Greek mythology, the Holy Lands, ancient history, inventors and their inventions, and instilled in me the fascination for geography, travel and natural history that I maintain today.

Now many years later Fanny and I had ridden all the way from our home in South Africa and were in the Holy lands staring up at Mount Sinai.

Saint Catherines monastery was situated in the sort of location I would build a monastery if I was so inclined. I had been to Buddhist monasteries in Yunnan and Zhejiang in China and it seemed that beautiful, remote and peaceful locations is a common theme in the grand scheme of selecting a location for a monastery. Fanny and I explored the buildings, but on this occasion we did not see the icons inside because it was closed. It has been a working monastery since 300 A.D so I guess a day off is taken occasionally.

The monastery is named after the Christian martyr, Catherine of Alexandria who was tortured on a wheel and then beheaded. The Guy Fawkes, November the 5th “Catherine Wheel” firework is named after this grisly bit of human ingenuity. It is said her remains were taken by angels to Mount Sinai and later found by the monks in the monastery below.

Fanny of St Catherines

Fanny of St Catherines

The Sinai desert

The Sinai desert

Rupert & Fanny in the Sinai

Rupert & Fanny in the Sinai

On the way to St Catherines across the Sinai desert

On the way to St Catherines across the Sinai desert

Mountains in the heart of the Sinai

Fanny and I leaving Ghazala Hotel in Dahab… little did we know we would return and spend months living in Dahab

Riding through an oasis town in the Sinai

Always glorious sunsets … each evening the sky passed through the many colours of the rainbow until it was pitch black and studded with the light of countless stars and galaxies

St Catherines Monastery

Mount Sinai

St. Catherines

Riding about in the Sinai desert

Fanny peaking out of the monastery

Fanny peaking out of the monastery

Middle of the Sinai

Middle of the Sinai with impressive mountain cliffs and sand dunes

Me at St Catherines

At St Catherines Monastery with Mount Sinai behind me

Fanny and I riding around Dahab

Fanny and I riding around Dahab.. Nobody wore helmets in Egypt and neither did we as we pottered about on the bikes in shorts and swimming gear … armed with snorkeling kit. If we went off road riding in the dunes or if we went for a longer ride we would get the protective gear on again.

Dahab

Dahab.. our home for four months….

Bikes parked up in Dahab

Bikes parked up in Dahab just before headed off…

Wandering around Dahab

Wandering around Dahab

The fine art of idling (Dahab)

The fine art of idling .. Bedouin style

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Since we had to be in Port Said early the next day we had to press on and so we rode across the Sinai desert, passing through oasis villages lined with palm trees. One oasis that we sped through was called Ferrari, a good name for a village to race through.

As we neared the coast we suddenly rode into a sand storm which was quite a scary experience on a motorcycle and a bit claustrophobic. Due to the strong winds, the bikes were riding at a considerable lean and sand was blowing through the cracks in my visors and into my eyes and mouth. I was worried it was getting into the engine air filters and we had no alternative but to slow down considerably. I realized we would not make a further 200 kilometers to Port Said and so we stopped at a small town and booked into the first hotel we saw.

‘How much for a room?’ I asked the manager

‘Three hundred’, came the reply

‘Sorry, that’s too much’.

‘How much you want to pay’, he quickly said as we were turning around.

‘I was thinking fifty’, I answered hopefully

The manager made a sort of disapproving snort, but we made an agreement and I was handed the keys to a pretty decent room overlooking the beach and Red Sea.

As I was filling out the registration forms in the reception I suddenly realized we were the only guests in a hotel that had a potential capacity of over a hundred. The sun had gone down and the manager, the only person we saw,  disappeared after taking our cash and photocopying our passports and I suddenly thought of the hotel in the movie,The Shining.  It was slightly spooky to be the only people in a fairly sizable hotel. Joking to Fanny that there was not a scary maze outside did not calm her nerves.

About an hour later Fanny received a call from Mr. Xu from COSCO shipping company in Port Said stating that the Greek authorities in Piraeus were demanding a pointless and unnecessary “indemnity letter” from COSCO. Unfortunately, being a Chinese State Owned shipping company COSCO could not provide us with one as we were not their employees. They were just trying to help us, but the Greek authorities were being awkward and inflexible.

Fanny had a Schengen visa for all EU countries for a year and as I am British I held an EU passport which Greece was still a member of at the time. We had Carne de Passages for both motorcycles ( which were not required for Greece anyway), we had European motorcycle insurance, and we were riding Austrian motorcycles that adhered to the strictest EU emission controls. If we were to arrive at a Greek road border on our bikes there would be no issue and so we were confused why this demand was being made and annoyed the well intentioned plans of the Chinese authorities to help us had been scuppered.

Mr Xu was sorry, but he said we would not be able board the ship and so we were back to square one as Syria was in the early stages of a civil war and was no longer issuing visas. In any case Fanny is Chinese and China were supporting the Assad regime and I am English and the British were supporting the rebels. Between the two of us we would no doubt upset everyone in Syria. We could not go east either as Fanny, being a woman of course, was not allowed to ride a motorcycle in Saudi Arabia, and we could not go west as Libya was in the throes of armed rebellion.

We were stuck.

Egypt – Part. 2 to follow…..