After four days of aggressive sales men yelling "Welcome! ... I SAID WELCOME *%#$@!!!!", people shoving tourist unk in our face, and fighting our way past predatory tour guides to visit the tombs and temples of old, we are leaving the godforsaken city of Luxor with a well developed fear of Egyptian people. Instead of dealing with more people, we will head west into the great African Sahara desert, 13 million square km of... nothing. We want to complete a 1400 km desert stretch connecting Luxor to Cairo. In between there are four oases where we can stock up on supplies and water.
Because of the tourist bombings in the past, we are not allowed to ride our bikes independently from Luxor to the first oasis Kargha. We have to pay a 4WD to go with the obligatory police convoy. So, early in the morning a dozen policemen leap into a tiny little car to follow our 4WD into the desert. Within seconds our driver and the policemen are racing down the road, cutting each other off, and of course laughing hysterically. After a while, we are going so fast that we leave the policemen in the dust, never to be seen again. So much for the convoy.
Kargha to Dakhla, 190 km, Day 1 - 3
Kargha is a quiet town, full of tourist police. Every time we pass one of the police on our bikes, they wave, ask where we're going, and then radio to their police friends 100 meters further along the road. One hundred meters further, their friends repeat the same procedure, and we very slowly make our way to our hotel.
After finding the hotel, we go shopping for supplies for our first desert crossing which will be 190 km. A group of three curious policemen join us on our shopping trip, quietly staring over our shoulder at each thing that we buy. In the end we have 20 liters of water, and three days of bland food (canned stuff and dry bread). Our bikes are so heavy, it is hard to steer them. We go to bed tonight excited to be out in the desert alone, but a little nervous too.
In the morning we sign a paper telling the police not to follow us outside the oasis, and we head out into the desert!!!! We are so excited that we are singing and making up stupid poems as we go along. The landscape is wonderful, and there's nobody trying to sell us anything. We are in heaven. Soon though, a strong wind picks up and we spend the rest of the day taking turns fighting the wind. We don't make it very far, but we are exhausted by 2pm and set up camp behind a sand dune and fall asleep really early.
Day 2 - 3
The next two days are a piece of cake with no wind and beautiful scenery. This is absolutely the best part of our bike trip yet! We reach the Dakhla oasis in no time! In the oasis, there are farmers working on their lush green fields, with stark, dry mountains off in the distance. It takes us hours to ride through the oasis, just because it's so beautiful and interesting that we just don't ride very fast. We're too busy looking around. That night we reach a cute little Egyptian town at the end of the Oasis.
As we are walking through the palm trees and mud houses, a man invites us to have tea with him in his house. However, Wim is convinced that the man wants to scam us. I convince Wim to give the guy a chance, with many hopes that there are still good Egyptian people left in this world. So we head in, only to be shown some of the man's artwork. We both think,"oh no, here we go again! He wants us to buy something, and then he's going to be mad when we don't". How wrong we were! Badr's artwork was not for sale! He just wanted to have tea and talk with us! We felt really guilty but also relieved to meet someone with genuinely good intentions.
Dakhla to Farafra, 300 km, Day 4 - 8
Getting ready for the next 5 day, 300km, journey into the desert is a bit harder. We really have to pack our panniers with a ton of food, and we reckon on 22 liters of water. Not everything fits into the panniers, and we strap extra bottles of water on top of our tent bag. Our bikes are starting to resemble utility vehicles! After loading everything on, Wim's bike tips over, and the stand cracks off. Off we go!
Day 4 - 5
The first days we have really strong headwinds, and spend the whole day pushing against the wind until we are exhausted. At night, we don't sleep well because it's too cold, and our sleeping bags are not warm enough. We try to compensate by wearing every piece of clothing that we own, but we are still in bed at 5:30 shivering when the sun goes down. In the morning we wake up before dawn, stuff a few dates in our pockets for breakfast, put dirty socks on our hands for the cold, and start going in order to do as many kilometers as possible before the wind starts up later in the morning. By 2pm each day, we're exhausted and have to stop.
Day 6 - 7
On the 3rd day we are starting to worry that we won't make it in 5 days. The problem being that we don't have enough food or water to last us any longer. Also, Wim gets sick! The loneliness of the desert is a bit intimidating...no houses, no people, no cell phone reception, and not enough food and water to afford a resting day. We can't expect to get any help. Despite all of our bad luck though, the landscape is magnificent and our camping spots are amazing. At night there is absolutely no noise. Nothing lives in this desert. There isn't any vegetation, and thus no birds, lizards, and shockingly enough not even a puny cockroach! Camping in such quiet, with a million stars over your head, makes you quickly forget that you are shivering and miserable.
Wim feels awful and lets me do all the work fighting the wind. We survive the whole day on the last pieces of dried up bread that we have left. When we finally reach Farafra late on the fifth day, we are out of food, our drinking bottles completely empty, and we need a lot of well deserved rest.
Farafra is a dusty Egyptian town with mud houses and no tourists. Despite the quiet atmosphere in the town, we again have police bodyguards that sit outside of our hotel room the whole time that we stay there. Achmed, who is on night duty, becomes our friend and spends long evenings with us in our hotel room. He is quite depressed because his father said, " Achmed, you marry cousin and make many babies." Achmed however, is not interested in marrying his cousin, mainly because it is so expensive for him. Traditionally, during the first year of engagement, the man has to send many expensive gifts to the girl. This is totally ruining the poor guy, and he is really interested to find out that Belgian/American women are cheap to marry.
Farafra to Baharyya, 200 km, Day 13 - 15
Our last desert stretch.
The first day, the winds start up at 8am. By 1pm, we are so exhausted that we have to stop. Since there is no shelter, Wim constructs a clever wind stopper out of the ground cover of our tent and our bikes. Warm and out of the wind, I begin to cook up our last potato's. All of a sudden the bike, the windscreen and a large sand dune fall on top of me and our dinner. Neither of us had really eaten so much sand before, but after an intense day of biking, it actually wasn't so bad.
The wind started up early again today, but by 12am the wind is so strong that we can hardly push our bikes up the hill by walking. Biking is just not possible any more. Flying sand is stinging our faces, and we quickly find shelter in a small shepard's hut alongside the road. Our miles are not going very quickly and we again are worried that we will not have enough food to get us to the next oasis if we don't make better progress. So, we decide to wait until dark, when the wind calms down a bit, and ride by the light of the full moon.
At 7pm, the moon is out, the wind is a bit better and we start off into the darkness. It is an eerie, and slightly creepy experience to be riding by the light of the moon, surrounded by stars and sand dunes. After completing another 30 km, we finally stop for another shivery night.
We set an alarm clock to wake up before dawn again, to beat the wind. We have no idea how many kilometers we have left because all of the road signs seem to have contradicting millage postings. The wind quickly picks up and our spirits are at an all time low. But, like my father says, "nothing too good, or too bad ever lasts too long." How right that is. After 30 km, we all of the sudden reach our last oasis and we settle into a nice hotel, for a good day and a half sleep.
Looking back at our trip, it was really hard and miserable. But, at the same time, it was really our favorite part of our trip until now. Strange how it always works out like that. For the last leg of the trip to Cairo, we stuff ourselves into a minibus again, and make our way into slightly less picturesque Cairo.
Throughout our trip, Egyptians have ripped us off, treated us like cattle, shown us hospitality and friendship and in general confused us and worn us out. However, I have to say, that this was an incredibly interesting and tiring land to visit. Egyptians are smiley people who love joking and making a lot of noise. They will rip you off in their store, but turn around and ask them for help, and before you know it the whole village is passionately discussing your dilemma. And they will not quit until you have what you are looking for. All in all, we're happy to have come, and we're happy to be leaving.