Egypt

Egypt: Luxor to Aswan

South from Luxor, the traffic is much calmer. I have been informed this stretch has less of a problem with board teenagers and indeed, many of the people I see have better things to do than annoy me.

Temple of Horus, Edfu.
One day ride from Luxor with without the delays of an escort is Edfu.

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The town boasts a large temple to the Falcon God, Horus. What is remarkable is the state of preservation due to it being buried in sand for most of its life. Now excavated it’s possible to look up at the intact ceilings that tower above.

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Luxor, Adams guest house
A few hours ride and 5km from Aswan is a lovely guesthouse set in a Nubian compound. The 3 bed dorm room has earth floors.

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That evening a Nubian wedding took place..The music was superb and many people were ‘stick dancing’

Aswan

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Traditional Felucca sailboat

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Aswan high dam

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A rare chance for some beers on the Nile with guests from the hotel

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I confess it’s been 5 months since my last McDonald’s!

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Unfinished obelisk. Abandoned in the quarry due to a big crack that appeared.
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Coptic Christian church. Flooded with yellow light.

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The Nubian museum covers the area around Aswan and south into Sudan. Many of the finds are from the excavation or relocation of sites before the creation of Lake Nasser by the Aswan dam in the 1960s

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Egypt: Sohag to Luxor

The joke appreciated by the first police escort was the fact they I have 5 armed guards to protect me from teenage husslers on motorbikes. They tailed me in a truck and to be honest I was happy there were there. The only problem is they change every 10km. This involves drinking tea at the roadblock waiting for the next escort to arrive and so it goes on. Progress is painfully slow. Informed in no uncertain terms I’m not allowed to stay in Qena was presented with a choice, put the bike in the back and we drive you to Luxor in one go. The only other option is to stay at the roadside police checkpoint overnight, probably not the safest place to be given the current climate.
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On the other hand, if you define safe as being driven on busy roads with siren blaring and high speed while sat in the back of a van on a ledge, overtaking on blind corners and playing chicken with oncoming trucks, then yes, I felt very ‘safe’. Given the amount of sharp breaking we only got violently shunted once from behind once during the whole journey, a miracle.

A few hours later I cycled the last 5km from the outskirts of Luxor to the hotel on the west bank. The locals are very helpful, “The ferry boat is this way..”, a quick glance at the GPS, “No it isn’t, it’s 300 meters in that direction, and off I cycle”.

The Cleopatra hotel in Luxor can’t be faulted. Top of the trip adviser ratings for my price bracket I took an instant liking to it, the family owners and the handful of guests that floated through during my 5 nights stay there. It’s on the west bank, a more relaxed place. They have been closed for a few months due to no bookings, but reopened after a short flurry. On my last night I was the only person staying there. It’s sad to see such nice place without guests.
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Shisha with on the roof terrace with Joy and Andy from Manchester.

Luxor Temple
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Restorers at work
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Avenue of the sphinx
Connecting the Luxor temple and Karnak is a 3km path lined with sphinx statues. Not all of it is excavated.
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Temple at Karnak
A huge complex of temples and courtyards covering a large outdoor area. Wandered around the mostly deserted site.
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Valley of the Kings
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The coach park at 1.30pm, just empty. Now is the time to visit! Cameras not allowed, hence this picture.

Temple of Ramasis
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Nile cruse boats
Sadly, moored along the riverfront are huge flotillas of cruse ships slowly gathering rust. This is one of 3 blocks in Luxor. There are more in Aswan. I have yet to see a Nile cruse boat on the water. Many of the people I meet are former workers on the boats trying to scratch a living elsewhere.
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Museum of Luxor, Mummification Museum
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Gardens of the museum, cameras not allowed. It’s very well arranged, and again I nearly had the place to myself.

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Egypt: Cat and mouse in the upper Nile

What should be a pleasant ride with the prevailing winds along the shores of the Nile is not possible at the moment due to the gangs of youths on motorcycles that follow me of towns. Everyday so far by 1pm I have been surrounded by 10 or more youths pursuing me demanding personal items or money and trying to open my bags. It’s at this point I’m forced to see refuge. They seem to think I owe them something and would rob me blind if I didn’t either stand my ground or find somewhere safe to shelter. The only quiet time is from sunrise at 6am to 10am and then the problems get progressively worse.

When I’m forced to stop for the day I’ve received nothing but help, support, friendship and a safe place to stay for the rest of the day and night. The next day I starting cycling just before sunrise and this gives me a few hours of peaceful cycling before the games begin again.

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Desert road. I soon realised that this is not the safest place to cycle

On two occasions my refuge for the day and night is one of the many roadside ambulance stations. They are manned by fun and professional staff and someone always has a smattering of English.
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What I find amusing is the mix of political views and ‘banter’ the staff have. Some support ousted president Morsi, some the general. It’s all good natured.
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White bricks with the texture and  consistency of breeze blocks are cut directly from the hillside.

My first fall
It had to happen at some point.. A fall from the bike. What was the usual ‘hussle’ by a gang of 3 youths on a motorbike turned out to be something a bit more serious. They stopped ahead and one of them grabbed the handlebars as I passed by. Aided by a stiff tailwind and too much speed it knocked me off balance and I came crashing to the ground. They were somewhat sorry, helping me up and returning an item stolen after I had a good shout at them. 2 days later and still quite painful the doctor indicated that something had broken in my Scapula (shoulder blade) , although the xray doesn’t anything obvious. It may just be sprained.
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Red mark.. Contact with road
Black Tape.. Hurts when pressed
Yellow.. Bruising near collar bone
Tan lines.. Rather severe!

I must say, Menya university hospital was great. From walking in to exiting with an xray and prescription took 20 minutes. “Is it because I’m a westerner?”, I asked. “No, that’s how long it takes” said the porter. Total medical bill: £1.75

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Morning tablets, I feel like a junkie!
2 days rest in Menya as I’ve also picked up some amoebic bug called gardiasis that gives me hydrogen sulphide burps and zero appetite, amongst other things.. I blame the sugarcane juice in Cairo.

My 2 nights rest happen to coincide with the trial of Morsi and Moubarak so being off the road is probably a good thing. Security is tight around town, especially around the hotel. Protests seem good natured carnival type affairs.
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View from the hotel window onto a quiet street below.
In the distance is the new museum of Minya that got looted (pyramid shaped building). It’s a very sad story, you can read about it on the Internet.

Rescued near Deir Mawas
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After being forced to turn back to seek refuge in a near by town I was kindly hosted by the chief and his extended family, in particular Ahmed, a lawyer and Abdul, a student of pharmacology. It’s knowing the people of Egypt are just like them; kind, helpful and generous.. It restores my faith in the people of Egypt.
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One of the many family businesses is sugar molasses. They are produced from the locally grown sugarcane.
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Finished product into jars and boxed up.
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Me Abdul and bike.
We all went for coshary, the most popular Egyptian food takeout.

Coshary
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Sold everywhere, around 40p for a meal and very filling it’s.. Lentil, chickpea, dried onion, spaghetti, macaroni and rice. Added to taste are tomato sauce, and in the two vessels, garlic/lemon and chilli that are added to taste.
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When mixed it’s ready to eat.. It looks like this. Yummy!

Egyptian bread
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Cooked on a moving belt.. Flat dough in one end, 15 seconds later, flat breads out the other end. Very efficient.

Assyut
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Mohammed, kindly showed me around his university town. Also a great help at coaching me in Arabic phrases to use on the road.. (none of them kind!)
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Countryside wedding party celebrating in town. Stayed in the YMCA club, a great place. Watched the sports day from the balcony in the evening. Liked it so much I stayed for 2 nights

Sohag
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Chatted to a group of students at a roadside cafe after being pursued by youths with sticks. I was near a city so I managed to evade them.
As a matter of policy, the hotel inform the local police when a foreigner checks in. They called by to say hello..
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Egypt: Tour of the Pyramids

Giza
The lack of tourists is quite remarkable. In Giza I counted 2 white faces and a smattering of Egyptian tourists who tend to stick to the horse and cart rides rather venture overland to the base of the pyramids. Most of the time its just me and my guide following a deserted path. I feel like the place to myself.
One of the pyramids has steps down to a chamber. Where the open Tomb could be seen, I was the only visitor.
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Sphinx

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Notice the group of kids trying (and failing) to make a dash for the top of the pyramid.
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Climb the pyramid.. I didn’t go far!

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Temple located near the base

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Me and my guide and nobody else

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Joining the archaeologists

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Sphinx

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Inside the pyramid, inside the tomb!

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Steps lead up and back outside

Solar museum
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Buried next to the pyramid is the boat the brought the pharaohs body up the Nile all those years ago. It has been reassembled and housed in a building on the site of its discovery. Not many 4000 year old boats can be seen of this size and condition. A highlight indeed.

Abu Sir
At the other pyramid sites to the south of Giza I saw one other tourist with a guide. Now is the time to visit, without the crowds. The locals seem fairly disinterested in visiting these monuments and they are completely deserted apart from the handful of staff who are on hand to tell you that its closed and you can’t visit, but that soon changes when you turn around and head for the door! “No wait..!”

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View in the direction of Giza from the top of the pyramid. If you look through the mist (or pollution!) you can make out their outline.

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Saqqara
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Stepped pyramid. One of the earliest structures.
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Imhotep Temple

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Deep burial pits cut into the bedrock

Dashur
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The Red Pyramid

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Shaft leading deep down inside the Red pyramid. There was nobody around. I had to wake up the guard on duty to let me inside (for a small tip). It takes a few minutes to climb down to the first chamber. Not for the claustrophobic!

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There are two big chambers inside, the solid blocks hold the weight of the pyramid above. The air is so bad with ammonia it’s almost unbreathable.

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The bent pyramid. Again, an early design. Later ones where built at a shallower angle

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Workers restoring the base. It’s one of the best preserved giving a glimpse of how the other pyramids must have looked before beige stripped of their outer stonework

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Egypt: Cairo all to myself (and the other 23 million people who live there)

Heading into the centre at 6am from the airport when traffics light is a good idea. The centre is a network of one way streets and without GPS it would be very hard work navigating.

The first stop is Cairo City Central Hotel (10GBP) Once unpacked the plan is food then Egyptian museum.
One big advantage of being in Egypt at the present time is the lack of tourists at any of the main sites and the usually crowed halls of the museum are now eerily silent. Covered in dust and devoid of tourists it’s like a 1930s time warp and the treasures of Tutankhamen were all mine (and the security guards) for a period of time. Very tired having not slept the previous night I wondered the halls in a dream like state. No photos allowed.

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There’s a big problem with abandoned cars, some now quite collectable. Surprised the metal hasn’t been recycled.
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Fixing shoes on the street.. I wore them out!

Food
As ever, my main area of interest are the culinary delights, a few found below
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Breakfast.. Refried beans, salad, pickles, egg and as much whole meal pitta style bread as you can eat. All for 40p
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Egyptian pizza

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Indoor market

At the informal early breakfast club I met with Andrew, a retired Iranian born American and two Bahraini men, again retired. All enjoying the leisure opportunities offered by Cairo.
My day was a cycle tour around the main sites of the city. Cairo is a city for cars and not people, large highways cut through city and crossing them is impossible. Pavements are generally not for pedestrians and double even triple parking is the norm. Many of the backstreets are jammed by tightly pack of cars inching their way to wherever they want to go. Given all of this I still managed to visit much of the city with a bit of carrying and pushing!
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The Nile
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Typical Street scene
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Church
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Dedicated to the Saint who washed the feet of Jesus. Had an impressive reliquary; true piece of the cross, a thorn from the crown and section of the shroud.

City of the dead
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Peculiar mix of dead and living. The dead don’t want to be left alone so some mausoleums include living quarters, picnic facilities and whole families living there. I even stumbled across a wedding party, although it’s not the place where you should flash your camera about.

Sultan Hassan and Al Rifai mosques
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Very peaceful places. Sat and chatted to two Egyptian students and time flew by.
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View of the Citadel that overlooks the mosques

Old City
Very quiet in early evening and was mostly closed. Sorted for photo ops.
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After finding a suitable cafe for a deserved rest, I got chatting to the owner who invited me for supper at his house above. Very generous and kind couple.

Albert Palace
Given the political situation, previous looting of museums there is a very heavy police and army presence at all the main sites. Lines a armoured personal carriers, barbed wire and bored looking soldiers are ever present at sensitive and strategic points around the city. Not the sort of thing you should photograph!!
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