We had some troubles leaving Aswan as early as planned, as the gas station Abdullah had told us to go to had ran out of petrol. We found another one, closer to the city, but it took us some while to leave town and hit the road to Luxor. The road up the Nile is fairly good, and in parts also a pleasant sight as there were lots of bushes with white and pink flowers planted along the roadside – but the riding is made tiresome by a row of towns and dwellings, which always come with the inevitable speed bumps, and the occasional police road blocks. We stopped at Kom Ombu on the way, a whole temple right at the bank of the Nile which was dedicated to the ancient crocodile god Sobek. The two guides who hung around there could speak no English, to both their and our disadvantage, as we would really have liked to have someone around to explain the hieroglyphs and elements of the temple. But they showed us what they could with their hands and feet, which turned quite funny when they tried to mime a woman giving birth (as we where in something like a hospital wing, and this is what was explained in the hieroglyphs). The museum next to the temple is very good, small but well-curated, and the sight of mummified crocodiles is something not to be forgotten. The whole temple area was very well kept and set up, and when leaving we even saw that it had a direct landing spot for the big Nile streamers. Though of curse, there was no tourist around but ourselves, which made us once again pity the locals who tried to sell us their necklaces and papyrus and whatever else.
Shortly before reaching Luxor we experienced some GPS problems which would follow us through our trip in Egypt for a while*. Practically, it meant the GPS could not find any spot in the city. After trying for a short while to find the hostel by ourselves, we stopped to consult Google Maps on the iPhone. This worked for another 5 minutes, then the heat made the iPhone switch itself off. The same heat was also once again leading to Anne switching off, and after asking three times for directions and still not finding the place, we stopped and called them to send someone for us. Our guide Tarek arrived on his bicycle. He accompanied us through the traffic to the Bob Marley Sherief Hostel, where Said and Maria welcomed us and made us sit down in the airconditioned lobby for a cool drink on the house. Probably the aircondition was too much on Anne’s overheated body, because the flu-ish symptoms she had had in Sudan now came out full scale in the course of the evening. Kirsty and Gareth who had also come to stay at the hostel, graciously shared their Antibiotics with her, and she got some further supplies from the pharmacy with the help of Said. We decided to stay two days in Luxor, to give ourselves a bit of a rest, and indeed less than two days would not be enough to see the stuff there is to see. After visiting the Karnak temple, the Luxor museum, the Valley of Kings, the temple of Hatschepsut and the temple of Medinat habu, we were quite impressed with all we had seen, but also quite sure that we did not need to see another tomb or temple for a while.
Perfect therefore that our next stop on the route was Hurghada, famous beach location for European and Russian tourists and very unknown for any other sights than the Red Sea. We were in a playful mood and played catch with the Aussies on the first stretch up the Nile, taking pictures of each other, until we caught up with them at a police road block outside Qena. Here we met a very friendly, apologetic police officer, who absolutely wanted to gave the four of us a police escort to Hurghada. We did absolutely NOT want a police escort, especially as we saw a police escort as a major attraction to attack us. He was unrelenting though and begged us to wait while he organized the cars to come. To our luck, the other police officers he called were not as convinced we needed an escort (or maybe their cars had run out of petrol, or maybe someone had petrol-bombed their cars…), and after making us wait for roughly 30 minutes, he apologized again profusely and let us go. Yippieh! We waved the Nile goodbye and swerved East, to hit the desert road to Hurghada.
As we had only traveled along the Nile in Egypt up to now, we had nearly forgotten that we were still in a country mostly made up of desert. The route to Hurghada was a beautiful reminder of that, creating again that special desert atmosphere that we had felt when riding through Sudan. Especially the last few kilometers were very enjoyable, when red-brownish pointed rock formations suddenly started creeping up on us, forcing the street to swerve in long bends and us with it. The street was nearly void of traffic, but when we came out of a little gorge between two of these hills we saw an elderly man sitting at the side of the road and mending his motorbike. We immediately turned around to see if we could help – though we are definitely rather mediocre mechanics – but he laughed at us and signed to us with hand and feet that it was alright. We could see that he was well prepared, for though his chain was broken, he had apparently brought a spare one already and was busy fixing the bike up. As he did not speak English and we don’t speak Arabic (the old story of our travels… how much we wish we had a multitranslator like in the Star Trek universe…), we could not do much more than smile at each other, and left him at least some water and snacks. Which he probably only accepted because we forced it onto him, but we did not want to leave him out in this weather and surroundings just like that. We went on to Hurghada and once again had great trouble finding our hotel with the GPS – this time though the iPhone came out in the shade only and thus functioned long enough to show us the right route. The Cindrella [!] Hotel was arranged for us by our host Said in Luxor, or rather by his friend Khaled, manager of the Bob Marley Hostel in Hurghada, who had placed us there as his hostel did not have parking for the bikes. The Cindrella also had no parking, but we were told it was safe to park it on the street in front of the hotel**.
The hotel was ok, the staff immensely nice and helpful, and we ventured to the seaside right away to take our first dip in the Red Sea. In the evening we were picked up by Karim and Dia from the Red Sea Bikers Club, who we had been introduced to once again through Omar, our Alexandrian friend we had never met before. They took us through nightly Hurghada and invited us for the best rice pudding we ever had (with fruits, nuts and ice cream!), while looking out over the bay at the sparkling promenade. Two other club members, Brownie and Said, then took us to the South Beach Club, where Said had a concert with one of his bands. Jan did not need to be pressed hard to ride on the back of Brownie’s 750 Honda Shadow – we are no chopper riders, but these bikes sure looked very nice! And the sound! Anne drove with Said in his Opel Calibra behind and discussed with him which bike he would buy for himself – as he is nearly 2m high, it is mostly a question of which bike will fit him. At the club we were treated as special guests by the club manager and got seating right at the stage. The Egyptian-American band played funk-versions of famous pop and rock songs, with some arab-oriental influences and a lot of joke-cracking in between, mainly by the crazy drummer. Anne got really into dancing mode at some stage, but Jan unfortunately wasn’t (very rare occassion indeed!), and when at some stage the drunken Russian/Polish/Dutch tourists took over, Anne’s mood for dancing was also gone. Is it because we have been riding through quite conservative Muslim regions for the last four weeks, or is it because Western tourists in Hurghada have plainly run out of any dignity and self-respect? We watched with fascinated horror the barely clad women and men shake their bodies in their unconcealed desperation to get lucky. The way these people danced, not for the joy of dancing but purely for attracting attention and potential shag partners (or so it seemed to us), the way the one guy first unbuttoned his shirt and then took it off completely, stomping around with his pumped up chest like a baboon, jumping on every girl that got in his line of sight… We have never been to Mallorca, but we guess that is what Ballerman 6 must have looked like. We have seen people dancing all around Africa, we have especially seen people dancing a lot in South Africa (not only toy-toying, mind!). The dances we saw were sometimes explicitly sexual (sega le khekhe, eh, Cynthia?), but they were never vulgar as what we had to witness here. And all this, please bear in mind, in a society that is quite conservative and the majority Muslim. Entering Egypt from Sudan, we saw a lot less men wearing the Dschellabah, but the only women we saw without a Hijab, and properly covered up, were Christians. The situation is certainly different in Cairo, but apart from the touristic havens like Hurghada and Sharm el Sheik, women would never venture out to swim in less than shorts and a T-shirt. Not even the Expat community in Aswan does that, when they go out on their Saturday boat rides. And now that. We had our first true culture shock, and it came in a quite unexpected place. The tourists around us were quite oblivious and tried to engage us in a chat and invite us for a beer. Culture-shocked Jan and Anne against drunken, oversexed tourists, it was a very bad timing indeed.*** For the sake of Said, and the music which was really good, we managed to stay until the end of the set. Said took us back to the hotel and invited us for a sugar cane juice on our way back. He even tried to sit on our bikes, but we have to acknowledge he needs a bigger one!
After a very short night, Khaled picked us early the next morning for a snorkeling tour he had booked us on. After 10 seconds on the boat, still safely parked in the harbour, Anne was getting doubts if she could make it. The sea was very choppy, and she still well remembered her 3-times-puking-ordeal on the 2-hour ferry from Zanzibar to the mainland. Turned out the sea between Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam had actually been quite calm compared to what the Red Sea was throwing at us this day. Now we know what “rolling through the waves” means. The boat jumped up and down and to and fro, people clutched their stuff to keep it from flying, twice a loose table toppled over under much screams and laughter (from the Russians, the latter. These guys have nerves). With the help of a seasickness tablet, firmly closed eyes and the soothing talk of Jan, Anne made it through, swearing all the while never to put her foot on a boat again. Once we had reached the diving spot though, the coral reefs broke the big waves and created calm areas of sea. Nonetheless Anne needed a life jacket to make her feel safe while snorkeling (really not an open sea person, really not). The snorkeling itself was amazing! We floated next to and sometimes above the reef, saw blue spotted rays, lots of colourful fish and even dolphins up close! We had been invited by Karim to come to a concert of his band (all very musical, the RSB!) this evening, but Anne was so worn out by the day and the lack of sleep before that she literally passed out in the hotel room and slept through until the next morning. Jan however joined the crew on his bike. First, he went to the Marina with Brownie looking at the expensive yachts, the over-prized apartments and enjoying a fruit juice. What came next can best be described as an planned odysee across town. We went back and fro picking up other Red Sea Bikers and visiting the first bike shop since South Africa on the way. We ended up parking our bikes at the Viking – a club somewhere in town where Karim and his band were already entertaining the crowd. HambaHamba looked a bit shabby next to all the polished chrome of the cruisers and therefore got the space furthest away from the entrance. Karim couldn’t resist and call Jan out and have him cheered by the people at the Viking for the trip we are doing. It was great but Karim overdid it a bit mentioning that we are going around the world – not that we wouldn’t want to but for now it is “only” the long and nice way home. While Brownie was with Jan for the start of the evening, David and Elena made sure he got back to the hotel safely. He also gave Mohammed a lift – a medical doctor who we met on our snorkeling trip and we encouraged to join us to “scream with Karim”. Our last day in Hurghada was mainly used for relaxing and once again organizing stuff – though also once again, we were hindered in that by a broken down WiFi connection at the hotel, and a mysteriously slow 3G on the iPhone. If we would believe in higher beings, we could nearly believe there is a god of the Internet, and he is having big fun with us. Anyway, we spent the last evening watching Karim and his band (Called “Scream with Karim”!) performing at a spot close to our hotel, with Anne trying to make up for her failure yesterday in clapping and whooping a lot. We had planned to leave very early the next morning, but we overslept, and were still busy packing when a guy from the hotel knocked at our door to let us know that someone was waiting for us downstairs. Karim had come straight from work to see us off! And while we were packing the bikes, he opened his bags and asked if we had some more space. He had brought a RSB shirt for Anne, he had taken his own RSB flag from his bike that Jan had admired so much, and he had brought us “Scream with Karim” mugs and keyrings! Anne put the shirt on immediately, beaming with pride. Karim accompanied us out of the city, gave us some good tips where to stop for petrol and where not, and waved us goodbye. We promised to come back to Hurghada – we really have to, just have to make sure to stay with the cool locals rather than the drunk tourists!
*It turned out later that the OpenSource Map was overridden by the Tracks for Africa Map, which had not happened before on our tour.
**They guys at the reception were really around to look at the bikes for 24/7, but they could not prevent a drunken tourist bumping with her car into Tokoloshi our last night, causing both bikes to topple over. Luckily nothing was broken off, and we could not tell new scratches from the old ones anyway. After another inspection Port Said however, it seems that one of the headlight mounts is broken. This incident also taught us not to park the bikes on a busy road in Egypt again – even if they are safe from being stolen, they are never safe from cagers.
***Don’t get us wrong, we certainly both have been more drunk and danced at least equally horny than these guys – though certainly with more clothes on – but it is one thing to see and do this during carnival in frost-bitten Germany or on a university party celebrating your exam, and another to see this in a place were just across the road you can’t see more than the face and the hands of the women.