The untold stories

It has been brought to our attention that this blog is perhaps presenting a fairly rose-tinted view of our last eight months. Therefore, in the interest of unbiased reporting and to show what lies behind the smiles and the sunsets, we have compiled a series of photos which should illustrate the somewhat less glamorous side of cycling from China to Africa.

Back to basics: bread, water and bikes have been our staples.

Not usually a fussy drinker, but the homemade Tajikistan brew was not to our liking.

The floor is often preferable to the bed.

With a limited wardrobe, all fashion sense was discarded early on.

The reason communism failed: an ex-soviet en suite bathroom.

Uzbekistan was hot! Taking a post-lunch nap under a bus shelter.

There is simply no greater (nor more widely available) refreshment.

Bike rebuild in Istanbul.

Language barriers occasionally require a more hands-on approach.

You know that storage room behind a hotel reception…. our first night in Egypt.

Finding a pesky thorn.

Another unsatisfactory breakfast.

Fire up the bedroom stove, again.

Beans for lunch and beans for dinner. Hope you like beans if you’re heading to Sudan.

Who would have ever thought that camping in a thorn field would result in multiple punctures?

Low key birthday celebrations this year.

‘Hotel’ rooms: there have been some heart-sinking moments.

Pursuit of cash in Africa has been a challenge: queuing for another empty ATM.

A familiar sight on rest/laundry day.

The washing Wife.

Don’t drop the soap… loo and shower combo.

The simple life: our luggage for the year.


Getting out

We made a cracking pace through Egypt, due in no small part to the excellent roads and favourable winds. Southern Egypt provided us some logistical challenges as we worked for permission to pass on roads without an escort, but persistence paid off and after signing our own indemnity we enjoyed some secluded riding through pretty unique and barren landscapes. We managed to improve our personal best by covering 270km within 24hours, to arrive exhausted into the warm welcome of Abu Simbel; a town on Lake Nasser that we will remember as much for its main Temple attraction, as the good folks of the town whom among other things, served up some fine fish dinners.

However, our lasting and quite fitting image of Egypt will be that of our two bicycles propped on their stands in front of the very final (unmanned) locked gate in the border crossing process. In what was never going to be a speedy affair, we had jumped through every hoop and collected every piece of seemingly superfluous paperwork, but still found ourselves agonisingly short of no-man’s land. As an ‘official’ (wearing a Barcelona football shirt – and who almost certainly didn’t play for them) resting in a broken plastic chair bellowed in vain for someone to open the padlock, we had almost lost the will to try anymore. After much gesticulation and waiting many ‘1-minutes’, a second official found the requisite key and shuffled over to release us from this farcical country. Phew.

Rude Awakening

One recurring feature which seems to dominate a journey of this nature is the uncertainty of where exactly each day will end. When not required to camp out, we frequently find ourselves settling for the night in some quite hideous establishments, which could claim only a very loose association with the hospitality industry. Occasionally however, we stumble upon an affordable and surprisingly excellent hotel in the centre of Luxor, boasting rooftop views of the captivating River Nile. This good fortune was particularly well timed, given that our patience with Egypt was starting to wear a little thin.

Rush hour in Cairo: not one for bicycles

Weaving along Cairo Ring road. Never again.

Traffic: All or nothing in Egypt.

Crossing the Eastern Desert.

After negotiating what is arguably the most unpleasant stretch of tarmac on which a bicycle could possibly be ridden (the Cairo ring road), we made a return to some hot and dry kilometres through the Eastern Desert along the Red Sea Coast; a stretch of coastline which is clearly of particular importance to the Egyptian authorities. An abrupt 6am wake-up call from our chosen camp spot, courtesy of the Egyptian Army, prompted an escort to the nearest barracks and set the tone for the week. The various military checkpoints during the days that followed hardly eased our anxiety, and didn’t exactly provide the warm welcome we’d hoped for. What’s more, the enduring and exhausting battles with the schemers and scammers at almost every junction of our daily routine made a swift exit south seem like the best outcome for all parties.

The Nile.

On a more positive note, a particularly boisterous tailwind helped deliver us to Luxor, which has provided not only a top-notch vista and an interesting saunter around the Valley of the Kings, but also a much needed haven to escape the chaos before the next onset.

Cheerio Cairo

Our feelings towards Cairo have been largely of indifference. Having been here a week, we have still yet to find anything that could reasonably pass for a city centre – and we have had plenty of time to look for one, from the discomfort of some incredibly slow moving traffic. Evidence of the recent political revolution remains present throughout the city, where the Kalashnikov-wielding teenage police force combine with the strategically poised armed vehicles to give the place an uncertain edgy feel, which in parts could easily be mistaken for the inside of a military compound.

Certainly, the pyramids have provided an awe-inspiring insight into what seemed to have been a tremendously intelligent and advanced civilisation. However, observing the pointy spectacle with the disjointed and frantic modern-day Cairo as its backdrop, you can’t help but feel that this city perhaps peaked around 4,000 years ago.

Holder of ‘world’s tallest building’ title, for around 3,800 years.

After a lesson from the Sudanese in how not to operate a foreign embassy, we have managed to secure a visa that will allow us to at least begin our journey southwards, assuming of course that we can find a way out of the Cairo sprawl.

Fellow Cairo cyclist.