A little trip around Egypt .....................by scooter

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by pebble35, Nov 1, 2012.

  1. pebble35

    pebble35 Long timer

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    A few months back I came across details of a ride across Egypt and decided to give it a try. Most of my friends (and my wife) told me I was mad to be going there - 'It's dangerous, you'll get attacked by terrorists' was the usual response. And then I said I was riding a scooter and their replies generally changed to 'YOU WILL DIE !!!'

    Cross Egypt Challenge Cross Egypt Challenge, a 2400 km scooter ride throughout Egypt for 2012 was a 2,400 km ride through Egypt on 150cc Sym scooters with the aim of promoting tourism in Egypt. I have to say I was hooked as soon as I saw the details of the trip - off went my application email and i was one of the lucky 15 foreign riders to be accepted for a place - apparently they had over 200 applications !

    Our route covered some 2,400 km - starting from Cairo, Egypt's capital and the home of the famous Tahrir square, then north to the cosmopolitan city of Alexandria at the shoes of the Mediterranean before heading west towards the city of Marsa Matrouh. We then headed down towards the fascinating Sahara desert where we would ride between Egypt's 5 famous oasis, Siwa, Bahareya, Farafra, Dakhla and Kharga before reaching the legendary city of Luxor; the world's largest open-air museum, where we were to end our long and tiring journey in front of the magnificent temple of Karnak.

    Wednesday 10 October

    Day 1 - well it was for me. An early start to get the flight from Jersey to Gatwick and then the coach across from Gatwick to Heathrow. I was flying with BA from Terminal 5 - I know Terminal 5 has been operating for some time but as I am not a regular flyer this was only the second time I have been through there - it was an impressive setup and not very crowded. But I could not drop my bags off more than 3 hours before the flight to Cairo so I had to spend a bit of time sat around waiting.

    It was a good flight with BA-food is way better than those budget airlines. Flight time about 4 hours getting into Cairo about 11.30 pm so it was quite a long first day.

    I met up with the only other UK participant over a beer (or two) at Heathrow when we got into Cairo we were by Koree, one of the organisers, who was determined to capture our arrival and initial thoughts of Egypt on film.

    Then had a pretty hair raising taxi ride into the hotel. Lights are optional on the road and hazard lights do nothing more than warn other drivers 'I'm coming through' - but then most of the cars have their hazard lights on all the time.

    Apparently traffic was light as we headed to the hotel but we still passed signs of two recent accidents in the 10 mile trip. And yes -if you leave 3 inches between your car and the one along side you it is possible to go 5 abreast on a 3 lane highway ! Driving is on the right here but overtaking seems to be done any side !

    Thursday 11 October

    View from our hotel

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    Today was our first chance to catch up with some of the other riders and the organisers. Met a couple over breakfast and ended up going to the Egyptian Museum with Wally and Manny. Wally is from Canada and Manny is originally from Nigeria but now living in the US. There are participants from 10 different countries taking part in this trip including the UK, Germany, US, Argentina, Canada, Denmark to name a few.

    Went out for a walk and within minutes came across 'road rage' Egyptian style - a car driver was busy remonstrating with a group of pedestrians about how they crossed the road......

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    The Egyptian museum was interesting - got a local to guide us at the ridiculous cost of less than £4 (shared between 4 of us) for a 1 hour tour. Lots of interesting info and insight into what was on display and the significance of it.

    Egyptian Museum

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    The story and background to the tomb of Tutankhamen was useful but the sheer quantity and size of the artefacts recovered was stunning. As was the quantity of gold on display - I dread to think of the values involved ! And given that the lack of security was surprising. Stuff like Tutankhamen's sarcophagus was on display inside a wooden framed glass cabinet and we could stand right next to it. In the UK there would have been barriers to hold us 10 feet back and a security guard on hand to keep us in line !

    No photos allowed inside the museum (cameras had to be handed in before entry) so no pictures I am afraid.

    We had a briefing meeting with the organisers this afternoon when they outlined a lot of info on the ride. Looks like it will be tough. There is one section where we probably won't have phone signal for about 2 days as we cross the western desert. And what I expected to be unmade roads is largely sand -about 300 km of it.......

    Sunset over Cairo

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    Dinner for everyone at Nile City. A floating restaurant on the Nile. Good Italian style food and very busy.

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    It was an early start the next day so we all got an early night.
    #1
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  2. pebble35

    pebble35 Long timer

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    Friday 12 October

    My notes from my handwritten diary for the first days riding read 'F*cked up Cairo traffic first then f*cked up Alexandria. Pyramids. McDonald's for lunch. Fuel stops. Traffic. Driving styles. Red bull. Party at finish. Drive to hotel in dark. Radio interview. Alexandria scooter club - what a bunch of nutters !'

    I reckon those few words summarised the day pretty well !

    The morning was the first time we saw the bikes - and for at least one person the first time he rode a twist and go scooter !

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    We set off from the hotel to the official launch event which was to be covered by the local media and was to be attended by the Governor of Cairo. When we arrived we found the Red Bull gear all set up and two Red Bull dolly birds dishing out freebies - along with firm advice on drinking plenty of water with the Red Bull to avoid dehydration. Given that we were in a Muslim (and therefore a traditionally 'dry' country) they got a bit puzzled when we kept asking for vodka to mix with the Red Bull !

    One guy managed to drop his bike even before we got to the start - they spray water on the road to damp down the dust and the roads are like glass when wet.

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    Formalities over we set off with a police escort and co-ordinated police road blocks all the way to help us get through a city with a reputation for having some of the worst traffic problems in the world. We brought big lumps of Cairo to a standstill for a while ! A great feeling !

    Headed out to the pyramids - did not realise it at the time but we were being 'protected' by the tourist police to keep all the locals away. I got caught for a camel ride but the tourist police intervened at the end and told me to pay just 5 Egyptian pounds (£0.50) for the ride and not the 500 the guy was asking for.

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    The pyramids are impressive when you get up close to them. The sheer size of the blocks and engineering necessary to build them takes some appreciating. We were allowed to ride right up to the base of one of the pyramids for photos and it was odd to see more people photographing us than the pyramids.

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    More media interviews !

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    Relaxing in the shade during Friday prayers

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    The highway towards Alexandria was fun. Initially looked like a UK motorway but soon was not like one at all. Big potholes, sand, no white lines a lot of the time.....and no lane discipline . Overtake on the right , on the left or on the hard shoulder. Sit in the fast lane in your truck at 30kmh. Or do a u turn onto the other carriageway through one of the convenient gaps in the central reservation - they are actually sign posted as points to do a u turn ! And if all else fails drive the wrong way down the hard shoulder !!

    Lunch at McDonald's -just the same as the uk but with menus in Arabic and no free wifi.

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    Nice GoPro mount - made from an old conrod !

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    Which way ?

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    Sunset at the roadside

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    Onwards towards Alexandria,

    We knew the traffic would be tough as we were on the main highway between Cairo and Alexandria - little did we know that the organisers had a plan to shield the relatively vulnerable scooter riders from the lunacy of Egyptian traffic by having a rolling road block on the motorway behind us - can you imagine doing this on the M1 ?

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    (photo courtesy of Cros Egypt Challenge)

    One of the sponsors of the event was a large shopping centre called City Centre Mall and we were told there would be a small welcome for us. Little did we know what to expect ! Aahmed, who organised the whole trip, is a member of the Alexandria Scooter Riders Club and a lot of the club members turned up to party and welcome us. Plus the Red Bull paraphernalia and kids/staff from the shopping centre waving flags to welcome us. Thumping music and dancing in the middle of the car park. And fireworks - of course there was no health and safety here with guys holding the fireworks in their hands as they set them off.

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    One of the local radio stations interviewed me - wanting to know about our thoughts on Egypt and our trip so far.

    And then back into much worse traffic in the dark. It was not fun ! Even though we had a police escort and the guys from the scooter club helping with traffic management it was still utter chaos and it only got worse when we got onto the corniche road running along the coastline.

    Nice hotel for the night - right on the seafront with great views over the beach.

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    #2
  3. pebble35

    pebble35 Long timer

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    Saturday 13 October

    An early start was planned but never really happened as the mechanics were still dealing with issues on scooters from yesterday. They were brand new and taking a bit of a hammering on the Egyptian roads so a few niggles were to be expected.

    Over breakfast we discovered one of the benefits of having ‘locals’ riding with us as we started to discover more details of Egyptian life – today they explained their mealtimes (which we had already discovered were very different to the UK). Because of the heat people tend to start work early and finish mid afternoon. So breakfast is what you have when you wake up (around dawn - very early morning), lunch is eaten when you get home from work (early afternoon), and dinner is eaten much later in the evening as it starts to get cooler.

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    Another battle with Alexandria's traffic today. The ‘weekend’ in Egypt is Friday/Saturday so this was really like a Sunday morning in the UK – but there was still a lot of traffic about.

    Went to visit the Citadel of Qaitbay Citadel of Qaitbay - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia which stands on the site of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and is supposed to have been built using many of the same stones. Good photo opportunity.

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    Then back to City Centre Mall to meet up with the guys from Alexandria Scooter Riders Club again before riding east along the Mediterranean coast towards Marsa Matrouh

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    The entire Mediterranean coast seems to be covered in newly built holiday complexes that are used by wealthy Egyptians for just a few weeks each year. Not the most beautiful of sights but the clear sky and amazing blue sea made up for it when it appeared between gaps in the buildings.

    Rode through El Alamein on the way – and passed several war cemeteries as we rode down the coast.

    We stopped at Porto Marina for lunch. This is a secure, gated, holiday resort but, even though lunch had been pre-booked at one of the eateries on the complex the security guards on the gate seemed to know nothing about it ! So there was a bit of waiting around to be done ! This was something we were to get used to in the coming days where, despite arrangements being made for things to happen, they did not and no-one seemed to have the authority to make things happen apart from someone who was not there !

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    The food was good when we got to eat though.

    The late start and delay at lunchtime meant we were up against it in the afternoon if we were to get to Marsa Matrou before dark. And we failed ! Ended up doing about 125 km in the dark and one participant fell off on sand that had blown across the road. Another bike had a puncture and we ended up waiting for some time to get the group back together.

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    Egyptian drivers allegedly believed that your battery will wear out if you use your lights so the locals rarely use their lights at night. Exception is when they are going down the inside lane of the dual carriageway going the wrong way and they put them on just before they hit you.......

    Got to the hotel (after picking up our now customary police escort) and found we had a reception committee waiting. The organisers had experienced a lot of difficulty in getting all the necessary security clearances and permits for us to visit the desert areas which we will be riding through over the next few days and ultimately it was the local governor who had the final say. Given that he holds the reins over a fair chunk of north eastern Egypt he is a pretty important person but our presence popped up high enough on his radar to justify him being there to welcome us all in person.

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    And then we had a police escort back through the town to a restaurant serving Bedouin style food, eaten in a Bedouin style ! Food was spot on but very different to what we had seen so far on this trip. Again very useful to have ‘locals’ with us to explain what we were eating.

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    An interesting fact came up over dinner. A decent sized bit of our route over the coming days is unpaved and general advice is that it cannot be crossed on a scooter. To date it is believed that only two scooters have successfully made the crossing – Ahmad and his cousin Mohammed a few weeks ago. We all had our fingers crossed that we would see that number will increase by 25 riders over the coming days !

    Police escort back to the hotel where we found the bar and had just one (or maybe two !) quick beers before retiring for the night.

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    #3
  4. pebble35

    pebble35 Long timer

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    Just found this map that gives a good idea of the route we were taking

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    #4
  5. pebble35

    pebble35 Long timer

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    Sunday 14 October

    5am start – and it was still dark outside ! But it was worth getting up just to see the sunrise.

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    A long day was expected - about 325 km to Siwa Oasis.

    After the usual morning briefing we went down the bikes to get ready to go and I started chatting to one of the security guards who had been keeping an eye on the bikes overnight only to spot a pistol hanging off his belt .......... I guess the bikes were in safe hands ………………...

    We set off accompanied by an armed escort of about 8 or 9 police officers as well as an ambulance. Apparently the areas governor who we had met the previous evening felt he wanted to be sure we were as safe as possible whilst we were on his patch and gave the necessary instructions for us to be looked after. As you might expect the police and military road blocks were a breeze with our police escort, and part way through the day we were joined by a military escort as well. Not sure if they were for our security or to keep an eye on what we were doing though.

    We were now heading away from the populated area and heading south into the desert – running south and heading towards the Libyan border. Most of the riding was on pretty straight desert roads so it could easily have got very boring. But as time passed the character of the desert changed. From stony and rocky at the start to smoother and much more sand in the middle and then small hills as we dropped down into the depression of Siwa Oasis.

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    Some people seem to be a bit more throttle happy than others and that, combined with the small tanks on the bikes meant fuel stops every 100 or so km. The fuel stops did give us all a chance to try and rub some life back into our backsides !

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    And we got the first chance to 'play' offroad !

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    A team of photographers were following us .....................

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    Lunch was at a roadside rest halt about half way. I guess the cooking there may have been a little suspect so the team had lunch prepared for us - Egyptian flat breads, tuna in mayonnaise, and crisps ! Perfectly adequate and the restaurant's resident feline family loved the leftovers.

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    When we set off in the heat of the afternoon we found the fuel stops very hot – without any real shade we were not really sure what the temperatures were but I know I drank about 8 litres of water during the course of the day.

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    Yet another reception when we arrived -the Mayor of Siwa wanted to greet us and share a little of the history of the area with us. He did have some good news though. It sounds like the work on the new road to Barahayah Oasis has been progressing swiftly and the gap between the two ends is now down to about 100km or so - roll on tomorrow.

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    Siwa is well known in Egypt for its mineral water and organic dates and we were all given some dates as a souvenir.
    The hotel for tonight is great. Looks very much like I remember Timbuktu with small, mud built, cottage type accomodation set around several pools and landscaping. Even went for a swim to cool off before dinner. Some amazing colours as the sun set on a fairly long day.

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    #5
  6. Teeds

    Teeds Don Quixote

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    Great photos!

    :clap
    #6
  7. AhChap

    AhChap n00b

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    pebble35...i m bike 7(singapore)...:clap
    #7
  8. pebble35

    pebble35 Long timer

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    Bike no 3 here - Jersey :clap:clap
    #8
  9. GB

    GB . Administrator

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    Wow!! That's one heck of an adventure not something we see frequently on ADVrider :thumb Just goes to show that it doesn't matter what you ride, you can have an adventure ride on anything!
    #9
  10. yellowknife

    yellowknife Is In Canada

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    :clap:clap:clap
    #10
  11. MikJogg

    MikJogg Weekend Adventurer

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    Hallo Owen

    Great report from a real adventure! Will wait for more... :nod

    ...and greetings to jersey from blackforest

    Michael :wave
    #11
  12. pebble35

    pebble35 Long timer

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    Good to hear from you Michael - no little porkers with me on this trip !!

    Hope all is well with you

    Owen
    #12
  13. pebble35

    pebble35 Long timer

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    Monday 15 October

    Another early start - up before dawn. But it gets light very quickly here so inside half an hour we had gone from the pre dawn glow to sunrise.

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    Hanger on at breakfast

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    The hotel facilities were good (even if the signs weren't !)

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    The hotel website is here Siwa Oasis - Siwa Shali Resort - Egyptian Western Desert - The Siwa Oasis - Egypt

    Stopped for a quick photo opportunity in front of the ruins of the Shali, the old fort built from mud in the centre of Siwa

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    Siwa is a remote location – about 300km from the next sizable town or city and a lot of the goods they need for day to day living need to be trucked in. Not sure exactly what the issue was but there was a problem when we went to get fuel in Siwa. It appears that first of all 'there is a fuel shortage and there is no fuel for your scooters’ (even though everything had been organized and agreed beforehand) and then it turned into 'there is fuel, but you must pay the tourist rate (double) for it'. After some lengthy negotiations, we got the fuel and had a nice group photo taken with a smiling fuel station manager.

    We caused a stir at the fuel station and it was a great chance to talk and meet some of the locals - the kids were great !

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    Siwa is an oasis situated in a huge depression some 15 metres below sea level. Perhaps I was naive but I always envisioned an oasis as being a palm fringed pool and we had not seen anything like that yet. So on the way out of Siwa towards Baharaya oasis I was surprised as we passed a huge lake. An earth bank had been built up with a road across it over the middle of the lake.

    And then about half way across there was a beautiful clear blue pool of water. The pool was only about 18 inches deep and was surrounded by dry salt. The base of the pool was white salt crystals which gave it an amazing clear blue colour.

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    Saw our first camels of the trip. They were a little way off the road in the desert so one of the organisers whizzed over towards them to try to ask the herdsman to bring them closer for photos. Now I suspect the camels were not used to having someone on a scooter riding towards them and they all got scared and took flight, leaving the herder chasing after them !

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    A little while later we hit (literally for some of the riders) our first taste of deep soft sand. The wind had blown sand right across the road over a 200 yard stretch and one of the riders in the leading group got caught out and went down -no injuries though, just dented pride. And then a few minutes later another rider got caught out. Again no nasty injuries but he spent the rest of the day in one of the support vehicles.

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    Pulled over onto the desert to stop for lunch. Not a lot of 24/7 service stations out here. Very hot and not a lot of shade to hide in.

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    For a while after lunch we continued on the newly built road but we knew that this would come to an end at some point soon. And sure enough it did and we had to switch to the old and well worn road. A mix of potholed Tarmac, hard packed earth and big patches of soft sand and gravel. Bu I was really a lot better than I expected - the run into Timbuktu was far worse a few years back

    At this point we expected to get good Tarmac back after about 40 km and then do a further 20 km before reaching our campsite for the night. But the road did not improve and we will still had to face more of the next morning.

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    Camped in the desert that night. Headed about a mile across the sand to the campsite -what a laugh. Small wheel scooter were never designed for sand and it rapidly showed with people getting stuck and falling off left right and centre. Great fun though ! And we get to ride back that way tomorrow !

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    One point to note for desert travel - those little wheels on your bag that glide nicely across the airport departure lounge don't work in the desert !

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    I spent that evening chilling. Listening to a bit of Pink Floyd on the iPod and looking up into a clear sky covered in a myriad of stars. We were so far away from any other population there was no noise and no light pollution. Combined with a moonless night the stars were shining in all their glory.
    #13
  14. jmcg

    jmcg Turpinated..

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    Great report!

    Thanks,

    JM.
    #14
  15. pebble35

    pebble35 Long timer

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    Tuesday 16 October

    Up before dawn after a relaxing night under the stars.

    Got a bit chilly overnight but I guess that was really because we were getting used to the much higher daytime temperatures so a fall to abut 15 degrees felt cold.

    As usual the sunrise was spectacular with the sky lighting up in a myriad shades of red and orange before the sun came up as a glowing orange ball.

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    And after breakfast we were off – what started off as a gentle ride across the sand rapidly turned into a mile long race across the dunes back to the road. Somehow it seemed a lot easier on the way back, possibly due to experience, or possibly because a change in humidity overnight made the consistency of the sand easier to ride on. Not sure but whatever - it was fun.

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    Usual stops at the military checkpoints as we crossed the desert. It was a bit unnerving to approach the checkpoints and see a manned heavy machine gun pointing down at us ! I did wonder why the checkpoints were there as there seems to be nothing worth defending but I am sure there is a reason.

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    We carried on along the ‘old’ rough road but after about 50km we got onto the new road that was being built between Siwa and Bahariya Oasis. Time for a bit of a celebration and photo opportunity.

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    Stopped off in Bahariya to get fuel but even though it had all been arranged in advance there was no fuel available. After a lengthy wait (long enough for one mechanic to do 20 oil changes on the bikes) and some careful negotiations the service station was allowed to tap into their 'emergency' reserve supply to fuel us.

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    Serious coffee machine !

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    As we left Barahiya the road towards Farafra turned nasty - corrugations, dirt, potholes all intermixed with short stretches of broken up tarmac.

    We passed through the black desert - this was formed from extinct volcanos and you could see all the old volcanos surrounding the area.

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    And then a bit further down the road the surroundings suddenly changed and we were in the white desert ! Stunning views as we came over a crest and started dropping down to the desert floor. The rocks formations were carved away by time and the wind - awesome.

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    By now we were running well late and it was time to head on to Farafra. Again we had picked up a police escort to take us to the hotel. I think there must have been about six or seven officers - all armed - to keep an eye on us and guard the bikes overnight.

    Nice hotel in the style of a Riyadh with rooms dotted around a courtyard area. Managed to get wifi and get online to post a few photos on Facebook !

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    #15
  16. 125uCrazy

    125uCrazy Adventurer

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    A great RR and abstract enough to make it special and just prove "it's two wheels good" no matter the challenge

    125'y
    #16
  17. shereef

    shereef Adventurer

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    I gotta do this ride....are they doing it again??
    #17
  18. pebble35

    pebble35 Long timer

    Joined:
    Dec 14, 2007
    Oddometer:
    2,117
    Location:
    Jersey, Channel Islands
    I believe the plan is to run it again in 2013 - take a look at www.crossegyptchallenge.com or search for Cross Egypt Challenge on facebook and drop the organisers an email.

    If it happens next year I will be applying for a place !
    #18
  19. Clansters

    Clansters Tour Aegea

    Joined:
    Jun 2, 2009
    Oddometer:
    209
    Location:
    Izmir/TURKEY
    Great thread and pictures of friendships :deal You guys must be having a lot of fun :freaky
    #19
  20. pebble35

    pebble35 Long timer

    Joined:
    Dec 14, 2007
    Oddometer:
    2,117
    Location:
    Jersey, Channel Islands
    Wednesday 17 October.

    Farafra Oasis to Dakhla Oasis today.

    Another early start meant we were all up around 5am.

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    One thing I noticed today was how open gun carrying is. Police and military are all armed but we saw a good few people with pistols stuffed into the belts or rifles slung over their shoulders - maybe 'plain clothes' officers ? Not sure. Perhaps our police escort was really necessary !

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    Quick breakfast and pretty much on the road on schedule. What was surprising over the course of the trip was the variety of food on offer at breakfast. Everything from cold meat, dates, fresh fruit, yoghurt, omelettes (cooked to order), boiled eggs, numerous choices of bread and rolls, cereals, cakes, fruit juices and coffee !

    We left the hotel and found the road for the first quarter mile or so was like ice. Not sure exactly why but it looked like the area was used as a truck stop/maintenance area and the hard packed earth that made up the road had been soaked in oil and diesel to make it really slippery to ride on - little 150cc scooters should not be able to spin up the back wheel just by opening the throttle...............................

    Once that was over the roads were pretty good and we made rapid progress. It seemed like the group was understanding how to work better together on the road and make fuel stops quicker and just generally keep up the pace to cover the miles.

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    The road turned a bit nasty for the last 30km or so before we got to the hotel. First time we had hit a lot of dust and large loose rocks on the road. But we all got through apart from Ahmaad who dropped his bike - not badly hurt but enough to keep him off his scooter for the rest of the trip.

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    Running repairs for the police truck !

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    We reached to our hotel above the town of Al Qasr by early afternoon. We were staying at the Desert Lodge Hotel - built up above the town on a hilltop it has excellent views of the surrounding countryside and a bit of a cooling breeze. Hotel website is here http://www.desertlodge.net/index.html

    We managed to drink the bar dry by 2 pm ! Only had 7 bottles of beer in stock !

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    Went down to the old town of Al Qasr and had a guided tour with the hotel manager. Very interesting - the old part of the town was lived in until quite recently - amazing to walk through the rabbit warren of walkways and gaps between the houses.

    We also got an insight on the hotels policy towards ecology and the environment. Recycling is carried out wherever possible, locally grown organic food is eaten, water is filtered and drunk from re-used glass bottles (to cut down on the waste from plastic bottles) and even the schoolchidren are involved. They are encouraged to learn about tourism and how to treat tourists - being polite and not hassling them - and it seems to work. I had a good chat with some very polite and friendly kids, they must have been about 10 years old but their english was excellent. they were open and friendly and able to talk about themselves, their families, and their town. A real change to the way things were at, for example, the Pyramids where tourists seemed to be viewed as nothing more than a cash machine by the locals.

    The schoolchildren also fulfil an important role in keeping the town clean - on the last Thursday of every month all the schoolchildren pick up litter around the town and learn how to respect their local environment - something kids in the UK could learn a lot from ..............

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    Then spent an hour in the hotel's hot tub - a 30m wide circular pool the temperature of a warm bath - very relaxing. Followed by a relaxing evening sitting outside in cool evening air...............

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    #20