3 October 2008 - Cairo
I arrived in Cairo 2 days ago, having said goodbye to my father and stepmother on Saturday last. I cycled to Pissouri and stayed in a holiday flat belonging to friend of a friend of my father's.
On Sunday I had a leisurely morning before setting off about 1pm to complete the trip to Limassol, staying overnight with a friend, Mavis, from Saudi days. She and her son met me at the port and I followed behind their car for 3-4 kms to the flat. Although it must have seemed to them that they were going excruciatingly slowly, for me it was all I could do to keep up (18-20mph). We had a lovely evening catching up with each other, a very tasty dinner and, the next morning, a full English breakfast. Yum. Then, a couple of bits of shopping and an internet visit later, I was following Mavis again, this time to the port to catch my ship to Egypt.
The cruiser ship left at 3pm. My bike was secured on the crew deck and I should have taken the opportunity to wear my dressy outfit for dinner (but didn't; it was at the bottom of my baggage and I didn't fully realise that people were dressing). I was on a sociable table with a mum and her 3-year old chatty daughter, Jan and Katy, and a Welsh-speaking family, Isollte, Swsan, Bobi. Saw the evening cabaret show with the Welsh family and a nautical cocktail, Dropped Anchor.
Woken at 5.30am! and told to get up and present myself to the Immigration Officer by 6, as I was a one-way passenger. Having dragged myself up there, I then had to go for breakfast and I would be called. Anyway, the upshot was that I have my first visa/stamp in my passport.
On leaving the ship, I loaded my bike with my baggage, only then to have to unload it about 10 paces later, in Customs. They must have been watching me all the time, but said nothing, quite happy for me to unload and load again.
So, Port Said. First images were of tall tenement blocks with loads of colourful washing hanging out over the balconies; loads of rubbish lying about; and loads, but loads, of police everywhere: traffic police on each corner and other police in and around cars everywhere else.
Found my way out of Port Said, excitedly looking or the Suez Canal and big boats going by behind the sand dunes. Well, I looked in vain, for 80 kilometres all the way to Ismailia. The road was pretty good with a reasonable hard shoulder. The coaches from the ship caught up with me just outside of the city and I had quite a few waves from passengers, which I appreciated. Along the way, I stopped a couple of times for drinks, realising the second time that it was still Ramadan! The 3 young lads at the kiosk, Ismail, Ibrahim and Sain(?) were duly impressed with my trip and had a good look at my bike.
My map indicated a campsite at Ismailia. I had my doubts as to the reality. I never did find it. So, I employed the tactic of going to a big plush hotel (when I eventually found one) and asking them for a budget hotel. The desk guy duly obliged and I found myself at the Crocodile Inn. Today was the last day of Ramadan and so there were festivities beginning by the time I had showered. The manager of the hotel took me to a restaurant and made sure I was OK there before going off home for his Eid celebrations.
The following morning, the young man on reception was surprised when I came down at 6.30 for breakfast. So was I. I thought it was 7.30. I'd obviously missed the announcement on board ship that the clocks go back in Egypt! So, I went back to bed for an hour and a half, as breakfast was not until 8 - because of the Eid holiday.
The young man, Ahmed, I could see was really, I mean really, concerned about me cycling to Cairo; such a long way and so many cars. He came with 2 big bottles of frozen water for me (I took
just one - they are quite heavy). And he told me to be very careful and God be with me.
I cycled 130 kilometres (about 80 miles) from Ismailia to Cairo, which was pretty tiring, although it was on the flat. The last 20 kms or so were .... well, let's say, challenging (not very imaginative, I know, but if I told you what I was really thinking, you would all be screaming for me to come home!). Anyway, I thought it was just as well that Ahmed had sent me off with a prayer, cos I was doing a bit myself at this point. Everybody was out in force: cars and pedestrians. Loads of Salaam oowalaykums and offers of help to find my way! Somehow I survived and somehow, eventually, I found the Christian guesthouse at which I was to be staying, arriving after dark. It's a lovely place; really friendly and relaxing; a wonderful haven in this bustling city; run by John, Meryl and Helbees.
Yesterday, I walked to the Egyptian Museum (WHY do I get lost so often?). The gold of Tutankhamun was stunning! The delicate, intricate workmanship of all the jewellery was breathtaking; and the mask was quite beautiful. And all of 3 and a half thousand years old!
Today I went to the pyramids. Aren't they big? And aren't they near the city? Pretty impressive.
I'm going to stop now, cos this has become a bit of a long journal entry and you must be wanting a cup of tea or need to do the washing or something, I guess.
12 October 2008 - Aqaba, Jordan
As you can see, I am in another new country. The last week has been quite gruelling from the cycling point of view and interesting from the accommodation point of view.
My last morning at the Diocesan guesthouse had me being prayed over by a group of American pastors. It was a great blessing. Not only that, but I am to contact them when I arrive in Alaska, in case they can help me in any way during my sojourn in North America. Aren't people wonderful?! Really and truly, I am bowled over by it all.
My last 24 hours in Cairo was spent at the Deaf Unit, at which Faraj (a former MSc student at CDS) is the chaplain. The children are fantastic (and so are the staff!) and were very thumbs-up with me. I saw them in their classrooms and in a couple of church services (the Sunday evening one had the local deaf community also participating). I was welcomed and invited to sign something in BSL (British Sign Language). Again I was prayed over on the Monday morning before leaving at 8.30.
The children develop practical skills in such things as woodwork and needlework and sell their products, which are absolutely beautiful and made to a very high standard! I would have bought loads of their stuff if I had not been on my bike. They would love to market themselves more, but do not have finances or skills to do so at the moment.
(I tried creating a link, but it did not work and so, for now, please Google in 'Deaf Unit Cairo' for a bit more information on the school).
I have been asked to be interviewed about my trip, for material to be used by the British Council in Cairo for their English classes.
I have had pretty gruelling cycling since Cairo: 3 hours to get out of Cairo onto the Suez road; busy, fast, pot-holed, bumpy roads; 100+ kms a day (one of 140 kms, uphill against a headwind) because these were the distances between the possibility of accommodation; my first encounters with the unpleasant actions of backsheesh children (in aid-funded village development projects).
The saving grace of these days included: the night I camped next to an ambulance station, being warned that there were snakes there (I didn't see any!) and being invited to share a meal with the 6 ambulancemen (we even discussed Islam and Christianity!); the night I was taken in by an Egyptian family, who invited me to stay for 4,5 days and to come back in the future with my family; the beautiful and quiet Wadi Feiran road (although it did blast me with its I-feel-like-I'm-cycling-on-the-spot headwind), the 20 kilometres down another wadi road to Nuweiba.
After all this cycling I had a rest day in the guesthouse of St Catherine's monastery, which is at the foot of Mount Sinai and which houses the Burning Bush of Moses. Hundreds of people each night at about 2am, set off to trek the 3 hours or so to the top of Mt Sinai in time for the sunrise. I shall just have to return in the future to do this, cos the night I arrived was the day I had done the 140 kms and I was sick with exhaustion, dehydration and a bit of heatstroke; the next night I was going to be up early to leave at 6am for another long day in the saddle (120 kms). Hmmm ... maybe I sometimes get my priorities wrong .... I suppose I could just have stayed a 3rd night and so done the visit to the top. As I said, I shall just have to return.
The fast ferry from Nuweiba to Aqaba, I thought, was leaving at 3pm, taking about 2 hours. Perfect.
It was a Saturday: no fast ferry. The one that did go on that day left at about 7pm, arriving at 11pm. By the time I was off the boat, visaed and had cycled 1the 12 kilometres and booked into a (grotty, expensive , please-can-I-have-clean-sheets-thank-you) hotel in the city centre, it was 1.44am (and that was without putting forward my clock by 1 hour).
I had wonderful company on the boat from Margitta, Tanya and Peter, a Swiss trio on 5 days trip to Jordan. They were great. Margitta was askance that I had not walked up Mt Sinai and told me where I should be going in Jordan. Yes, Miss. :-)
Rest day today. Wadi Rum (you know, Lawrence of Arabia) tomorrow. Petra the day after.
20 October 2008 - Madaba
The kindness of strangers is a wonderful phrase; understandably coined by Kate there-must-be-a-disaster-cos-Adies's-reporting-it Adie for her autobiography. This is what I have been experiencing so many times on my trip, and nowhere more consistently than here in Jordan.
At each accommodation place, I have firstly been greeted with ahlan (welcome), quickly followed by a cup of shai (tea, sweet). I have had discounts because of being on a bicycle (one comment: 'if she's a woman on a bike, she can't have much money' - Samir, Towers Hotel, Al Kharak) and because I made myself known as a pilgrim at the Pilgrims' Hotel, Madaba and, I think, the third cos of the steep, oh so very steep, hill down into the village of Dana.
Dana is virtually uninhabited, but is part of a community project, along with the conservation of the spectacularly dramatic nature reserve which it overlooks.
I did appreciate the splendour of the scenery as I carefully descended (my brakes still work, anyway!), but was also thinking of the climb out the next morning (do I ever come across negatively in my descriptions, I wonder?!). Having been greeted very warmly, served lunch up on the roof (without asking for it), followed by a pot of tea, I then negotiated a rooftop sleep-in-open price of JD3 (1 Jordanian Dinar = 1 GBP); also, a taxi ride up the hill the next morning for the same price! Wow. Up 'til then, Jordan had been SO expensive! Dinner was JD5.
Later, my sleeping accommodation was to be the tent on the roof; but, in the end, I was given a room (normally JD25). See! Such kindness and generosity.
Also, just about everywhere I go people give me their business cards or their contact details and say to contact them, if I need help, information, or when I arrive in country. These are people I have met for 5 seconds! The culture of hospitality in the Middle East is so very prevalent. Could I imagine it at home? No, not in the way it is found here.
So, where have I been since arriving in Aqaba? First to Wadi Rum and a desert camp there, joining an inernational group of students from Israel and being given a lift by a young German guy, Markus, in his taxi the next morning - JUST back to the Desert Highway from which I diverted to go to the camp - so NO cheating, if that is what you were thinking! :-) Mohammed, the taxi driver, was all for taking me the whole way to Petra; he couldn't understand why I wanted to cycle!
I visited Petra. Wow! If you don't know what this is all about, Google it and see for yourself, although it will, of course not really give an idea of the grandeur and scale of these 3,500 year old buildings carved deeply into the huge, metres' high rocks.
Breathtaking. To be able to look at a plain rockface and see a perfectly sculpted Monastery as the end result is truly seeing the bigger picture to the full. Here I was accompanied by Yousef and Lutvia, staying in the same hotel.
Then on to Dana, as described already, and loads more lovely people (I've noted their names in my daily diary). The next day saw the upside of the day in the form of a gloriously long, headwind-controlled downhill to the bottom of a deep gorge, followed by the definite downside of a grindingly slow (I walked 75% of it) uphill to the top of a very high gorge. A young Dutch-German couple, Koen and Lisa ( who had been at Dana), passed me, felt sorry for me trudging up the hill, turned around and came back to see if they could take my bags to the hotel in Al Kharak. I declined!! But I did ask them to book me a room at the hotel which they did; and then I went for a meal with them in the evening. :-)
The hotel in Al Kharak was pretty grimy (sorry Samir, but it could do with a bit of a clean!), but had the most affable and concerned host and an interesting castle and so I stayed 2 nights (cos I also needed the rest).
Then to camping on the beach at the Dead Sea (after floating 'on' it and feeling very soft-skinned afterwards). Followed by another long slow walk up the hill to Mount Nebo: the mountain named as that which Moses was shown the Promised Land, but told that he would not enter it himself.
Really interesting cross at the top.
Now I am in the Pilgrims' Hotel next to St George's Church in Madaba for 2 nights.
Madaba is quite a Christian centre and houses many lovely mosaics from all around Jordan.
Tomorrow I go to Amman, staying with someone who has contact with my church at home.
I have received my verification code number for my Iranian visa, which I now need to get put into my passport at the Iranian consulate in Amman.
I shall be taking a break from cycling for 2 weeks from the end of this week and so will not be in cycling contact until about the middle of November. :-) Well, the chance of a holiday came along and you can't turn down such opportunities when they come your way, can you; and we all need a break sometimes from our normal routine. :-)
BTW, I understand that Almondsbury Primary School is following my progress. I am deeply touched. Welcome. Please feel free to use the blog (I'm sure you are MUCH better acquainted with such things as I) or the more private email.