“If you were to die right now, how would you feel about your life?”
– Fight Club
Motorway fly-overs brush second floor bedroom windows, the living compete with the dead for real
estate amongst the city’s cemeteries and a fine view of the Pyramids is to be had from the tacky interior of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Cairo.
After the crush it made a change to hurtle south along the quiet Red Sea road, a hefty tailwind blasting me 190km one day. Most of the coast has been vomited into a half-built hell of unfinished hotels, the
windowless hulks gazing out blankly like fish on a slab. So El Gouna was a real surprise, a tastefully built
fantasy oasis amongst the tat. It certainly wasn’t Egypt but it wasn’t really anywhere else either. It was
the final break to psych myself for the Sudan, a break of beer, food, fun and no-one wheedling for
baksheesh. And an even purer escape: scuba-diving amongst tentacles of sunlight, swathes of colour and
a heady blanket of silence. Finally after 5 months of fascinating (but frightening) introspection I feel
ready to start looking outwards once more, to feel and experience and live the road through Africa.
Even more hospitality is offered; hotels galore and even a stay at a Sheraton! Fluffy white dressing
gowns and complimentary slippers certainly help reality fade for a while!
8434.4km on a rattling bike cobbled back together with string and a teaspoon, 5 months and 3 days of
slog, sweat and lots of tears all come to nought: the police order me to take a ride on a convoy from the
coast to Luxor. I tried every single strategy but it was impossible to cycle on. So the magic of my journey
fragmented as my bike and I grovelled down in the vegetable peelings in the back of a lorry. But I cannot
pretend that whizzing an effortless 160km whilst reading TE Lawrence was not fun.
Perhaps to atone for my previous capitulation I decided to try and ‘run’ the next roadblock. I waved
and smiled at the policemen’s shouts of “STOP!”, played dumb and pedalled like hell! But a 60kg bicycle
is not an ideal getaway vehicle and a commandeered taxi laden with flustered policemen soon overtook
me. They were VERY unamused.
The Nile valley is as green as Elland Road was in August, the sky as blue as a late summer’s cricket
match. Swallows dipped the waters (I wondered whether any of them will be visiting my village in
Yorkshire this summer?). Fertile, fascinating, exotic and very fast driving: Egypt was in danger of
winning back my affections. Luxor soon put that to rights though- the Nile sunset making a pretty
backdrop to a thumping headache of…
“Hello, my friend! Where you from? Stop one minute, can I ask you a question? Just look! No hassle!
You wanna taxiride-feluccaride-horseride-motorboatride-drugsride? You wanna buy waterpipe-tshirt-
galabayah-spices-carpets-genuinecarvings-hashish? Very cheap price! Maybe tomorrow? No hassle!
Hey, my friend, why you ignoring me?”
I chew sugar cane in Aswan, tearing off the hard, green bark like a panda then crunching the
deliciously sweet liquid centre, sucking out its life before spitting out mouthfuls of the woody pith. A
long way from “two sugars please.” I’m waiting for the weekly ferry to Sudan. Over the past months the
Sudan has never strayed far from my waking or sleeping thoughts. (There is only one other thing that has featured so prominently in my thoughts, and she is an infinitely happier and more beautiful thought than riding alone through the desert.) The next month is make or break. Make it to Khartoum and I can make it through Africa. Make it through Africa and I can make it through anything…