Upper Egypt

My police escort was parked outside the hotel and ready to go when I was. And so off we went together, crossing back over the Nile and continuing south.

Riding out of Idfu

Here the valley is very narrow, and at times rocky desert hills were visible on both sides of the river.

Even when it wasn’t quite as narrow as that, it still wasn’t wide enough to support as much population as further downriver so I had a pleasantly quiet morning ride.

My police escorts swapped a few times, until late in the morning one escort left and wasn’t replaced by a new one. That suited me just fine! This may have been because I was nearing the relatively touristy city of Aswan, though I was not going there (yet). Instead I crossed the river yet again but this time rode off into the desert.

The Sahara Desert, unsurprisingly, was quite hot! I continued to ride without an escort (having ignored the shouts of the police at a checkpoint) so when I passed a petrol station I stopped and took a long break and bought some cold drinks. When I set off again I could really feel the heat – it was now 43°C in the shade, and there wasn’t much shade at all.

A headwind developed, and a while later I heard that hissing sound, hated by cyclists – a puncture. Fortunately I was approaching a bush which provided some shade, a rarity here. The puncture was on the inside of the tube which can be awkward to patch, so I just replaced the tube.

I decided to camp early. There were still 2 hours left until sunset, but I wouldn’t have time to get to somewhere the police would let me camp before it got dark. In that case, if I ended up with a police escort, they might make me take a lift. So I walked away from the road and set up camp in the shelter of a small structure.

It stayed hot through the night so I never actually slept in the tent, instead just laying down my mat next to it and sleeping there.

I set off a little after dawn, and cycled through the desert for a couple hours until my rear tyre went flat. The hole was the same place as on the previous tube, so I tried adjusting the rim tape to see if they would help. I tried to patch the tube but with the combination of the heat and the fact the hole was on a seam meant the patch didn’t stick. I put in my last spare tube and continued on.

There were occasional cafes selling cold drinks at the side of the road. Mid afternoon I approached one which would be the last for about 50 km. I planned to take a test there, then continue on a short while before camping in the desert.

However I was passed by a police car a couple kilometres before the cafe. When I got there they were waiting and told me to stop.

From here, getting to the next place where the police would have allowed camping would have meant cycling without rest through the hottest part of the afternoon. I asked to sleep at the cafe, as I knew several other cyclists had previously done.

Initially I was told that was OK, but then the police decided they wanted me to sleep at a police station instead. It was only 4km away so I accepted and, since it was back the way I’d come, I accepted a lift from the police.

Home for the night

They were friendly and invited me to join them for a meal. I sat on a bottom bunk in their dormitory with a policeman on either side as we shared from communal bowls of soup and rice with some flatbread.

I didn’t get a particularly good night’s sleep. At one point in the night I had to pack up and move as it started to rain! Not something I’d expected in the Sahara Desert.

I packed up early and told the police I was ready to go a little while before it got light, figuring (correctly) that they would insist on providing an escort and that this would take some time. When they were ready we set off.

I had a pretty good tailwind so I made good time, and after a couple hours I reached a settlement called Tushka with a police checkpoint. I only had to wait a minute or so before setting off with a new escort.

New Tushka, a city in the desert

This escort tended to drive a few kilometres ahead, wait, and repeat this. It did seem to render the whole idea of providing an escort even more pointless than usual. At one point my front tyre went flat. I couldn’t find the hole so I figured it was a slow enough leak that I could just pump it back up and keep riding.

I covered the 100 or so km to Abu Simbel by shortly after 10 AM. Abu Simbel is the last town before the Sudanese border. However, to cross into Sudan I need a PCR test so my plan was to take a bus back to Aswan and get one there.

First I needed to find somewhere to store my bike. I tried asking the tourist police but they were not helpful, having me wait around for a while then telling me to go away. I went to a hotel where the manager kindly let me store my bike.

I took a microbus to Aswan. About 15 people were crammed in to this small vehicle. I was glad for the window seat; without that air circulation being packed into this sardine tin in 43° heat would have been quite unpleasant!

After about 4 hours, I was dropped off in the centre of Aswan and went to check into a hotel. The next morning, I made my way over to the hospital. First was a building next door where I had to pay for the PCR test. I was pleasantly surprised to be charged the local price of 1260 Egyptian Pounds.

They gave me a couple bits of paper and I headed over to the hospital. They were doing the PCR tests outside – it seemed to be the main reason everyone was there. They took one slip of paper, did the test (very cursorily) and told me to come back at 9 the next morning. I did so, handed in the second slip of paper and received my (negative result). Now it was time to get back to Abu Simbel.

I took a tuktuk to the bus station, which for some reason is about 4 km out of town. I’m not sure but that might be the first time I’ve travelled by tuktuk. The driver had to stop a couple times to try and find someone who spoke some English, in order to figure out where I wanted to go.

As is pretty standard for public transport, there are infrequent coaches that travel on a set schedule, and microbuses that go as soon as there’s enough people. Unfortunately, the police don’t allow foreigners to take the microbuses to Abu Simbel. I’d heard this might be the case so I wasn’t too surprised when I wasn’t allowed to board the microbus.

The next bus on which white people are allowed didn’t leave for more than 7 hours. I didn’t really have anywhere to go so I spent that time at the bus station, occasionally crossing the road to a cafe for falafel sandwiches.

The bus showed up and I was allowed to board, and shortly after we set off on what was now my 3rd time on this desert crossing. We reached Abu Simbel around 10PM.

I went back to the hotel where I’d left my bike and it was a great relief to find it still there. The hotel was much more expensive than I’d pay ($75) but they allow camping for $10. It’s more than I’d usually pay but since they looked after my bike for me I was willing to pay the increased cost. I set up my tent in the parking lot and soon fell asleep.

Oct 11: 162 km

Oct 12: 126 km

Oct 13: 157 km

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