Well, Libya was certainly eventful.
There are all sorts of things that we imagined could go wrong. Bikes breaking, illness, robbery – but the bubonic plague definitely came as a bit of a curve ball.
We were about to head 400k across nothing when we got the call. Our guide, Lamin, sat us down. “So, we have an issue.” “Oh no. What? Food? Water? Camping permits?” “No – the black death.”
It was difficult to get a lot of information. The Libyan channels did not report it, though they did let the World Health Organisation in and the Egyptian channels were detailing closed borders and quarantined areas. Lamin – though not refusing to do the trip – was openly discussing the fact that his parents did not want him to go and that he had no desire to die.
There was a lot of deliberation. Primarily revolving around the fact that if we re-routed there would be a small section of the globe we did not cross by bike. Eventually though a revised plan was formed. Partly due to a desire to avoid the black death but mainly as – should we have cycled 400k across a road with no public transport and reached a quarantined road block ahead, we would need to cycle 400k back!
So the upshot is that, though we cycled the same number of days (we headed North and did the distance in that direction instead) we have a hole in the journey. Not ideal but even the best laid plans can come unstuck. And – on the positive side – none of us have a medieval illness…
So after a day checking out the ancient Greek cities of Libya’s Eastern peninsula and my first fully clothed swim (the attempt to avoid attention failed miserably) we got bused to the Egyptian border. There we had to say goodbye to Lamin and Mohammed which was a huge blow. Their peels of laughter and abuse of Iain had been an incredible tonic after the long hours in the saddle. Well, for me and Jamie at least. (Iain is still unsure whether or not Mohammed’s jovial ‘massage’ of his feet has resulted in long-term damage and scarred by the constant – and imaginative – put downs Lamin doled out hourly.)
Anyhow, though we didn’t realise it, the border gave us a taste of what was to come. I received a police escort to the loo, we were screened and examined by a number of medical staff and our documentation was checked by a plethora of officials.
Then we were set loose to see whether or not the Arabic we had been trying to learn in the two weeks previous was sufficient.
We hit the border town of Sallum where Iain’s chicken impression was resurrected and Jamie valiantly attempted his best French. Oh dear.
The next day we set off feeling a bit low after losing our Libyan friends. But we weren’t to be alone for long… after a couple of hours we noticed the police trailing behind.
We stopped. They stopped. We started. They started.
This was odd.
Attempts to shake them were to prove futile.
There was one road and a head wind.
They had a car… It was the slowest police chase in history!
We tried to figure out what they were doing. I, naturally, imagined that they thought we were international spies using a unique and extremely cunning disguise. Clearly though, they actually thought we were ridiculous and were simply making sure nothing happened to the ‘strange foreigners’.
They stayed with us, at a distance till we reached Sidi Barrani and eventually approached. Once again, our Arabic did not work all that well… so we remained intrigued as they watched us clean our bikes and one poor guy (who must have done something to annoy the captain) got dispatched to slept on the couch of our hotel.
We got new guards the next morning. This time we were a bit more ready for it and there was much frivolity. They had Ak 47′s. We thought it was best to make friends.
Once again we were followed. This time to Marsa Matruh. A stunning but packed resort town with sea a colour of blue I have only imagined possible. The run was a long one. Made a little frustrating by our escorts, sadly futile, attempts to help. But though we did miss the coast road (apparently one of the most striking you can get) we did get to have a proper keystone cops moment as they lost us round various corners of the town. Swings and roundabouts I guess.
It was an epic day to follow. 170k to Abd El Rahmen, the next town. We had done the distance before. Further even. But with a following wind, good roads and without panniers. As we headed out we felt the breeze to the side. We could be in trouble….
The police officer ensconced outside our hotel raised the alarm (‘Red cobra to blue tiger, the Eagle has flown, repeat, the Eagle has flown’) and our new cavalcade hit the road. This time, they were a godsend. The captain was a genial guy with fantastic english. Clearly much of the confusion of the previous days was because we had come to a country linguistically unprepared but it was still a relief to be able to communicate.
The police would not let us camp but they did encourage us to make the distance and find us somewhere to stay at the end. It was possibly the sandiest room this side of the ‘biggest sand castles of the world’ competition but it was at least somewhere to lay our heads.
The next day, all was not well. Jamie had got a fever in the night.
After our longest day ever, the combination of a dodgy tummy and sunstroke was not a winner. However, after the usual dawn start he decided to try an extra hour in bed and then insisted on jumping on the bike.
There was light at the end of the tunnel.
While in Libya I had begun to get concerned about the desolate stretch of road along the Egyptian North coast. I had searched the web. I had found a surfer and emailed for help.
The Sahara Adventure Company, run out of Adham Resort is based near to Alexandria.
They do some amazing stuff. Sandboarding, Desert expeditions and – it transpires – saving cyclists who are stupid enough to hit the highway from Libya.
Tim, the pioneer of the Egyptian extreme sports scene, not only coordinated with the police to pick us up but brought us to, what I can only describe as, paradise. A pool we can sit by, a place we can get our (orange) clothes clean and a workshop we can tweak the bikes in.
And tomorrow we get to go surfing.
Yes, contrary to most peoples assumption, there is surf this side of the Med. So excited. Bring on the white water! (After three weeks learning, I still haven’t quite made it out the back…)
Lots of plotting and planning is also taking place for the next leg of the trip. Should we cycle to Cairo? Take the Delta route? What can we do about Iran?
For now though… I am going to relax.
After three weeks across the Sahara, we can finally have a beer.