Day 55 – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

One of the things that you dread the most riding a motorcycle is the possibility of hurting someone else.  The roads in Africa, and Ethiopia in particular, are major arteries for almost everything that you can think of, including livestock, transport trucks, buses, bush taxis, and masses of people.  There is constant activity along the shoulders, and it seems like around every corner there is a donkey, goat, cow, dog, or person waiting to suddenly dart out in front of your bike as you go by.  It seems that no animal or human bothers to look to see if the road is clear.


In Gonder, we had met up once again with fellow Canadians and KLRers Sam and Peter (who we had first met on the ferry to Wadi Halfa).  We all had bike issues of varying degrees of seriousness, which meant staying in Gonder for a couple of days while “Six” (the town’s master mechanic) went to work.  Our misadventures at Six’s garage is a whole saga in itself, but I will talk about that later.  After the completion of the bike maintenance, our plan was to ride as a group of 5 from Gonder to Addis. 


On Wednesday, July 23rd we set out to do just that.  It was a great feeling to ride in a convoy of 5 KLRs as we headed out of Gonder.  We were all happy to be on the road again after being delayed in Gonder for longer than any of us had anticipated.  Sadly our ride would end after only a few kilometres in tragic fashion.  I was in the lead, followed by Jeremy and then Peter.  Sam was next, followed by Tom in last position.  Sam and Tom were a little ways behind the rest of us because a couple of donkeys had run out in front of them forcing them to brake hard.


We were all riding down the centre of the road because there was a lot of animal and pedestrian traffic along the sides of the road.  We were going about 50 km/h.  Because I was ahead I didn’t see what happened next.  However Tom saw everything in horrifying detail.


A young boy (who looked like he was maybe 8 years old but who we later learned was actually 12) suddenly sprinted across the road right at Sam’s motorcycle.  The child was looking away and did not see Sam’s motorcycle until he ran into it.  It happened so fast that Sam barely had time to hit the brakes.  He tried to swerve, but to no avail.  The child was flung into the air like a rag doll when he hit the bike, breaking the signal light and the right front fairing right off.  He bounced off to the left and Sam went to the right.  Sam somehow stayed on his bike.


It was immediately obvious that the impact had resulted in a compound fracture in the child’s leg below the knee – the child’s tibia was protruding through the skin.  Also of major concern was the fact that the child was barely conscious and had suffered a head injury of unknown severity.  There was blood oozing from two abrasions on the right side of his head.


Had Jerry and I been on the scene, we would have done our best to prevent anyone from moving the boy until we were sure he was breathing and had been assessed for a possible spinal injury.  We would also have immobilized the child’s leg for transportation to the hospital.  It would have been difficult because the accident instantly drew a large crowd of people.  As it was, someone immediately and protectively scooped up the child and carried him to a taxi van to be taken to the hospital.  By the time I got to the scene a few minutes later, the child was gone.


It wasn’t until Jerry, Peter and I got to a gas station a few kilometres up the road that we realized that Sam and Tom were no longer behind us.  We decided that I would go back to look for them, and Jerry and Peter would follow me if I did not return in 10 minutes.  On my way back to where we had last been a group of 5, I saw Tom riding alone.  He informed me that Sam had hit a Kid, and was pretty shaken.  Tom continued on to the gas station to inform Peter and Jerry, and I continued towards Sam.  I found him standing ashen beside his bike surrounded by a big crowd of people.


It’s hard to imagine how awful it must feel to hit a kid.  I really felt bad for Sam.  It could easily have happened to any one of us – he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Such a horrible accident couldn’t have happened to friendlier or more kind-hearted person.  Sam and Peter have used their trip from Cairo to Cape Town to raise over $16,000 for “Spread the Net” which provides mosquito netting to children throughout Africa to help prevent Malaria.


There have been reports of crowds turning hostile when a foreigner is involved in an accident in some areas of Africa.  Luckily that wasn’t the case here.  There were doubtless many witnesses who saw the kid run right into Sam’s bike and the word had spread that Sam couldn’t have done anything to avoid the accident.  When Sam took out a pack of cigarettes and started fumbling for a light, someone thoughtfully offered him a pack of matches.  It took him a few tries to get his smoke lit.  His nerves were understandably shot.


Apparently someone in the crowd had called the traffic police.  There was nothing to do but wait until they arrived.  Tom, Jerry, and Peter soon arrived.  After making sure Sam was alright, Peter borrowed my phone to call the Canadian Embassy.  Unfortunately, the Ethiopian Sim card that I had bought the night before quickly ran out of credit and he was cut off in mid conversation.  That phone call would have to wait until we got to the police station.


At some point while we were waiting for the police to arrive (which took a surprisingly long time), Peter suggested that we carry on to Addis without him and Sam.  However, there was no way we were going to leave until we were sure the situation would not get out of hand.  How would Ethiopian law treat a foreign driver hitting a local kid?  The accident had clearly not been Sam’s fault, but we didn’t know if the police would see it that way.  Tom had seen everything and could prove a valuable witness if it came to that.  We told Peter we would stay until the situation was resolved in a sane way.


After we arrived at the police station, Peter went to a hotel to call the Canadian embassy again.  The information he received was cause for concern.  Apparently under Ethiopian law, the driver is always at fault in a collision with a pedestrian.  If the victim dies, there is an automatic 17 year prison sentence.  When Peter informed us of this fact, I suggested that we consider making a run for the border as a last resort.  Sam and Peter had already floated that idea.  We agreed that there was no way that Sam should set foot inside an Ethiopian prison just for being unlucky.


The problem was where to go.  The best choice was Kenya, but that border was 1700 km away.  The closest border was Sudan, but without visas we would have to sneak into the country, which would create its own set of problems.  To complicate matters even further, the police were holding Sam’s passport.


We decided to begin by getting legal advice before providing a police report.  While Sam and Peter were searching for a lawyer who spoke English, Jerry and I were given the task of finding the boy and assessing the extent of his injuries.  We wanted to know if he was alive, and if so whether it would be worth paying to get him transferred to a larger centre where he may have a better chance.


On the way into town, Jerry and I had both seen a sign for Gonder University Hospital, which seemed a logical place to begin our search for the child.  When we arrived, the police lowered the chain guarding the main entrance and allowed us to ride our bikes into the compound.  We parked near the entrance.  After some aimless wandering in one building that seemed large enough to be the main hospital with no luck, a policeman approached us and asked us if we wanted to see the “baby” while making a hand gesture that could only be interpreted as a kid getting run over.  We nodded.  He had us follow him down a pedestrian path on our motorcycles, which were apparently not safe where we had left them.  On the ride through the hospital grounds, I came dangerously close to hitting several people as they stepped in front of my bike on the congested footpath.  That would have been just too cruel.


I am not sure what I was expecting of Gonder University Hospital, but I was not prepared for what I saw.  There were crowds of people who were obviously in advanced stages of terminal diseases just sitting listlessly on the ground outside.  They wore dirty rags.  No one was attending to them.  They were waiting to die.


The police officer directed us to a place where we could park the bikes and we continued on foot to a nearby building, which was the Gonder version of an itensive care unit.  The police officer opened the door motioned for us to enter.


Before I was able to take in the room, I was hit with the smell of blood.  Then I saw the child.  I have been haunted by that initial image ever since.  More than 5 hours had passed since the accident – why was he still in his blood stained clothes?  Why had no one dressed his wound, or even cleaned the congealed blood off of his leg?  Why had no one cleaned the dried blood from his head wounds?  It looked like the only treatment he had received was intravenous saline.  That, and a floppy piece of cardboard, now darkly stained with blood, had been placed behind his leg.  There was also a pile of blood soaked heaped on the cardboard beside his leg.


His grandfather was sitting beside him holding his hand.  It looked like he was unconscious.  But he was alive.  We found a doctor who helpfully answered our questions.  Yes the child could be roused and could speak, although he did not know where he was – he believed that he was still at home.  No there were no clinical signs (as of yet) of increased intracranial pressure, such as lateralization.  No there was no CT scanner in Gonder, and therefore intracranial bleeding could not be ruled out.  He would be monitored for clinical signs of brain hemorrhage over the next 24 hours.  His score on the glascow coma scale was 13/15.  No blood had come from the eyes, nose, ears, or mouth.  He had no motor deficits.  His sensations was normal.  His posterior tibial and dosalis pedis pulses were normal.  He had not been given any pain killers.


What?  No pain killers?  We were both incredulous.  Jerry offered the doctor some oxycodone (a morphine derivative) that he had back at the hotel (which had been prescribed for his latest ankle operation).  The doctor was reluctant.  We explained that we wanted to make sure that the child was receiving the best possible care and was not in pain.  At this point the doctor assumed that we wanted the child to receive special treatment.  Somewhat indignant, he told us that the child would be treated like any other patient with the resources that were available (which were clearly limited).  We asked whether the child would receive any morphine.  The doctor said that the little morphine that they had was reserved for serious cases.  If this wasn’t a serious case, what was?


The doctor informed us that the child was scheduled for closed reduction of his fractures that afternoon.  His leg would then be immobilized with an external posterior plate.  He would be monitored for signs of increased intracranial pressure and/or cerebral hemorrhage.  Apparently they had the capacity to perform a burr-hole operation without the benefit of a CT scan if it became necessary (you drill a hole through the skull to drain the blood).  The nearest CT scanner was in Addis Ababa, more than 700 kilometres and a two day drive away.  The doctor deflected our suggestions of arranging for an air transfer.  The child would be treated in Gonder.


The doctor went to the child to perform a neurological exam.  The child responded to being poked in the chest on both sides by pushing the doctor’s hand away.  He opened his eyes.  He said a few words.  What happened next both Jerry and I believe is unacceptable.  The doctor assessed the child’s lower limbs, causing him to squirm with pain.  His leg was not immobilized, and you could see the broken end of the tibia press against the skin covering the child’s calf from the inside, causing it to bulge grotesquely.  I had to fight down a wave of nausea.


I gave the doctor my phone number and he agreed to phone me if there was any change in the child’s condition.  He asked us why we weren’t talking to the police, suggesting our stay in Gonder would be quicker if we cooperated fully.  How come everyone in town seemed to know every detail?  We explained that we wanted to do everything properly.


Jerry and I returned to the hotel to meet with Tom, Peter, and Sam, who had been gathering information in the meantime.  We reported our findings, which were cautiously optimistic.  We thought that the child had a good prognosis but our major worry was his head injury.  It would take at least 24 hours before a severe brain injury could be ruled out.  We hoped that his confusion was the result of a concussion and not something more life-threatening such as a cerebral hemorrhage


Sam was relieved that child was alive and conscious, and appreciative of our fact finding mission.  While we had been at the hospital, Peter had found an ex-pat who ran an orphanage in Gonder and was married to an Ethiopian.  She had told Peter that he should not file a police report but instead consult a village elder who could help mediate a settlement between Sam and the child’s family without involving the police.  Finding a lawyer in Gonder who spoke English was proving much more difficult.  Luckily a lawyer was not actually necessary – all we needed was a reliable translator.


We found the village elder in his pharmacy.  A meeting with the family was arranged for the following morning at the police station.  When Jerry and I visited the hospital again the next morning, we were happy to see that the child’s wounds had been dressed and his leg was immobilized.  We were told that although he was still confused, his level of consciousness was improving.  He was now scoring 14/15 on the GCS.  Our fears of a serious brain injury seemed to be allayed.


We returned to the police station to report our news.  The negotiations soon began.  The family’s opening offer was 100,000 birr (which is about $10,000).And so a child’s suffering was reduced to money.  What a windfall 100,000 birr would be.  Enough of an incentive for desperate people to throw themselves in front of foreigners’vehicles.  Soon it became clear that our presence was not helping Sam in his negotiations.  The family saw 5 foreigners and assumed that they could get more from 5 people than they could from just Sam.  So Tom, Jerry, and I made a big show of leaving.  We finally left Gonder about midday on July 24th.  We hope that Sam and Peter were able to arrive at a reasonable settlement.  Hopefully we’ll see them soon on the road to Kenya.


It took us two days to finally reach Addis Ababa.  The Ethiopian highlands offered up easily the most spectacular scenery of the trip.  Lush green mountains, cascading waterfalls, stunning vistas, and gorgeous sweepers have meant that there has not been a dull moment.  The Blue Nile valley cuts a path through the mountains over 1500 metres deep.  It was so cold and damp that Tom and I both were using our electric heated vests on the high mountain roads.  When we descended to the Blue Nile, the temperature soared as we lost altitude.  We had to remove all our layers on the way down except for a t-shirt and riding jacket, only to put everything back on again as we ascended the other side.  The dramatic change in climate as we changed altitude reminded me a lot of riding in Colombia.  Even the vegetation is similar.  There is one distinctive species of barkless tree that is exactly the same.  It would be hard to tell the two countries apart if you were away from any villages.


The ride to Addis, although a feast on the eyes, has also been stressful.  Sam’s accident has had us all riding on edge.  Despite our hyper-awareness and extreme caution when passing people or animals, we have all had several near misses.  Once, a couple of horses suddenly ran across my path, forcing me into an emergency stop.  Another time I would have hit a dog if my horn hadn’t convinced it to turn around at the last second.  While riding through a village, I saw a woman carrying a large pot on her head dart out in front of Tom without looking, forcing him to slam on his brakes.  He barely missed her.  Jerry was forced onto the shoulder when an oncoming bus passed an oncoming truck right in front of him.

In other news, we actually made the news.  You can read our story on Yahoo! News.


Kids showing off their aquatic stunts for us on the River Nile in Khartoum, Sudan.  Photo by Khaled Desouki (Agence France Presse).


Jeremy gets a hand from some kids on the sandy shore of the Nile in Khartoum, Sudan.  Photo by Khaled Desouki (Agence France Presse).

Advertisements

Day 47 – Khartoum, Sudan

Sudan has always been one of the countries I was most looking forward to visiting.  In my mind, Sudan is where where the adventure would begin in earnest.  I was right.  Gone were luxuries such as hotels, air conditioning, and tarmac.  Instead we have been treated to otherwordly desert landscapes, exhilirating riding, and the friendliest people of the trip.  We camped in the empty vastness of the Nubian desert under a full moon.  We have been invited into people’s homes for food and tea in remote Nubian villages.  We have put ourselves to the test against the most challenging terrain we have yet encountered, including deep sand and dust, loose rock, hard ruts, and dry riverbeds.


In many ways the riding in Sudan reminds me of Bolivia – you pick your own route from a series of tracks leading off into the open desert.  The major difference is Bolivia was shockingly cold whereas Sudan is shockingly hot. 

The challenging riding conditions, while incredibly fun, have also led to some mishaps.  We’ve all come off our bikes multiple times.  The riding has been particularly challenging for Jerry, as his knee still cannot support the weight of his bike, causing him to drop it more often than he would otherwise.  He also is unable to pick up his bike by himself.  On one occaision, he managed to get his leg pinned underneath a pelican case when his bike went over.  He was unable to free himself.  Fortunately I was close by (having just picked up my own bike) and heard him screaming and ran over to lift the bike.  I am happy to report that Jerry emerged unscathed.  Despite the drops and episodes of getting stuck in the deep sand, Jerry has done remarkably well considering most of the conditions we’ve run across over the past couple of days he was facing for the first time – and with an injury.  It was a solid performance from a guy who just got his motocycle license last November.

Tom’s worst spill happened when he hit a dip full of soft dust that gripped his rear tire, sending him flying.  Other than a nasty looking bruise, and a head to toe coating of dust, he came out no worse than he went in. 

My own scariest moment came in similiar conditions.  I was riding through a layer of dust several inches deep.  It was like riding through talcum powder, and my rear tire was sliding around.  I thought I saw some solid ground way off to the right and decided to make a bee-line for it.  Unfortunately the desert had other ideas.

Between me and the solid ground I sought was an area at the bottom of a small hill filled with what I thought was even deeper powder.  There were ruts a foot deep cutting across my path where it looked like a truck had powered through.  I wanted to avoid the hot unappealing task of digging and pushing my bike out.  Thus, to avoid getting bogged down in the soft stuff, I gunned the throttle and stood up on the pegs.  It would have worked if it had indeed been foot-deep talcum powder.  It was not.  Yes, there was a thin layer of powder a few inches deep on the surface.  However, the ruts were actually formed from dried mud as hard as cement. 

When I hit the first rut at speed, my suspension bottomed out sending me straight up into the air.  My bike achieved lift-off as well, as evidenced by the 4 foot gap in my motorcycle track where my bike launched itself over the lip of the rut.  With me in the air, my riderless bike started leaning to the left.  My bike and I fell together in a heap.  My leg was pinned at an awkward angle underneath the bike.  I felt a sharp pain in my knee followed by numbness.  There was a moment when I thought I had seriously hurt myself.  Luckily, when I pulled my leg free, I had full range of motion and could put all my weight on it.  Other than some joint-line tenderness, I am fine.  Whew.

Two nights ago, as I was riding through the Sudanese desert at sunset, with nothing but sand and rock formations bathed in crimson light as far as the eye could see, I realized there was no other place I’d rather be.  This was even better than I had hoped Sudan would be, even though I had high expectations to begin with.  What a stunningly beautiful country.   

Sudan’s beauty is only matched by the friendliness and generosity of its people.  We’ve had people chase us down the street because we left a tip and they wanted to return it to us.  It seems like every village we pass through is full of people waving us over to join them for food and tea.  We’ve taken them up on a few of these offers.  For example, while waiting for Tom and Jerry to catch up one morning, I stopped at a school after getting waved over.  I was fed breakfast and tea.  Soon, I found myself surrounded by schoolchildren.  I read some lessons from their English reader, and felt like a movie star being the centre of attention.

Later, we decided to rest in a village during the intense heat of midday.  After a pleasant conversation with some of the locals over cold drinks, we decided to leave our bikes and hike down to the Nile to have a nap under the palms.  We left our helmets, gloves – just about everything we owned – with our bikes, which were about 500 metres away in the centre of the village.  We were completely confident that everything would still be there when we returned.  I cannot say that about too many places I have visited.  We could have taped money to our windscreens and nobody would have taken it.  The Sudan that I have seen is probably one of the safest places on the planet.

That’s why the suffering in the Darfur is so heartbreaking.  It is almost impossible to believe that such horror could exist in the same country as I have just experienced.

Sudan is not an easy country to visit, which makes being here even more satisfying.  The visa application/approval process is complex and time consuming (although it can be done quickly in Cairo).  The only “overland” route into the country from Egypt involves a 17 hour ride on a hot overcrowded ferry bookended by seemingly endless red tape.  The process was lengthened even more because we had to wait an extra day in Wadi Halfa for the barge carrying our motorcycles to arrive, and the whole red tape process was replayed again before we finally rode our bikes into Sudan.

Because the ferry only sails once a week, it acts as a bottleneck to bring together everyone traveling overland from north to south together.  We met up with two fellow Canadians, Sam and Peter, who were both riding KLRs.  I had exchanged emails with Sam before leaving Canada after he stumbled across my blog and saw that we would be heading in the same direction at about the same time.  They hope to make it all the way to Cape Town by August 19th, putting them on an even tighter schedule than us.  I enjoyed meeting Sam and Peter in the flesh in Egypt.  It was great hanging out with them on the ferry and later in Wadi Halfa while we waited for the bikes.  The last time I saw them was in Dongola the day before yesterday.  Peter had gone over the handlebars and badly bruised his ribs.  His mule may have taken the worst of it though with a possible bent frame.  I wish him well and hope to see him and Sam again on our way south.  You can follow their adventures on their blog.

We also met up with Steffen, a German riding a classic Tenere.  He had stumbled across this blog, so we were in email contact even before he arrived in Aswan and saw our KLRs parked on the sidewalk in front of the Nile hotel.  The Nile hotel was also the temporary home of a group of 4 Italians.  2 of them were on motorcycles (including a beautiful KTM Adventure 990) and 2 of them rode in a support truck.  I have spent many miles wondering what goodies they have in the back of that truck.  Is there a fully functional kitchen?  Do they make waffles and omelets every morning?  Do they have a cooler full of ice cold drinks?  There must be some spare parts in there too somewhere.  It makes me wonder how we can possibly do this trip without a support vehicle.  The Italians are seasoned adventurerers, having gone on several round-the-world trips in the past, including a rare trip from Europe all the way to Beijing. 

Last but not least, we also met up with a couple, Andrew and Debbie, traveling by Land Rover from London to South Africa (http://www.wheahwe.blogspot.com/).  They are actually moving back to South Africa after living in the UK for 9 years.  They are allowing themselves over 6 months for their “move”, including a month at Debbie’s family’s farm in Zambia.  What a perfect way to move.


For the past 2 nights we have been staying in the luxurious Bougainvilla Guesthouse in Khartoum.  It is a hang-out for ex-pats and people working for NGOs, etc.  This morning while having a coffee on the villa’s pleasant rooftop patio, I had a conversation with Shereen Zorba, the deputy spokersperson for the AU-UN mission in Darfur.  She was excited by our trip and within minutes was phoning her reporter contacts.  I did a phone interview with a Khartoum newspaper reporter.  Our story is supposed to appear in tomorrow’s edition.  I won’t know what it will actually say because it is in Arabic.  If it says that I am the team leader, that is clearly a translation issue.  At one point I was asked if I thought that the ICC’s indictment of President Bashir for alleged war crimes in Darfur (big news in Sudan) would affect the distribution of ressources for HIV treatment.  I was certainly in no position to give an informed opinion, and I said as much.

Shereen also put me in touch with Jennie Matthews, who works for AFP (Agence France Press).  Jennie and two cameramen came to the Bougainvilla this afternoon.  They took us out for a ride along the Nile.  It looked like they were getting some great action shots of us riding our bikes through dunes.  They’ll also have some money shots of a group of kids pushing Jerry’s bike out of the sand.  Jennie interviewed us about our trip when we got back.  Any press coverage we get would go a long ways towards raising awareness of Dignitas and Riders for Health.

Tomorrow, after a delicious Bougainvilla breakfast, we intend to cover as much of the 572 km to the Ethiopian border as we can.  After the stiffling heat of the Sahara, we are looking forward to the green cool mountains that await.

Day 41 – Aswan Egypt


My camera was confiscated for taking this forbidden picture inside the tomb of Thutmosis IV in the Valley of the Kings.  It seems it was not worth the 20 pound “tip” I paid to get my camera back, as this picture in no way captures the eerie grandeur of the tomb or the magnificance of the sarcophagus.

We have spent the last two days arranging to board the ferry from Aswan to Sudan, and we expect to spend all of tomorrow doing the same before the ferry finally leaves sometime in the late afternoon or early evening.  Riding around Aswan in the midday heat from one police station to the next to get the required paperwork completed has has been a challenge in itself.  We are all finding it difficult to cope with the heat, especially since Luxor.  It has been getting progressively hotter the farther south we go.  In Luxor, when we were riding back from the Valley of the Kings at about 1PM, the heat from the hot wind off the desert was unlike anything I had ever experienced.  It felt like we were riding head first into a forest fire.  Certainly, had I been sitting next to a bonfire and felt a similar blast of heat in my face, I would have instinctively jumped back.  On a motorcycle there is no escaping the desert’s wrath. 

The heat is so bad that no matter how much water we try to drink or how much we try to limit our activities during the heat of the day, we have all been experiencing symptoms of heat exhaustion.  The heat has been especially tough on Tom, making him physically ill.  I have been collapsing from exhaustion and sleeping for hours in the middle of the day in the comfort of our air-conditioned hotel room.  What are we going to do when we hit Sudan, which is even hotter, and without air-conditioned hotel rooms (at least until we reach Khartoum)?  Our strategy is to start riding at about 5 AM, when the temperature is the coolest of the day at just under 30 degrees Celsius.  Who said that the desert gets cold at night?  That is complete bollox, especially during the peak of the Saharan summer.  From about 1 to 5 PM, we plan to stop riding and find shade for an afternoon nap. 

I suppose the fact that it would be hot in Egypt should not have come as a surprise.  To be fair, I did know full well that the Sahara would be hot, but I was also fooled by the fact that in absolute terms it is no hotter than Las Vegas in the summer, which I didn’t find that bad.  However, maybe that was because I spent my days sleeping in cool hotel rooms and my nights playing poker while sipping Coronas and pina coladas…


What you can’t see or feel in this picture of Rosa at the Ramesseum in Luxor is the searing heat of the desert or the salty sweat pouring off my forehead and stinging my eyes. 

Day 40 – Aswan, Egypt (The Trials of Jerry Continue)



What you see above is Jerry in the first stage of one of the most difficult and spectacular motorcycle stunts you’ll ever encounter.  I apologize for the blurriness of the picture.  I was expecting to take a picture of Jerry slowly riding his bike up two steps and through a gate.  I did not expect him to come flying up the steps, and beyond, with his bike in a monster wheelie.  Neither did Jerry.  I actually have no memory of taking this picture or getting out of the way of Jerry’s flying bike, but the evidence says I did both.

We had just taken a room in the Amon Hotel in Luxor (its lush gardens and air-conditioned rooms an oasis from the heat and constant harrassment we had been experiencing in Egypt).  The owner had offered us a safe place for us to park our motorcycles inside the garden surrounding his hotel.  We had to ride up two steps through a gate, ride about 10 feet down a sidewalk, and turn left onto another sidewalk immediately before another two steps leading up to the narrow entranceway into the lobby of the hotel.  I went first, enjoying the feeling of riding up the stairs and through a gateway into a lush garden.  Tom followed.  After I parked my bike, I took out my camera to get a picture of Jerry coming through the gate.  I thought it would be an interesting shot.  I certainly didn’t think it would be an action shot.


I was standing on the sidewalk on the hotel side of the gate waiting for Jerry to come through, my camera at the ready.  He seemed a bit hesitant, obviously concerned about the possibility of dropping his bike on the steps and aggravating the injury to his knee.  Jerry asked me if he should “just gun it”.  There was a good 10 feet of sidewalk at the top of the steps before the next two steps that led to doorway of the hotel.  I thought that even if he did come a bit too fast, the worst case scenario would be that his front tire would nudge the first step as the bike came to a stop.  I told him “yeah, but not too much”, assuming that Jerry realized that this was no more difficult from the high curb he had hoped just the previous evening with no problems whatsoever.  In hindsight either Tom or I should have ridden Jerry’s bike through the gate.

As Jerry came towards the steps, I could hear the roar of his throttle as he accelerated.  I was stunned, barely believing my eyes, when he came flying through the gate with the front end so high I thought he might fall off the back of his bike (the picture does not capture the full height of his wheelie).  He flew up the steps with such speed and power that when he cleared the top step, both wheels were off the ground.  He was literally flying towards me.  He maintained the wheelie for the length of the sidewalk.  His front tire didn’t even touch the second set of steps.  He flew through the narrow doorway leading to the hotel lobby on one wheel.  I saw him disappear into the darkness of the hotel.  Several seconds later I heard an agonizing smash – a sound made by Jerry’s bike crashing into a brick wall on the far side of the hotel lobby.

How had he managed to get his bike through that narrow doorway?  I’m not sure a stunt rider could have pulled that off.  Later, when we were backing Jerry’s damaged bike out of the lobby, we bumped the doorframe on both sides.  What a feat to have threaded the needle on a spooked mule. 

When I got to the doorway, I saw Jerry’s bike on its side beneath a damaged wall.  He had somehow missed a potted plant and a small statue.  Jerry was on his feet in a heartbeat.  He was incredibly lucky and managed to escape completely unhurt.  He didn’t even aggravate the injury to his knee (sustained when he crashed his bike 5 days prior).  Also lucky was the fact that no one had been in the lobby between his bike and the back wall.  His bike was immediately surrounded by dumbfounded hotel staff.  They wanted to make sure Jerry was alright, but their reaction to the whole incident was surprisingly muted.  I had read in the guidebook that if you commit a gaffe in social contexts, Arabic etiquette is such that you will not be made aware of it.  Maybe the same concept was being applied here.  The owner refused our offers of paying for the damage to the wall.


Jerry’s bike finally came to rest against the far wall of the lobby.  There are chuncks missing from the the wall (made of brick underneath a layer of plaster) where it forms a corner behind the guy bending over in the white shirt.

Jerry’s bike would require some work to fix.  The impact had bent the bracket holding his headlight in place to such an extent that the right side of this headlight as well as the front fairing where pushed way back (almost to the front fork) so his headlight was now aimed to the left at a 45 degree angle.  His gas tank was dented on the right side as well, but luckily the tank guards had taken the brunt of the impact and there were no leaks.  The tank guard bars themselves were bent and pushed up against the tank.  Later that night, with the help of a mechanic with a vise, we were able to bend everything back into shape.  His front fairing, being made of tough flexible plastic, even regained its shape (more or less) and could be put back on the bike.  We had initially thought it was toast and that Jerry would be riding Mad Max style from that point forward.

In the aftermath of Jerry’s unintended heroics, we pondered how such a stunt was even possible.  I could not pull it off even if I had the cojones (which I don’t).  For those of you wanting to try such a stunt at home (not recommended), here is what you must do: Give her lots of throttle with just enough clutch to start accelerating as you get to bottom of the steps.  Now instantaneously release the clutch completely.  As the front wheel lifts up, pin the throttle.  When the bike launches through the doorway in a wheelie and flies off the top step, don’t touch the rear brake and keep the throttle all the way open as you land on the sidewalk to maintain the wheelie.  This way your front tire will clear the steps leading to the hotel entrance.  Make sure you hit the open doorway in the exact centre as it is almost exactly the same width as the span of your handlebars.  Use your body weight to avoid a potted plant and a statue once inside the lobby.  Instead of hitting a brick wall as Jerry did to end the stunt, you might try edging the bike around a pillar, through a hallway, down some stairs, and safely out into the back garden.  Are you up for the challenge?
 
We could have left the next morning, but we wanted to explore Luxor.  We hiked through the Valley of the Kings in the morning and the Temple of Karnak in the afternoon.  Tom, being the Kid that he is, was especially impressed by Karnak because he recognized it from a shoot-out scene in a James Bond movie – “The Spy Who Loved Me”.  The Kid likes his 007.

The highlight of the day for me was when we entered our first tomb in the Valley of Kings, that of Thutmosis IV.  We descended through a long shaft that pierced thousands of years to the eerily unfinished sarcophagus room.  At that moment all the hassles of Egypt – the constant harrassment by touts, the seering heat, the never-ending police checkpoints – all became worthwhile.  I was standing in a 3,500 year old tomb that defied imagination in the Valley of the Kings.

The Trials of Jerry (Day 35 – Beni Suef, Egypt)


Jerry continues on foot after killing his mule in the desert near the Saqqara pyramids, Egypt.

Jerry’s crash on Saturday is the culmination of a series of events that could be described as “the trials of Jerry”.  It’s been a tough week for him.

Lost Gloves
It all started in Jordan when he lost his gloves near the Dead Sea.  We had stopped for drinks after swimming in the Dead Sea.  Jerry thought that there was something wrong with his gearbox – a rattle between 3000 and 4000 rpms when he shifted into a higher gear.  He asked Tom to take his bike for a ride to see what he thought.  The good news is that Tom was pretty sure it was just the dashboard rattling.

The bad news was that Jerry left his gloves on the back of his bike before Tom took off.  By the time Jerry realized they were gone and we retraced Tom’s route, about 30 minutes later, they were nowhere to be found.  They must have fallen off at some point, and provided a lucky find for whoever picked them up.  We didn’t think our chances of getting them back were particularly good in this town.  Earlier, while we were taking our drink break, a kid stole my pocket knife (which I had used to pop the caps off our pop bottles) right from under my nose while pretending to want to talk to us.  It was only when I hinted that a reward might be in order if I found my knife did it come out of the kid’s pocket.  No reward was paid.

The next trials were in Wadi Rum.  We hit our first bit of deep sand (which had drifted aross the hardtop from the desert).  Jerry, who had become a skilled sand rider in the Mojave desert during our training in California, quickly learned that a fully loaded KLR650 was a much different beast than the light and nimble Honda CRF230 he had been riding during the training.  His heavy KLR was sliding around wildly and went over several times in a small stretch.  It reminded me of my first taste of sand in Bolivia.  Thoughts of riding into the desert and camping under the stars quickly faded.  We had also been told that motorcycles weren’t allowed into the desert in the nature preserve.

We started our search for a more accessible campsite beyond the boundaries of the protected area.  We hadn’t gone far before Jerry lost two bags off the back his bike when the tie down straps came loose.  One was a MEC waterproof bag and the other contained his swimming trunks and sandals.  We didn’t realize they were missing until a guy driving a truck pulled up behind us when were stopped on the side of the road (considering our camping options) and gave us the MEC bag.  It looked like it had been run over and dragged down the road.  It certainly was no longer waterproof.  Finding a waterproof bag in Jordan or Egypt would prove impossible.  We never did find his sandals or swimming trunks.  The sandals were a tough loss for Jerry because they had sentimental value – they were the very same sandals he had been wearing in India when he fell and broke his ankle.

The time that Jerry spent riding back and forth looking for his sandals gave Tom and I a chance to practice our wheelies against the otherwordly backdrop of Wadi Rum, a landscape that TE Lawrence described as “vast and echoeing”.  I could not describe it any better.

A Reprieve
It was getting dark by the time we finished our wheelie fun, and Tom brilliantly suggested we push on to Aqaba, which was only 40 km further, instead of camping in the desert.  There would be plenty of opportunities to camp in the desert later on, and this way we could eat a decent meal and swim in the Gulf of Aqaba.  In other words, head back to the comfort zone.  Plus we wouldn’t have far to go to catch the ferry from Aqaba, Jordan to Nuweiba, Egypt the next morning.

We camped on the coast south of Aqaba that night, and Jerry would have a reprieve in his trials.  We had a great dinner overlooking the Gulf of Aqaba and we invited a fellow Canadian (Ryan), traveling alone, to join us for dinner.  He was on leave from his contract with the Canadian military in Afghanistan, where he works as a heavy-duty mechanic.  He was in Aqaba taking diving classes.  If we had more time, I would have loved to have done the same.  You could get your open water certification for about $270, and the diving was supposed to be fantastic.  There was even a shipwreck just offshore beyond the coral reef, as well as an armoured tank. 

We took advantage of the coral reef the next morning when we went snorkeling.  The hour or so we spent in the water was the best snorkeling I have ever experienced.  Every few metres I would see a new species of fish.  Best of all there was no one else out there.  It was much better than the world famous, but extremely crowded, Hanauma Bay in Hawaii.  And there were no breakers slamming you chest first into the sea urchins and sharp coral as was the case in Hanauma.

When we reluctantly headed for shore so we could get back in time to catch the Ferry to Nuweiba, Egypt, we swam amongst a group of local women lounging in the shallows.  We had read that it was customary for people to wear swimming costumes in the Middle East, both men and women, but we didn’t realize that it meant that the men covered their chests and the women completely covered themselves, including their hair, while in the water.  In fear of a sunburn, I had gone into the water wearing a T-shirt.  However, Tom was wearing nothing but tight fitting underwear that would have been considered risque even on a beach in California.  Most averted their eyes as we swam past, but there were a few furtive looks and some giggles.  My guess is that Tom must have looked as out of place to them as a streaker would to us on a busy street in London or Toronto.  Still, the ones who dared look seemed to quite enjoy the spectacle, judging by the smiles and blushes.

A Trial for All of Us
Our relaxing morning snorkeling session would be a sharp contrast to the frustration and chaos of the rest of the day.  The whole experiene of catching the ferry from Aqaba to Nuweiba was a complete gong show.  I stayed with the bikes in the hot dusty terminal, while Tom and Jerry dealt with the bureaucracy.  It did not appear to be a streamlined system.  I kept seeing Tom walking back and forth from the Jordanian customs office and the Ticket area on the second floor.  The process took hours.  I’m not sure what was involved, and I don’t really want to know.  All I know is that my wallet was $130 lighter by the time it was all over.

The process of boarding the Ferry was surreal to me.  The Ferry was supposed to leave at 1 PM.  By 5 o’clock there was still no sign that anyone would get on board, despite the fact that the Ferry had been at the terminal for hours.  The terminal was jammed with masses of pedestrians and cars, which were loaded with what looked like the whole of people’s personal possessions strapped to the roofs.  I found out that some people had been waiting for days.  It was as if people were trying to flee a war zone.  Later, we would find out that the ferry hadn’t even sailed the previous day.

At around 5 PM, the crowd got restless and formed into a mass of humanity pressing against the chain link fence seperating the terminal from the pier where the ferry was docked.  Every time the police had to open the gate for an official vehicle, they had to push people back as they tried to pile through.  Every so often a few made it and made a run for it.  The poli
ce wouldn’t chase them, but they shouted after them.  Over time the crowd milling around outside the gate got smaller and smaller as people slipped through.  Was that how you got on?  Was there not enough room for everyone waiting outside the gate?  I didn’t like the thought of waiting another day to get aboard. 

We thought that we maybe we could try to slip through with one of the official vehicles on our motorcycles.  We had moved them out of the “queue” (more of a traffic jam) and up to the duty free shop which was beyond the mass of cars right next to the gate to freedom.  The next time they opened the gate, we got on our bikes and tried to follow a truck through.  The police officers angrily blocked our path and motioned for us to go back to the traffic jam.  We turned around and parked our bikes right at the front of all the cars.  Just then a guy with a walkie talkie motioned for us to go ahead.  We went right for the gate, and everyone started their engines and followed us.  The police put their hands up in exasperation when we got to the gate.  They didn’t open it.  Maybe the guy with the walkie talkie didn’t even work there.  But then he reappeared, was let through the gate, and conversed with the police.  They then opened the gate and let us (and only us) through.  We rode along the pier and ramp to the Ferry alone.  We had been given the honour of boarding first before the masses.  We parked our bikes on deck and went up to the passenger deck in solitude.  Before anyone else was even on the ferry, they were taking our food order in the restaurant.  They raised the ramp again after we were on probably to prevent the cars from boarding the Ferry in a frantic mass when they were finally let through. 

After we finished eating, and the area started to get crowded, the captain came down and invited us upstairs to the blessedly cool air conditioned first class cabin.  We lounged in reclining chairs for the remainder of the trip.  And what a trip it was.  We didn’t end up leaving until after 6 PM.  The ferry ride, which was supposed to take an hour, stretched into a 5 hour trip and we didn’t arrive in Nuweiba until 11 PM, at which point we had to sit on the ferry for a half an hour before they let anyone off.  By the time we cleared Egyptian customs and immigration in Nuweiba, it was after 2 AM.  I had every bag searched before we could even start the process.  Again I watched the bikes while Tom and Jerry went to work with the help of a friendly customs officer.  Hours elapsed, and I paid out another $250 from my dwindling supply of Amerian currency.  But at least I had an Egyptian license plate with Arabic numbers to show for it (plus reams of paperwork) by the time it was all over.

We eventually found a pleasant resort on the beach.  We were served a tasty and long-awaited meal at 3:00 AM and slept in a Cabana for a total of about $12 for the night.  The next day we went for a swim had a breakfast in a gazeebo overlooking the beach before setting out for Cairo across the Sinai peninsula.  The Sinai was stunning.  Stark colourful rocky slopes met with the aquamarine blue of the Gulf of Aqaba.  It was one of my favourite rides of the trip so far.


Scenic highway along the coast of the Gulf of Aqaba, Sinai Peninsula, Egypt.  You can see Saudi Arabia across the water, which is only about 15 kilometres away.

40,000 km Milestone
It was during the stark and beautiful ride across the Sinai that Rosa’s odometre rolled over the 40,000 kilometre mark.  Rosa has certainly been tough and reliable.  I find it hard to believe that in less than two years I have travelled around the world once (it is 10,000 km from the pole to the equator).  I hit 10,000 kms in Mexico; 20,000 kms in Peru; 30,000 kms back in Canada; and now 40,000 kms in Egypt’s Sinai.  The area surrounding the stretch of road where I reached 40,000 was a fitting backdrop for such a satisfying occasion.  The empty road stretched off into the desert in both directions, with nothing but open desert and colourful mountain ranges in the background.  It is also fitting that I wasn’t on the road that I had intended, having missed the turn off to Cairo about 4 kilometres earlier.  Some of the most memorable moments from my travels have come when Serendipity intervened.  Taking in my surroundings where I had stopped for my milestone moment, I felt incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to travel around the world by motorbike.



I hit the 40,000 kilometre milestone in the Sinai desert

Lost Wallet
Jerry’s trials would continue when we got to Cairo.  He forgot that he had his wallet in the inside pocket of his jacket when he sent it for laundry service.  When the laundry came back his wallet was of course gone.  He lost about $60, but more importantly, his bank card.  Without a bank card, getting money in foreign countries becomes a huge hassle.  I am not even sure how to do it without someone wiring money to Western Union from Canada.  There have not been many (any?) Western Unions outside of the big cities since leaving Europe.  He may have had an alternative had he known his password for his VISA, which would have allowed cash advances.  But that is not something they were willing to give him over the phone.

I have always thought it prudent to travel with two bank cards, even if it means having an account at two separate banks.  Of course I have a record of losing things, so I have developed compensatory strategies.  Nonetheless, before we left I suggested that Jerry get two bank cards as well.  He thought it was a nutty idea.  “I’m not going to lose my bank card” was his exact quote.  The hassle of getting a replacement card sent by courrier to Khartoum may give him reason to reconsider his one bank card policy for future adventures.

Burnt Clutch
After spending a day doing motorcycle maintenance/acquiring a Sudan visa for Tom/dealing with Jerry’s lost wallet in Cairo, we were ready to continue our journey south towards Aswan.  We coudn’t ride by the great pyramids at Giza without stopping for at least one photo-op though.  Before we had even taken out our cameras, we were greeted by Emad, who, because of one coincidence after another, would be our “guide” for the next two days.  Emad spoke excellent English, which he had learned (along with French, German, Russian, and some Japanese) from working as a tour guide at the Great Pyramids from the age of 11 (He was 28 years old).  By the time we left his care on the morning of Jerry’s crash (we were guests in his house for two nights), each of us had shelled out 1250 Egyptian pounds like the suckers that we were.  We each paid 180 pounds for a 20 pound camel ride across the Giza plateau, 250 pounds for a tour of the Saqqara pyramids, 400 pounds for a nighttime camel/horse ride to the pyramids, plus we freely gave him a 1000 pound “tip” and the end of our stay for all his “help” (which we relied on perhaps too much).  It’s only in hindsight that we see all the times over the course of the two days where we had overpaid.

After touring the G
iza pyramids on camels, Emad overheard us talk about wanting to ride our motorcycles amongst the pyramids, and suggested that he guide us on a tour of the Saqqara pyramids, which were about 25 kms away.  He said the main entrance would be closed by the time we got there, but that he knew of a way in from the desert, and we wouldn’t have to pay the fee to enter.  We were intrigued by the possibility of riding our motorcycles across the desert to the Saqqara pyramids, so in the end we agreed.  Emad seemed to take a liking to Tom right from the start, having already chosen him as his riding partner on the camel ride.  It was no surprise to me when he jumped on the back of Tom’s bike to guide us to Saqqara.  I could see the look of disgust on Tom’s face right through his helmet. 

Emad also wanted one of his child helpers, Salouma, to accompany us by riding on the back of Jerry’s bike.  I didn’t think it was a good idea because I didn’t want the kid getting hurt when we inevitably dropped the bikes in the desert sand.  But Emad insisted that him and the kid would both get off and walk when the bikes were going through deep sand.  They did not keep their end of the bargain, and both Emad and young Salouma would soon learn what it’s like to be a passenger on a falling motorcycle.

Emad led us through a series of alleyways until we emerged into the desert.  Actually it was a big garbage dump.  The knobblies were working wonders in the sand though.  It was so much easier than our first sand experiene in Wadi Rum, when we still had our street-oriented tires (Pirellis for Jeremy and I, Continentals for Tom).  I followed Tom (carrying Emad) in a serpentine route around piles of rubbish, which looked like mini pyramids themselves.  I guess we got our wish of riding our bikes through the desert amongst the pyramids.

Jerry was trailing, and by the time we emerged from the piles of refuse onto a roadway, with garbage trucks crawling back and forth, I had lost sight of him.  I had also lost sight of Tom and Emad, who had disappeared around a corner on the truck road ahead of me.  I stopped and waited for Jerry.  He finally emerged onto the roadway.  Looking over my shoulder to wait for him to catch up, I saw the back end of his bike slide out.  Both Jerry and young Salouma went sprawling in the sand as the bike toppled over in a cloud of dust.  The kid helped Jerry pick it up, and the journey continued.

I rounded a corner and saw Tom’s bike on the top of Sandy hill that rose steeply from the left side of the road.  How did he get up there?  To me, it looked like I would need at least a 15 metre run straight at the hill to make it up without getting bogged down.  This was not possible because of how narrow the garbage truck road was.  But I figured that if Tom got his bike up there, then I guess I would give it a shot.  I would later learn that Emad had had to push him the last bit when he got stuck.  I would soon learn that Tom’s spinning rear tire had made a nice soft pit in the sand near the top of the hill, where the path narrowed in a chute. 

I made it about three quarters of the way up before I lost traction in the deep sand on the steep slope.  It was here, in the middle of a garbage dump in the Egyptian desert, that I had my first real drop of the trip.  (A “real” drop is one where you are actually riding the bike when it goes over, and not one where the bike falls over because the kick-stand sinks into the ground, as happened on the mud flats of the Dead Sea.)  I picked up the bike, and with Emad pushing from behind, I walked it up while working the throttle.  It was incredibly hot and I was drenched with sweat and feeling a little light headed by the time I made it to the top with the bike.  I was catching my breath when I saw Tom ride up another much larger hill just ahead of me.  Now the damned Kid was just showing off. 

I thought I’d show the Kid that an old man like me can get his bike up there just as quickly if not faster.  I got back on my bike and made a run for it.  Unfortunately, the approach I choose to take towards the base of the hill had an extra dip full of deep sand that I hit before gaining any momentum at all.  There would be no teaching the Kid a lesson this time.  My rear tire started digging a hole in the sand before I even got to the bottom of the hill that Tom had flown up effortlessly moments before.  Salouma appeared and tried to push me, but to no avail.  I got off the bike and pushed it over onto its side to get the rear wheel out of the hole.  We kicked sand in the pit, righted the bike, and I tried again – working the throttle as we pushed.  I finally cleared the pit and charged up the hill.  But not before Tom, waiting at the top of the hill, snapped a series of pictures of me struggling with my bike in the midst of the garbage piles.



With our bikes at the top of the hill, we went back to help Jerry.  His bike was stuck in the first sandy chute leading up from the garbage truck road.  We rolled his bike back down, and Tom got on it to find an alternate route.  When all three bikes were on top of the ridge, we were ready to go once again.  It was about then that I started wondering if this was such a good idea after all.  We didn’t have any water beyond what was in our (rapidly depleting) camelbaks.  It was probably 40 degrees Celsius.  The sun was beating down on us relentlessly.  Our bikes were close to overheating.  My clutch cable was starting to stretch.  There was yet another hill that we had to climb.  Luckily there was a straight approach (abeit a sandy one), but I gunned it and got to the top no problem, as did Tom in front of me, carrying Emad as a passenger no less.

At the top of the hill there was a dip full of deep loose sand.  Tom’s bike went in, but it didn’t come out.  He lost control in the soft stuff and both he and Emad went down with the bike.  Finally we emerged onto a long flat section.  I could see the pyramids of Saqqara in the distance on a plateau across the desert.  With no passenger to slow me down, I decided to give the new tires a good test, and opening up the throttle, I raced past Tom.  The bike felt stable in third gear going about 60 km/h.  What a feeling it was to float across the desert sand with pyramids thousands of years old in my sight.  Maybe this side trip was worthwhile after all.

However, it turned out that we wouldn’t get to ride the bikes right up to the pyramids here either.  Emad stopped Tom and I at a small hut, where the “guardian” of the unofficial access to the pyramids resided.  Emad told us to relax in the shade of his tarp while the Guardian heated water over a wood fire to make us tea.  He also offered us “Egyptian water” right from the Nile.  We declined, saying that we had “bad stomachs”.  At least the tea would be made with boiling water.  I was feeling a bit light headed from the struggles in the heat, and was enjoying the rest on the carpet in the shade.  You might be wondering, as Tom and I were, where’s Jerry?  Tom, the hero, decided to go and check on him.  I thought I might faint if I had to push any more bikes out of the sand in the immediate future.  I laid back and closed my eyes.

After what seemed like a long interval of time, I came to and realized that Tom and Jerry were still gone.  I tried contacting Jerry on the Garmin radio with no success.  I was about to go check on them m
yself when I saw them (along with poor Salouma) walking towards the hut.  Oh-oh.  Surely Jerry’s bike couldn’t have gotten so badly stuck on the flat section that they couldn’t push it out?  The problem would turn out to be much worse than a stuck bike.

“It won’t engage” Jerry said when he got to the hut.  “The throttle works, and you can change gears, but the drive shaft won’t turn”.  I knew immediately that he had burnt out his clutch.  This is exactly what happened to Uwe, our teacher for our California desert training, when he got stuck in the coastal mud flats of Mauritania on his own pan-African adventure.  Basically, if you are using the clutch and gunning the throttle at the same time that the rear tire gets stuck and quits spinning, the clutch is charcoal.  Still, I hoped that maybe it was something less serious, and perhaps if we got the bike onto solid ground we could bump it into gear.

We decided to check out the pyramids since we were right there.  After a quick tour, provided by the Guardian, we returned to the bikes.  Luckily there was another way back to a paved road that was much shorter than the way we had come in.  We had to cross a sandy, hilly, field and then go through a private farm to get to the road.  The Guardian, Emad, Salouma, and Jerry had the unenviable task of pushing a fully loaded KLR through sand and through gullies and small hills in the stiffling heat, while Tom and I rode our bikes out.


With a burnt clutch, Jerry’s bike needed a lift

When we got to the road, Emad stopped a pick-up truck.  We hoisted Jerry’s bike into the back of the truck and headed for a mechanic that Emad suggested in nearby Giza.  We wanted to go to our mechanic friends back in Cairo because they had been so knowledgeable and honest.  We felt we could trust them because they had worked on our bikes for most of a day replacing all our tires, cleaning our air filters, changing Tom’s oil, and fixing the electrical circuitry of my dashboard.  For all of this, plus 2 spare sets of rear brake pads, not to mention the food and drinks they had served us, they quoted us 1500 pounds (about $300).  They had even offered us “hashish” while we waited.  When Tom handed the money over, they took out 600 pounds and handed it back to him.  So the whole deal only cost us about $60 per bike.  It was one of the few times in Egypt that we hadn’t been treated as “marks” to be shaken down.  Perhaps the sense of kinship among motorcycle riders trumped.  However, Emad had taken us under his wing, and Giza was closer than downtown Cairo, so we went to his chosen mechanic instead.

We returned after he had opened up Jerry’s bike.  Emad didn’t have the vocabulary to translate exactly what was wrong.  I dug out the Clymer manual, found a picture of the clutch friction plates, and showed it to the mechanic (who didn’t speak a word of English).  He nodded.  Yup, Jerry had “made a fire” (Emad’s translation) in the clutch case.  Emad took on the role of bargaining for us (or so we thought).  He informed us that the mechanic could do the job easily, but needed time to find the parts.  It would cost 700 Egyptian pounds.

Two days would go by while the mechanic’s apprentice scoured Cairo for the friction plates without success.  There are no Kawasaki dealerships in Africa or the Middle East.  The KLR650 is not even sold in Europe.  How would they find the right clutch plates?  We kept getting told a few more hours.  During this time we stayed in Emad’s house.  We were fed meals (including camel meat) and slept in the flat he was in the process of building above his own for his 3 and a half year old son.  His hospitality went beyond feeding us and letting us sleep in his place (or so we thought).  He took us on a nighttime camel and horseback ride to watch a light show illuminate the pyramids.  The Giza plateau looks way better at night I have to say.  It was exhilirating to gallop across the desert at night on a horse with the pyramids lit up supernaturally in the distance.  Too bad the experience was soured by the fact that it wasn’t hospitality as we had assumed.


Emad took us on for a nighttime tour of the Giza plateau to watch the Pyramid light show

When we got back to Emad’s place, after eating camel meat prepared over the fire, he sprung the cost of our little nighttime adventure on us.  He said that we were guests in his house, and that we were friends not business.  Therefore he wouldn’t start high like he would with other tourists.  He said he knew we were students.  So the price for the camel ride would be 400 pounds, which was a friend rate, with no need to negotiate because it was already low.  Was this okay?  I was taken aback.  I thought the night ride was all part of his hospitality.  Yes we knew that he was going for a nice tip at the end, as he had said “I make you happy then you make me happy” a few times.  What could we do though?  Tom and I had our motorcycles parked in the entranceway of his house.  Our things were spread throughout his place.  We had just eaten food that he had prepared.  We were at his mercy.  It was such an alien concept for all of us that a price had been placed on hospitality that we all eventually nodded, shell-shocked.  Where is Joel MacMull when you need him?  “Good, 400 pounds each then for the camel ride,” he said.  In hindsight, we realized that he must have slipped the “each” in when we didn’t make a big fuss about the first 400 pounds.  The price had just trippled.  We had been attacked with our stomachs full and our defenses down.  He was truly a master at work.

We even came to our senses when we were finally on our own the next morning.  Emad had arranged for a car to drive us into Cairo to go the Egyptian museum while we waited a second day for the mechanic to find the required parts.  Over breakfast in downtown Cairo, we made a pact to get out of Emad’s place and back to the sanctuary of Hotel Luna as soon as possible.  We agreed that we would not spend another night at his place because we were hemorrhaging money when in his company. 

Despite this precommitment strategy, we would fall prey yet again.  We had what we thought was a good straight-up conversation with Emad about how the tour business worked at the Pyramids.  He explained that he works for a boss, who owns the camels and horses.  He only gets 5% of the price the tourists pay as a commission and the rest goes to his boss.  Anything extra that the tourists give Emad as a tip at the end of the tour he can keep.  The boss has to pay the police and military to be allowed to operate freely in the restricted access Giza plateau.  Understandably, the bosses would also like to keep their club small and exclusive, so payments are also made to various government officials to ensure that no new tour licenses are issued.  There are currently about 13 “bosses” and 40 tour guides like Emad on the site, divided up by pyramid.  For example Cheops, where we had been met by Emad, had one boss and 6 guides, including Emad. 

We learned that Salouma, the kid who had come with us to the pyramids at Saqqara, had not just been along for the ride.  He was actually the boss’ son, accompanying us to make sure that his father (the boss) would get paid his due if we d
id any deals with Emad.  It began to look like maybe we were the beneficiaries of Emad’s hospitality after all, and that it was actually his boss that had pressured him into collecting the 400 pounds from us.  Indeed, he said that we had to pay the boss’ man directly the next day when he came by.  The boss’ man would end up staying in our presence for most of the time we were with Emad.  So we stayed another night chez Emad.

The next day, the whole charade of “the mechanic needs two more hours to find the parts” continued.  Emad even took us to a second motorcycle shop so that they could begin their own search.  Apparently the first mechanic had been all over Cairo without success.  Time stretched on. 

We decided to take matters into our own hands.  We asked to be taken to an internet cafe, where we intended to look up the dealerships in the US or Canada who could send us the parts.  Unfortunately, it was July 4th, and everything in the US was closed.  Luckily, Canadian-based A Vicious Cycle, who have already sent spare throttle cables to the UK for us, had the KLR clutch kit in stock.  Eric, from A Vicious Cycle, was extremely helpful and quickly arranged to have the parts shipped ASAP to Hotel Luna in Cairo.  The estimated shipping time was 4 or 5 days.

Late in the afternoon we got a call on Emad’s phone saying that the parts had been found.  When we drove to the mechanic’s shop our hopes were dashed when we saw that the clutch plate looked used.  Plus we still needed 7 more.  And it didn’t quite fit. 

Emad convinced us to allow “two more hours” yet again for the two teams scouring Cairo to come up with the parts before giving up.  In the meantime he would take us out for supper.  Over dinner, he was constantly on his cell phone speaking Arabic.  He told us that the second mechanic had found the parts, but that now he wanted 2400 pounds.  He explained that the parts were rare -“like finding an oasis in the desert”.  We explained that it would be cheaper for us to have the parts shipped all the way from Canada.  Emad made more calls.  He said the lowest price he could get was 1700 pounds, but that we had to wait “two more hours” before going to check on the bike and parts. 

We decided during dinner to retrieve Jerry’s bike from the mechanic’s shop, put it on a truck, and return to Hotel Luna to await the replacement clutch kit.  We didn’t trust the used parts, and the whole thing was starting to make us feel like we were getting screwed yet again.  We would be much better to have the trustworthy mechanics, who had already worked on our bikes, do the work.  On our way back to the mechanic’s shop where Jerry’s bike was lying disembowelled (it was now after midnight, but shops usually stay open very late in Egypt), we discussed how unless they had new parts and could do the job for 1000 pounds, we would wait for the parts to arrive from Canada.  Emad, having overheard our conversation, immediately went to “bargain” with the mechanic.  Miraculously, 8 brand new shining clutch plates, made in Japan, and fitting perfectly, suddenly materialized.  The mechanic also conincidentally “agreed” to do everything for 1000 pounds as well.  How long had the clutch plates been withheld from us to see how much we would be willing to pay?  Our suspicions were raised again when Emad paid the mechanic privately, and we had to pay Emad the 1000 pounds he claimed to have paid the mechanic when we got back to his place.  How much had the mechanic actually been paid?  How big of a commission did Emad take?

We agreed to the job, and once again we were told to “wait two more hours” for the mechanic to finish the job (plus make a new head gasket which had been torn at some point).  With the clutch plates in hand, we actually believed that maybe it would actually be all over in two hours this time.  Emad suggested that join him at a wedding while we waited.  It was the oddest wedding I have ever seen.  First, there were no women.  They had their own party somewhere else.  Apparently they come join the men at some stage during the evening.  There was a band on stage.  A baby, being held in the saddle of a horse, was paraded through the crowd.  Both baby and horse looked like they were experiencing sensory overload.  A “belly dancer” appeared.  She was the only woman there.  She just sat on the stage and smoked cigarettes.  Finally it was time to go and collect Jerry’s bike.

By the time we got back to Emad’s place, it was after 2 AM on Friday night.  For some reason we gave Emad a 1000 pound tip for all of his help and hospitality for the past couple of days.  I guess we believed that he had been wheeling and dealing on our behalf, acting as a translator, feeding us, and getting us driven around.  He had even phoned Mr. Saleh (the Aswan ferry operator) on our behalf.  Now I wonder if we had been way too generous.  The locals pay 2 pounds (40 cents) for a taxi ride across Beni Suef.  We gave him 500 taxi fares. 

Despite our late night, we thought that we could still make it to Aswan by Sunday morning in time to catch the next ferry to Wadi Halfa.  We came up with the brilliant plan of getting up at 5 AM and riding nearly 1000 kilometres in one day after barely any sleep.  The ride started on a good note as we watched the sun rise over the Great Pyramids in the earlymorning coolness.  However, soon Tom (smartly) stopped us because he was nodding off on his bike.  We left the highway to find Tom a place to have a power nap and for Jerry and I to get some Arabian coffee to get us going.  However, we would not make it back to the highway that day, and we wouldn’t end up going through with our 1000 kilometre sleep deprived ride through the Egyptian heat.  Jerry’s crash shortly afterwards would intervene.  Maybe it was for the best.

PS – I have uploaded some more pictures of Egypt and the rest of the Middle East.

A Big Scare (Day 34 – Beni Suef, Egypt)

Yesterday I was witness to one of the scariest sights I have ever seen.  I was following Jeremy when he crashed his bike.  The whole episode has been replaying in my mind in slow motion.  Today I feel a big sense of relief because given how dramatic the crash looked, Jeremy was not seriously injured.  He will be confined to a hotel room for a few days until he can put weight on his left knee, but he is otherwise unhurt.

We were on our way from Giza to Aswan, hoping to put in a lot of kilometres (about 950) to give ourselves a chance of catching the Ferry from Aswan, Egypt to Wadi Halfa, Sudan.  We had been delayed for several days trying to repair a burnt clutch on Jerry’s bike (more on that later), so we had a lot of distance to cover in a short time to stay on schedule.  We left at 5:30 AM on Saturday morning.  We had to be in Aswan Sunday morning before 9:30 AM in order to make the Ferry, which only leaves once a week on Mondays.

We had lost the highway.  Jerry was leading, trying to use the Garmin map in combination with a paper map of Egypt to get us on course.  We were going from one back road to another traveling through small dusty towns and not making good time at all.  Perhaps his eagerness to find the highway made Jerry go faster than he otherwise would have.  When he saw a big speed bump quickly approaching, he applied the brakes heavily.  Unfortunately the bike went into a skid.  A major factor was the new knobbly tires we put on in Cairo.  Designed for offroad riding, they have way less traction on the asphalt than our previous dual off-road/street tires.  Moreover the road had a thin layer of dust and sand on top of the hard surface, making traction even worse. 

Hitting the speed bump at speed (60 or 70 km/h) while in a skid was a disaster.  The bump threw the skidding bike down onto its left side and sent it sliding down the roadway and to the left.  Thank goodness there was no oncoming traffic.  Initially Jerry was pinned under the bike, but eventually he came loose.  The bike spun almost all the way around and Jerry came to a stop on the left side of the road short of where the bike came to a stop, nose pointing back and to the left across the left lane.

As I was getting off my bike, I saw Jerry stand up, take two steps, and then collapse on the ground in agony when his left leg buckled.  When I got to him he was understandably frustrated and in pain, convinced that he had torn his MCL.  A crowd had gathered (even though it looked like we were far away from any villages) and we helped Jerry to a chair in someone’s front yard.  I gave him some Ibuprofen, took off his pants (which were torn laterally across the knee), and had him lie down on a bench for a complete knee exam.  So as not to offend the locals, I used his riding jacket for appropriate draping (the sleeve in particular).  This was a good thing, as when the sleeve moved out of position, a bystander quickly moved in to replace it. 

He had road rash abrasions on his left kneecap, and there was some minor bleeding.  I systematically tested the cruciate and collateral ligaments, as well as the menisci.  Everything was the same on both knees, except the injured left knee had some crepitus on the medial-lateral grind test.  There was a large effusion on the left side, which had developed almost immediately after the impact.  Jerry and I used antiseptic wipes to clean the surface wound and then dressed it with a gauze pad.  Then we wrapped it lightly in a tensor bandage and dug a knee guard (which Jerry had bought in California) out of his bag and put it on.

Jerry wanted to get back on the bike.  While I had been assessing Jerry, Tom had picked Jerry’s bike up and moved it off the to the side.  There didn’t appear to be any damage except for a scratched peli.  I knew that continuing to ride was not an option, but I hoped that Jerry would come to this decision on his own without me having to tell him he’s not allowed.  I told him that we both knew that RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) was indicated.  He said he’d use the highway pegs for elevation.  Only later did he realize how ludicrous that statement was.  Tom then tried a different angle, saying that we would have to support the bike every time he stopped, and that he wouldn’t be able to get on or off the bike without help.  Still Jerry was determined to carry on.  Then Tom cleverly asked me straight out what my advice was.

I said that we needed to put Jerry’s bike on a truck and go to the next town and find a hotel so that Jerry could rest for a few days and where we could monitor the injury.  It takes 4 working limbs to ride a motorbike.  Riding with one leg that can’t support your own weight, never mind that of a fully loaded bike, was asking for disaster.  It would be easy to aggravate the injury because if the bike started leaning over to the left, Jerry would just have to let it drop, likely right onto his injured knee.

Finally Jerry started to come around.  This is a good thing, because if he would have asked us to support the bike and help him get on, I wouldn’t have gone along.  I went to the group of locals who were watching the show, and pointed at a pick-up truck parked a little ways down the road.  I communicated using sharades that I wanted the bike loaded onto a truck.  Somehow Tom knew the Arabic word for hotel.  They understood what we needed, but they wanted money.  It’s amazing how quickly they can find a way to profit from an unanticipated event, such as a motorcycle crash involving “rich foreigners”.

I thought they wanted 200 Egyption pounds (about $40) for the truck.  We discovered later that 100 of it went to the guy who called for a truck, which is a fortune in a country where a cup off perfectly spiced divine arabic coffee costs 1 pound (20 cents).  The other 100 pounds went to the guy who owned the truck and drove us an hour to Beni Suef.  The truck even sustained some damage when Jerry’s kickstand tore up the particle board lining the bed.  It didn’t seem like a fair arrangement.  We’ve learned that almost every interaction we’ve had since arriving in Cairo has involved people trying to get the maximum amount of money that they can from us, sometimes in incredibly convoluted and creative ways.  There are some exceptions, including the internet cafe where I am writing this post, where the people have been incredibly friendly and helpful.  I know it’s part of the culture and that I shouldn’t be offended.  But I dislike constantly feeling like I’m being screwed and that I’m a sucker.  And I am a sucker here.  I am used to paying mostly fixed prices and people helping others without it turning into a business transaction at some point.  Here, some people learn to scam before they are old enough to ride a bicycle.  We are badly outmatched.  It seems that ever since we got to Cairo its been one scam after another.  More on that to follow.

Along the way to the hotel, my bike wouldn’t start after I had stopped at one of Egypts numerous highway police checkpoints.  The others went on ahead while I tried to fix the problem.  Bump starting it wouldn’t work because there wasn’t enough traction.  With three policeman pushing the bike I dropped it into 2nd gear.  Instead of turning the engine over, I immediately went into a skid.  Another downside of the dirt tires I suppose.  I went to plan B – check the electrical system.  The battery still had a good charge according to my gauge, but the electrical system wasn’t working – no lights would turn on.

I took off the seat to check the fuses.  There was a lot of dust in the fuse box.  I removed both main fuses
and a quick inspection showed that they were intact.  I cleaned all the contacts and put them back in.  The effect was magical.  The engine immediately turned over.  That was easy.

When I caught up with Tom and the truck carrying Jerry’s bike, they had been pulled over by the police – probably because the police at the checkpoint had taken it upon themselves to make sure we were reunited and had radioed ahead.  When I got there we continued, with a police escort, to a hotel in the nearby town of Beni Suef.  We carried Jerry up 5 flights of stairs and set him up with ice for his knee and pillows to elevate his left leg. 

However, a couple of hours later, we became concerned because of the amount of swelling in his calf.  It was extremely tight and painful.  Being U of T students, we of course starting thinking of the extremely unlikely, but serious, possibilities.  Compartment syndrome was at the top of the list.  All you medical minded people can freely make fun of us.  The pulses were normal, and there was neither palor nor paraesthesia.  But I certainly didn’t want to attempt a fasciotomy with my swiss army knife. 

So myself and a hotel porter carried Jerry down the stairs, loaded him into a taxi, and took him to the hospital.  He was put into a wheel chair when we got there.  The porter parked him in the waiting room right next to a guy who had nearly severed his thumb from his hand with an axe (or so I gathered from the miming and the bloody wrapping where the thumb should have been).  Within minutes Jerry was in to the see the doctor, who did a 10 second knee exam and then sent us upstairs for an X-ray (which cost 30 pounds).  I took a look at it, and in my opinion as a second year medical student, it looked completely normal.  The doctor concurred.  He prescribed some diclofenac and trypsin/chemotrypsin for the swelling as well as some Egyptian antibiotics.  When I pointed at the swollen calf, he knew enough English to say “edema no problem”.  I guess that’s what we needed to hear.  The consult was 40 pounds and the drugs were 60 pounds.  I tipped the porter 10.  So the whole episode cost 140 pounds ($28).  Hardly worth claiming.  We were back in the hotel less than an hour after we had left.  Efficient system. 

Jerry has been resting in the room ever since.  We will stay until he has recovered to the point where it is safe for him to ride.  According to a translation of the doctor’s note (some of the hotel staff speak English), he should be back on his feet in 3 or 4 days.  He is one lucky guy.


The only damage Jerry’s bike sustained in the crash was some scraping of his left Pelican Case.  We loaded his bike on a truck and Tom and I followed on our motorcycles to a hotel in the closest town (Beni Suef).

Day 30 – Cairo, Egypt


Having fun in Wadi Rum, Jordan

I had heard that Cairo has both the worst drivers and heaviest traffic
in the World. Personally, I didn’t believe that anything could possibly
be worse than Lima, Peru. I was wrong. The craziness started on the
highway on the way in. Big slow moving semis drove in whatever lane
they wanted, which was often the left lane, even when the right was
free. There was no pattern. The faster moving traffic (and there was
lots of that) would have to weave around the trucks. It was customary
for two cars to try to pass semis simultaneously, one on the inside and
one on the outside, even though ostensibly there were only two lanes.
In reality there were as many “lanes” as cars and semis could fit side
by side. Motorcycles didn’t count. Drivers would honk as they came
barreling down on you from behind, expecting you to get out of the way.
I guess it is considered bad etiquette for a motorcycle, which could
fit on the shoulder, to occupy space that otherwise could contain a car (or at least a part of one).

It was after 9 PM when we got to the outskirts of Cairo (yes, we were
riding at night but we thought it was justified because we thought
there would be less traffic and that it would be cool enough so that
our mules wouldn’t overheat in traffic jams). I’m not sure if there was
less traffic, but our mules didn’t overheat. I was still drenched in
sweat though because it definitely wasn’t cool. As we got closer to the
city centre, the traffic became a crawling mass of honking chaos. Every
car tried to squeeze into even the smallest spaces. If a space opened
up, the rule appeared to be if you honk your horn, you have a right to
that space. You just honk and gun it there before the guy beside you
can get in. On motorcycles we were able to filter better than cars, but
even still it was slow going. It took us 2 hours to get downtown to our
hotel (Hotel Luna chosen from the Lonely Planet guide). I couldn’t
imagine having to get around in Cairo on a
daily basis.

We had planned to spend two nights in Cairo because Tom needed to get
his Sudan visa (which could easily take an entire day) and we needed to
get desert knobbly tires for the bikes plus change the oil on Tom’s
bike. Jerry and I had already done that in Yalova, Turkey with the help
of “Bill the Turk” and his gang of Yalova Choppers (whcih they all had
emblazened on their leather jackets). I also had to get all four of my
Pelican case padlocks cut off, but that’s another story.

So this morning we split up: Tom went to get his visa sorted, Jerry
went shopping (and ended up spending time searching for a stolen wallet
but I’ll let him tell about that), and my job was to handle the bike
maintenance. Luckily the guys working at the hotel spoke English and
knew of a motorcycle repair district that was nearby. They drew me a
map and I set out on Tom’s bike thinking it would be good to get the
repair shop (when I found one) started on his because it needed the
most work.

The traffic was so bad that even on a motorcycle (which can often
squeeze into places where cars can’t), it took me an hour just to go a
couple of kilometres. I was glad that I had decided to ditch my helmet
and riding jacket. Crazy traffic or not, I would have died of heat
stroke sooner. The drivers were so crazy and the noise of horns and
engines so overwhelming, that there was nothing to do but grin. It was
so ludicrous to watch people fight over every square inch that I found
myself entertained just watching the show unfold around me. Pedestrians
walked right into 6 “lanes” of traffic as if they were invincible.
Racks of clothes and shoes, surrounded by crowds of shoppers, lined the
sides of the roads, and there was no clear boundary between the road
and the stalls. In some cases I took advantage of the fact that I could
weave my bike through the racks and tables to gain a few car-lengths.
Each car length was worth several minutes at least.

When I finally got to a place that looked like a motorcycle shop
(really a row of bikes with price tags parked on the meridian of a
street), a couple guys standing there took one look at my monstrous
Japanese bike and shook their heads. I’m not sure if they were
affiliated with the bike shop of if they were just motorcycle
enthusiasts. They motioned for me to follow them. They set off into a
mass an outdoor market jammed full of people and goods. My helpers kept
disappearing into the crowd in front of me. I tried to keep up, but I
felt like I was riding onto the set of a chase scene in a Jackie Chan
movie. People kept pushing carts of fruit and clothes right in front of
me. Suddenly the crowd parted and a car was heading right at me. There
was nowhere to go but into a rack of clothes, which I sent sprawling
onto the ground, sending hangers and clothes flying onto the
cobblestones. I was about to get off my bike and help clean up, but the
owner
rushed out from behind another rack, smiled, and waved me on.

I dodged a few more obstacles (a mother pushing a baby carriage,
another oncoming car, some more racks of clothes) and finally caught up
with my helpers. They led me through a maze of narrow alleys before
finally dropping me off at a bike accessory shop whose owner actually
spoke decent English. He welcomed me to Egypt (as so many people have
done) and set out to help me in any way he could. When he found out
what I was looking for (new tires), he called his son out from the back
who jumped on a motorcycle. Chase scene take two. This time I avoided
all the obstacles.

When we arrived at the parts shop, I no longer had any idea where I
was. No one spoke English, but I was able to communicate that I wanted
new tires by points and gestures. An old man disappeared into the maze,
and returned 5 minutes later with a front tire that was exactly the
right size (amazingly) but obviously purely a street tire. We were
headed for Sudan and miles of sand and dirt. How could I communicate
that I wanted kobblies? I spotted a quad with the right tread and after
pointing at its tires, the old man went on another mission. This time
he brought back a tire that would work, although I had no idea of the
quality as I had never heard of the “Duro” brand before.

Once I had managed to indicate that I wanted 3 rear and 3 front tires,
I sent the man on another mission. I needed new brake pads because my
caliper had seized up quickly destroying two sets of pads (and wrecking
my fuel economy by having the brakes permanently applied). Tom cleverly
suggested we take it apart and lubricate everything. Since then it
seems to have been working properly, but I had gone through all my
spares and the current set would definitely not make it all the way to
Cape Town. I was shocked when the old man came back a few minutes later
with exactly the right pads. I think there are about 3 KLR650s in Cairo
at the moment. It was a lucky find. The only explanation is that other
local bikes must use the same style.

The total for the 6 tires and set of brake pads was 1860 Egyption
pounds (about $370). I didn’t have this kind of money on me and they
only accepted cash. I communicated that I needed a bank machine. The
old man called a kid over and I got on the back of his bike. He took me
to a traffic choked street and hailed me a cab (which already had a
fare inside – it seems that cab sharing is normal here) and explained
in Arabic that I needed a bank. Off we went. I tried to find a
landmark, but it was just a swirl of colour, people, and nondescript
buildings.

Getting the money and returning to the shop (and Tom’s bike) would turn
into a 4 hour ordeal. My bank card wouldn’t work in the first two bank
machines I tried. The third and fourth were out of service. I finally
hailed another taxi, but the driver didn’t understand what I needed,
even when I showed him my bank card. Luckily a guy passing on the
sidewalk who spoke English overheard my feeble attempts to communicate
and came over to translate. It would sit in the taxi for over an hour
(not really going very far, but you can’t get anywhere fast in a car in
Cairo). I had no idea where he was taking me or whether he had
understood what I wanted in the first place. I was starting to feel
defeated when we passed the hotel Luna, and a bunch of ATMs right next
door. I said I wanted to get out, but the taxi driver didn’t
understand. He was still clutching my bank card and was pointing at
RBC. He had been trying to find a Royal Bank in Cairo! I opened the door, paid him 10 pounds (which is $2 but I had no idea what the
actual fare was and he seemed very happy with that amount).

I went to back to the hotel and got my bike (our bikes were parked in
the lobby area) and set off to return to the shop where Tom’s bike was
parked and to pay for the tires. Except I couldn’t find my way back. I
found myself in a maze of dirt alleyways filled with garbage and
livestock and smelling of sewer. There were no motorcycle shops to be
found. I kept circling, but as soon as I got out of one maze I would
spend a half an hour on a traffic clogged street just going a few
blocks. Then I would get lost in antother maze of alleyways. I finally
decided it would be quicker to walk across all of Cairo than to ride in
the traffic. I parked my bike and set out on foot. I was trying to
retrace my steps through the Jackie Chan sets that I had rode through
that morning, but it all looked the same. I was just about ready to
give up and think of a new plan when I rounded a corner and saw Tom’s
bike parked where I had left it. What a pleasant sight
that was. I made circling motions to explain my hours long absence and
they smiled because I’m sure they knew exactly what had happened. Now
where did I leave Rosa?

The next step was finding a mechanic to put on the tires. I was
directed to a stall where a couple of guys would end up working on our
bikes for hours. They seemed to really enjoy it. I guess they didn’t
often get to work on giant Japanese bikes. They offered me tea and even
a full meal at supper time. When I went back to get Jerry’s bike, Tom
was back from the embassy, his mission accomplished. He rode with me on
Jerry’s bike back to the shop, which I found after only one wrong turn.
This is after getting a good feel for the area by walking back to the
hotel from there. I thought a 25 minute walk was better than an hour
taxi ride to go the same distance.

When the bikes were done (tires, air filters cleaned, Tom’s oil
changed, and they even fixed the circuits on my dashboard), one of the
mechanics (and his buddy) offered to ride Jerry’s bike back to the
hotel with us to save us a trip (and to go for a joyride it turned
out). I started off leading, but soon the mechanic dude took the lead
and took us over the Nile (away from our hotel) on a nice little tour.
I knew he was having fun when he popped a monster wheelie, nearly
sending his buddy flying off the back. The traffic going back across
the bridge was a nightmare. Somehow the mechanic dude got between the
cars, but the spaces between the cars seemed to close up behind him.
When I finally got across the bridge, he was waiting there with Tom
with his hands up – wondering how it could have possibly taken me so
long. Maybe he was just crazier than me.

That assumption would turn out to be correct. When I motioned the
direction we needed to go, he took the lead again and took us on a
“short cut” through sheep filled alleyways. When we finally emerged
onto a major street, we were again headed in the wrong direction. I
pointed back the way we needed to go. I was shocked when he backed the
bike up to the curb and turned around – right into 6 “lanes” of
oncoming (albeit jammed) traffic. Like in Guatemala when we were
following Kike as he split lanes against oncoming traffic with only
inches of clearance, I couldn’t believe this was actually happening. He
was on Jerry’s bike, so there was nothing to do except follow him. I
had to avoid running into a policeman standing in the street as I
turned my bike around. In fact I rode right around him as I headed the
wrong way down a six lane thoroughfare. He was completely unconcerned.
The mechanic dude started honking Jerry’s horn at the cars facing us to
get them to back up or move to the side to let us through, as if he had
every right to be there and what where they doing in our way anyway?
When I found myself between two buses moving the opposite direction as
me, I found it so unbelievable that I laughed out loud. Welcome to
Egypt indeed.

PS – I have uploaded a few new pictures here.