I appear to be back in Dover

Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Egypt  ,
Sunday, February 4, 2007

It was three days ride from Cairo to Port Said, where I had arranged to board a cargo ship as an 'extra-numery' crew member, signing off at Mumbai. There are many good rationalisations for choosing this course, rather than riding through the Sudanese desert, lawless Djibouti and the desert of the southern Arabian Peninusla, but the reason for it is that I wanted to ride on a cargo ship.

My first stop was Zagazig, which is by far my favourite place-name so far on the trip (I think Badgers Mount still wins overall). The ride to get there was awful for the first 40km, on the hard-shoulder of the principle motorway between Cairo and the Delta, but as soon as I turned off that road I was on quiet, good roads, surrounded by fields of 'purest green'.  Zagazig was a pleasant enough town. It has a university, so there were plenty of affluent young people around. There's also money coming from a factory on the outskirts of town and all the sweatshops making papyri (tourist tat for sale throughout Egypt).

My hotel was one of the worst I've slept in- en-suite is not a plus when the bathroom is a 'roach infested hole, so being charged extra for it irked somewhat; as did the attempt to charge me for leaving the bike among some building detritus on a half-built balcony and constant demands for baksheesh. (these last were eventually silenced by promising 'if I'm happy when I leave, I'll give you some baksheesh. Needless to say, I wasn't and didn't.)

Ishmailya was an even more pleasant town, having had the advantage of colonial occupancy. Them British sure new how to build a house that keeps the outside world out. It was a great relief to have fresh air, wide avenues and a canal disingenuously called 'sweetwater'. (dug to bring freshwater to those working on the Suez canal, now it's contents could hardly be called 'water', let alone 'sweet'.) There was also a lively town-center for whiling away the evening. None of these things were what made Ishmaelya hard to leave, however.

The Suez Canal is one of Egypt's biggest industries, and, after the Aswan Dam, is one of the countries most vulnerable assets. For these reasons it has been s heavily militarized zone pretty much since it was dug. I got 10km down the 'towpath' road before I reached the checkpoint. Papers I didn't have were demanded, and argument was clearly not going to be brooked.

So, plan B. Back at the town I caught a ferryboat across the canal and set off along the desert road in Sinai. This was actually a very pleasant route to begin with. No traffic and the unusual sight of huge cargo ships seemingly sailing through the desert. After 50km I reached the Mubarak bridge, intending to cross back to the mainland for the last 50km. Before crossing the bridge I stopped to buy snacks, returning the waves of the bridge's security detail. Odd that the police were wearing army combats here. And why are they running towards me?
-Passport!  :He takes it
-Camera!   :He takes it
-Where you come from?
-England
-Where you come from?
-Cairo
-Where you go?
-Port Said
-You have Egyptian friend?
-Only you (hopefully)
-You can't cross that bridge alone

This discussion continued for a while, until by showing them the contents of my camera I pursuaded them I was in fact a tourist, rather than an extremely cunning spy. I conceded that I wasn't going to cross the bridge, which also helped them relax (I was pursuaded by the promise that if I did cross I would be arrested as soon as I reached the far side). Gradually the discussion became more constructive, six soldiers and I trying to solve the problem of how I should get to Port Said without retracing my steps 50km. Eventually someone chirped up
-You can just go straight
-What?
-This road, goes to Port Said. Just keep on this road.
-Really?
-Yes
-This road. That I was on originally. I can just keep going. There was, in fact, no need to even think about crossing this bridge? And I've been here an hour. And I said at the beginning that I wanted to go to Port Said. And you knew this?
-Yes.
-Thanks.

So I trundled on, arriving in Port Said 50km later.

Six days with nothing to do. The military museum occupied one afternoon, wondering around pictures of Egyptian heroes, an honour they almost all won by blowing up as many British bastards as possible. This is probably a trend that will increase in the countries to come, where Britain's noble fights for democracy are less well remembered than our... other fights.

Port Said was a cold, often wet and windy place to have nothing to do. I quite enjoyed being in slightly wintry conditions, though admittedly this was mostly because I knew it would only be for a few days. I stayed the first night in a decent hotel, on account of my guide-book's only budget recommendation being full.(not in this case as a consequence of the guidebook recommendation, I didn't see another tourist all week). I spent the evening bed hunting, eventually I found a small dark hotel called 'Mereland', two pounds per night and a bed available for the week, it looked promising. It wasn't until I told the owner that I was moving from the 'Hotel Delaposte' and he replied
-But... Delaposte is clean!
that I knew I'd found my place.

Port Said offers good seafood, good air, and plenty of cafes where I could indulge, for the last times, Egypt's greatest inventions- chai (tea), carcaday (hibiscus tea), sahleb (nuts and milk and sultanas, somehow thick as custard, sometimes chocolatey, always amazing) and, of course, shisha.
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