The road to Cairo
Trip Start Oct 08, 2010
13Trip End Ongoing
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Mourad picked us up in his VW Golf with a trailer attached to the back for our bags and we set off along the dusty and potholed roads of Dahab with a bag of sandwiches, some biscuits, a chocolate bar (which later became liquified) crisps and lots and lots of water.
Just as we were nearing the edge of Dahab, Mourad realised he'd forgotten the spare wheel for the trailer - so we turned around and went back (it seemed like a better option than having to leave the trailer somewhere in the middle of the desert if we got a puncture!)
On the road again and this time we were out of Dahab and following the road north, towards Taba and Nuweiba.
We were expecting the drive to take between six and seven hours (considerably better than the 13 hour bus journey we'd have faced otherwise).
Dahab is surrounded by mountains on one side and the sea on the other, so we followed the winding road along through the dusty red sandstone peaks rising on either side.
We passed a few wrecked trucks at the side of the road - apparently some of them have been there for months - but for the most part, didn't meet too many other cars - mostly just minibuses taking tourists to St Catherine's and a few large trucks.
The first place we reached after driving through the mountains was Nuweiba - a beach resort with lots of wooden huts along its sandy shores - although many of them looked totally deserted.
Mourad explained that it had been a favourite spot among the Israelis but since some of the attacks, people have been coming less and less.
Taba was just a short distance further up the coast and there were more signs of life here - a few tourists making the most of the crystal clear blue waters to cool down.
It was really hot and I was very glad we hadn't left earlier and been travelling in the full heat of the sun.
Just outside Taba, we had to stop at a checkpoint (by no means the first on our journey) although this one was a bit busier as the road forks - one heading to the north of Sinai and one to the Israeli border.
Once we were through, the landscape quickly changed. The mountains began to flatten out and we were surrounded by sandstone cliffs - streaked with different colours, each telling a story of years gone by.
The wind has shaped some of the boulders and stacks into strange shapes on the horizon and there's the odd green tree randomly dotted among them.
The further we drove, the flatter the landscape became and after going uphill, we were driving across a large plateau.
Mourad explained that the plateau continues into Israel in one direction and the north east of Sinai in the other.
Either way, for miles and miles of dusty road, there was very little to see except tufts of green bushes here and there and pylons marching across the sand.
Every now and then, we'd pass what looked like half-finished buildings, some missing roofs, many missing windows, all of them seemingly deserted.
As the sun went down, it took me a while to get accustomed to the dusky light - rocks and trees seem to make much more interesting shapes in the dark.
We hit a few bumps as we went along, sand gets blown into the road by the desert winds and piles up along the edge - and at times in the middle - of the road.
I'd be dozing off when I'd be awakened by a bump and a loud bang - we'd all look up, look back but the trailer would still be there - with all our things in it.
Because of the darkness, it felt a lot later than it actually was when we stopped in a small town for more fuel and some food.
Carrying on, we gradually came down from the plateau and you could see the lights of Suez and its mighty canal glimmering in the distance.
I didn't realise, but there is actually a tunnel under the Suez Canal and this was our route to Cairo - I have to admit that a fell asleep shortly after, only to be woken by the beeping of horns as we reached the edge of Cairo.
I wouldn't like to drive here - it's aggressive and pretty unnerving, with cars just barging into gaps wherever they see fit. Thankfully Mourad's used to the roads here so it didn't take us long to weave our way between various lanes and get around the queue at one junction.
From here, the roads were pretty clear - although I was informed that this only happens on a Sunday when many places are closed.
It was interesting watching the city pass by out of the window - one moment you'd be passing a grand and opulent building, sometimes bordering on gaudy, with bright lights, the next it would be a dilapidated office building or some flats.
We drove towards downtown and then headed for Giza, crossing the NIle as we went. In the darkness it looked very pretty, dotted with lights from boats.
Taking the bridge over the Nile also raised us up so we could see the skyline - Mourad told us that Cairo is also known as the City of a Thousand Towers due to all the mosques and their minarets.
Although that name dates back centuries, it still holds true today - in amongst all the skyscrapers and apartment blocks, you can still see the spires piercing the skyline.
It was late when we arrived but, as we were all hungry, we emptied the car at Mourad's flat and then set off to buy Mahalbeya (I've probably spelt that totally wrong), which Ruben described as "rice pudding without the rice" - sounds odd but it's pretty amazing - and some chicken sandwiches - probably more like a kebab in England but really yummy.
Even as we fell asleep well after midnight, the horns were still beeping in the distance and you could hear the hubub of life carrying on in the city just outside the window.