The past days have been busy. Getting around in Cairo – even by taxi – is exhausting. Gridlock is the norm. We’ve explored the central city… did some shopping for warmer clothes. It was sunny and a bit chilly up until yesterday when it turned cold with a gale force wind – mercifully blowing from the west which means the riders will have it on their backs as they head east to the Red Sea.
Shared an excellent shwarma for lunch one day, bought from a street seller and eaten sitting on a railing overlooking Talaat Harb Square. We decided to be careful but not precious about what we eat and the schwarma looked – and tasted – wonderful. We’ve been relying on our taxi driver Mustapha, to show us where we should go and to get us there, and we’ve eaten some wonderful Egyptian food in local restaurants…fresh fish, and the best rice and tahini we’ve ever tasted.
We’ve been to El Khalili, the main bazaar in Cairo – tiny passages, hundreds of small shops, thousands of shoppers, nearly all local people, some pushing through the crowd with huge loads of goodness knows what on their heads. The only difficult street sellers we’ve encountered have been around a riverside restaurant and at the pyramids… tourist country. In the bazaar Egyptians greeted us with ‘Welcome’ and maybe an invitation to spend our money at their stall but weren’t aggressive or at all intimidating. Generally everyone has been very friendly and welcoming.
There are very few tourists around. From what we’ve read, the number in the country has dropped by 50% or more in some places. There’s a lot of dilapidation in Central Cairo overlaying old time colonial and European elegance. Construction on many high rise buildings seems to have just stopped one day when most buildings were about 80% complete. So you’ll see occupied apartments on the lower floors but no finished roof on top. It makes for some fascinating facades.
By now almost all the riders are here. The number seems to vary but it looks like 32 will be doing the whole trip and 6-8 will do one or more sections. This morning was bike assembly. All need to be unboxed, assembled, tyres pressurized and checked out …in a ride around the swimming pool. Only a very few people are claiming to be fit or ready for the ride!
You can race or you can ride the Tour. The racers have cut off times, time trials etc. The rest of the group is riding to see the continent and have some fun. Judging by the conversation around the breakfast table there’s going to be a fair amount of the latter.
There are riders from every continent. The young Australian man who came with two pairs of short, three T-shirts and walks around (smiling!) in the cold in bare feet; the Capetown rider who has branded gear and a matching bike; the lady from North Carolina, USA who sold her car to pay for the trip of her dreams; the German rider who goes ‘minimalist’ with a tiny 1.5Kg tent and has a solo ride from Uganda to Capetown in his cv; and the US navy retired fighter pilot. Interesting bunch!
There are a noticeable number of ‘veteran’ riders of both sexes in the group and I think there will be a strong ‘back row’ in the ride. They might take strain on the hills and off road sections but there will be a lot of banter and fun. At present they’re all vying for the place at the back of the pack…although Andy is talking of getting into his stride (?) over the first month…and then he’s racing!
Racing gives him sectional times so he can compare himself with other riders…the competitive spirit still burns bright!
Things changed for me a couple of days ago when he said to me ‘Why don’t you join the ride? You could ride from Vic Falls to Windhoek…’ Breaking my collar bone (falling off my bike) put paid to any thoughts I might have had of doing the whole ride – never mind getting my head around getting fit or being away for 4 months. But training with Andy and getting caught up in the excitement – and trepidation – with the group this week, has definitely got me thinking.
The Vic Falls – Windhoek section is 9 days of riding with a rest day at Maun. It’s starting to feel irresistible…and getting seriously bike fit gives me something to focus on when Andy is away. More, I suspect, on this later…