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February 02 Issue


Al Humphreys
Make it to Khartoum and I can make it through Africa.

I have now ridden over 5000 miles in my quest to cycle around the world
Please have a look at my web site and spare a moment to read of my latest adventures as I head South towards Cape Town.
Best Wishes, Al

"If you were to die right now, how would you feel about your life?" -Fight Club
Motorway fly-overs brush second floor bedroom windows, the living compete with the dead for real estate amongst the city's cemeteries and a fine view of the Pyramids is to be had from the tacky interior of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Cairo. After the crush it made a change to hurtle south along the quiet Red Sea road, a hefty tailwind blasting me 190km one day.

Most of the coast has been vomited into a half-built hell of unfinished hotels, the windowless hulks gazing out blankly like fish on a slab. So El Gouna was a real surprise, a tastefully built fantasy oasis amongst the tat. It certainly wasn't Egypt but it wasn't really anywhere else either. It was the final break to psych myself for the Sudan, a break of beer, food, fun and no-one wheedling for 'baksheesh'.

And an even purer escape (courtesy of Alberto and Claudia, scuba-diving amongst tentacles of sunlight, swathes of colour and a heady blanket of silence.

Finally after 5 months of fascinating (but frightening) introspection I feel ready to start looking outwards once more, to feel and experience and live the road through Africa. Even more hospitality is offered; hotels galore ( and even a stay at a Sheraton! Fluffy white dressing gowns and complimentary fluffy slippers certainly help reality fade for a while! 8434.4km on a rattling bike cobbled back together with string and a teaspoon, 5months and 3 days of slog, sweat and lots of tears all come to naught: the police order me to take a ride on a convoy. I tried every single strategy but it was impossible to cycle on. So the magic of my journey fragmented as I grovelled down in the vegetable peelings in the back of a lorry. But I cannot pretend that whizzing an effortless 160km whilst reading TE Lawrence was not fun.

Perhaps to atone for my previous capitulation I decided to try and 'run' the next roadblock. I waved and smiled at their shouts of "STOP!", played dumb and pedalled like hell! But a 60kg bicycle is not an ideal getawy vehicle and a commandeered taxi laden with flustered policemen soon overtook me. They were VERY unamused.

The Nile valley is as green as Elland Road was in August, the sky as blue as a late summer's cricket match. Swallows dipped the waters (I wondered whether any of them will be visiting my village this summer?). Fertile, fascinating, exotic and very fast driving: Egypt was in danger of winning back my affections! Luxor soon put that to rights though - the Nile sunset making a pretty backdrop to a thumping headache of.... "Hello, my friend! Where you from? Stop one minute, can I ask you a question? Just look! No hassle! You wanna taxiridefeluccaridehorseridemotorboatridedrugsride? You wanna buy waterpipetshirtgalibayahspicescarpetsgenuinecarvingshashish? Very cheap price! Maybe tomorrow? No hassle!"

I chew sugar cane in Aswan, tearing off the hard, green bark like a panda then crunching the deliciously sweet liquid centre, sucking out its life before spitting out mouthfuls of the woody pith. A long way from "two sugars please". I'm waiting for the weekly ferry to Sudan. Over the past months the Sudan has never strayed far from my waking or sleeping thoughts. (There is only one other thing that has featured so prominently in my thoughts, and she is an infinitely happier and more beautiful thought than riding alone through the desert!) The next month is make or break. Make it to Khartoum and I can make it through Africa. Make it through Africa and I can make it through anything....

Previously on Hacks Al in Damascus

© Al Humphreys 2002
You can follow his adventures by clicking on
5 Continents, 50 Countries, Around the World. On a Bicycle

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