“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever."
Sick In Cairo
So we found ourselves back in Cairo and it was decision time. We reviewed our finances and decided we could muster up some cash for a short stint diving in the Red Sea. We had repaired the bike with an enormous and solid Egyptian wheel and so the bike was roadworthy again.
Just as we made our preparations Dudley started to feel unwell and was running a temperature. Unable to care for him in a tent we took a small room in Cairo with a fan and breakfast ( if you can call a hard boiled egg left at the door every morning breakfast). I went out in the day to get supplies. Unfortunately with no rear guard it was a bruising and angry time. Slowly he reported feeling better and we upped sticks and set course East towards the Suez canal.
Sexual Assault Revisited
We met our first issue at the tunnel under the Suez. The police guard declared bicycles were not allowed. He wanted us to take a detour of 200 km north to the ferry and 200 km back again, when there was a perfectly good 4 lane road under the canal. We were unimpressed and promptly sat down to make tea and wait out the resistance. A guard came up to me and gestured for me to follow. Dudley was fetching water. I thought maybe he had papers for me to fill in and followed him to a low building. It was a toilet block and as I turned at the door to tell him I did not need the toilet he pushed me through the door and followed me in all hands and lips grabbing and smooching. I screamed and stamped on his foot as hard as I could. Dudley heard me and ran up and the guard then took one look and ran off into the desert.
We were now full of righteous belligerence and demanded the captain be found. When he found out about the guard he sent someone to find him but he was no where to be found. Obviously embarrassed he then decided the road was no longer forbidden to bikes and we packed up and cycled on. I guess it was a means to an end but again highlights the sexual threat which always seemed just around the corner. The police and guards were often the worse offenders, as we learnt from many similar stories around the camp fire. I would not have liked to be a woman alone in Egypt in 1984.
Playboys For Water
Once over the Suez we were in the Sinai again, but on a bike and not a car. We had to negotiate all the army road blocks. They were occasionally difficult. They wanted to know where we were going. We just said Sharm. The fact that a primary school child could work out we would not make it in under 4 days never dawned on them. They sternly admonished us not to stop in the desert, and we nodded solemnly. We managed to get water at these posts which was vital but it was often salty and brackish and we had to drink it holding our noses and quickly and try and avoid vomiting it back.
They all wanted playboy magazines in exchange for water and were clearly most nonplussed to hear we did not carry such things!
We were both feeling exhausted, especially Dudley, but it was nearly 3 months since we were last cycling regularly so we decided he was just not cycling fit.
It was intensely hot so we would cycle from sunrise to about 11.00 then wheel into the desert and set up a sunshade to rest behind the dunes until late afternoon before cycling another 3-4 hours. We could not carry much food so we ate pasta flavored with stock cubes and lots of tea. We slept in the desert. Finally after 5 days we arrived in Sharm el Sheik.
On the fourth day we were cycling through a mountainous area when an army truck full of soldiers motored past. We stopped at the top of the pass for tea and were intrigued to see the army truck disgorge the soldiers into a rocky trench above us. They were all sporting wooden guns and making gun noises at each other. Strange. We left. At the next pass they again overtook us and did the exact same thing. Eventually we decided they were in training. Real weapons seemed in short supply! Probably a good thing.
In Sharm there was only 1 hotel, in disrepair. If you stayed anywhere else you had to pay a fee towards the hotel. We enquired at the dive shop on the beach and they told us to pitch in the little shade shelter on the beach in front of the shop. Many tourists just camped on the beach but the tourist police had a habit of coming and moving you on, usually in the middle of the night without warning. It meant we often moved up and down the beach, but always ended back in the same spot.
We settled in and Dudley went to shower. He came back aghast. How could I not have noticed he was bright yellow? And sure enough, he was indeed a bright sunflower shade. It was easier to see now the dirt was washed off! Suddenly the fatigue and fever made sense. He had Hepatitis A from all the dodgy water. Maybe he did not close his mouth in the Nile after all!
This began our first (and only) major heath crisis. We were in the middle of nowhere, living on a beach with no resources or communication with the outside world. I have never seen Dudley so sick before or since. He lay in the tent day after day in the baking heat. I fed him water and tuna omelette and went snorkeling. Waiting waiting. Slowly he seemed to improve but he was as weak as a kitten. I remember one day when I persuaded him he needed to get up and walk with me to the cafe 100 m away. I held him up and off we set. It took 3 hours to get there and back. He could not put one foot in front of another, he was finished.
Anyway this too passed eventually and after about 2 weeks he could sit up and walk short distances. We made friends with the guys at the dive centre and I started taking the odd dive with them while I waited for Dudley to get stronger.
An Egyptian Army Gynaecologist
We got a reputation for being the local medical advisers and one evening there was a big kerfuffle outside the tent. They came to fetch us to a small housing complex behind the beach. An Egyptian on holiday from Cairo had decided to speed up his barbecue by throwing a can of petrol on it. Not surprisingly the can had exploded and showered him in burning petrol so he had some pretty extensive burns.
We arrived to find the local doctor, who informed us proudly he had served as a gynaecologist in the war (that was confusing!). He had rolled him in sand to put out the flames and then sprayed the resulting sandy mess with plastic skin before injecting him with enough barbiturate to knock out a horse. He then left smiling, his job was done! The patient was in a terrible and painful mess. We had no medical equipment. It was clear he would need a hospital, an anaesthetic and a good scrub but there was no hospital in Sinai except the American army base. They had stopped accepting local casualties because they were inundated.
Dudley hitched a ride up to the base on a truck to talk to the medics while I tried to keep everyone calm. It seems he was the spoilt and stupid son of a rich man in Cairo so some help could perhaps be mustered given time, maybe even a private flight out to Cairo. Dudley managed to plead his way into the base and they agreed to take him. We later heard he had been airlifted out to the city. All in a days work in the desert.
Life on the Sinai beach was varied and interesting. Bedouin caravans came past regularly. One family was famous because they had a blonde Swedish girl in the household who was fond of riding her camel naked. Indeed topless and naked was not an uncommon sight in this corner of an otherwise conservative Arabic country. Almost inevitably the culprits were Scandinavians or Israelis. If you saw a naked girl on the beach chances were she was Israeli.
It seemed part of a passive aggressive response to ceding the Sinai back to Egypt. When they set the border post with Israel the Israelis promptly established a nudist beach on the Israeli side of the border which caused so much trouble with the soldiers, the Egyptians moved their border post 5 km back.
Another Attempted Sexual Assault
It perhaps went a way to explaining some of the ongoing sexual harassment. I had my worst encounter in the Sinai while Dudley was sick. I walked to a peninsula to snorkel with friends leaving Dudley in the tent. As the afternoon waned I decided to walk back alone to check on him. In an isolated bay I came across a soldier alone who promptly followed and harassed me and started manhandling me. Maybe I over reacted but I only had a bikini to cover me and convinced I was about to be raped, I screamed, hit out and ran as fast as I could back to the tent. When Dudley saw how upset I was he set out, still yellow as a banana and weak as a kitten, to try and find the culprit. He was long gone. He banged on the door of the local garrison demanding an investigation but they firmly refused to open up. Probably a good thing. It was part of the landscape and bigger than we were.
We met and made friends with a couple running a small local restaurant, Adrian and Caroline. They had come in on one of the yachts. They served the most amazing local fish, including superb fresh tuna. Adrian agreed to teach us navigation and we spent many days listening to lectures and poring over massive maps with sextants and compasses. I am sure it was part of another crazy plan we had in mind to set sail somewhere. I cannot remember now!
As soon as Dudley was well enough he joined me with the dives. Many dives were shore dives, the coast was still pristine then. Indeed we could just walk out of our tent and we were in coral reef. We had amazing adventures and our first taste of warm water coral diving. The water was so clean it was hard to judge depth. Indeed there were hard core divers there who regularly dived to 100m and there were plenty of accidents. One girl bent on her first dive, to 80 m no less. Regulations were blurry. Dudley found a huge Phoenician anchor and amphoras embedded in the rocks. Mighty manta rays glided by.
Diving Ras Mohammed by boat
We dived the wreck of the Yolanda at Ras Mohammed when it was still intact. It carried a cargo of toilets and has since slipped off the coral ledge into deep water. We were entranced and blew all the remaining money we had to see as much as we possibly could.
Broke and Ill
We planned to work in Israel if we could and recoup our fortunes there, but then disaster struck, and one morning I too woke up yellow. Now we were both sick, probably not fit for physical work for a month or more, and broke. We made a strategic decision and decided to fly out home from TelAviv.
We had experienced unbelievable beauty, history and culture but there is always a danger of being “ templed out” in more ways than one. We saw a lot of travelers en route who had set out for a 6 months trip and were still going 5 or 10 years later. Instead of an inspiration they were scary, unfocused, they had no goals or product and most were happy to spend their days smoking pot and staring into the middle distance. They did not appreciate the amazing scenes around them.
To truly appreciate your good fortune you need contrast and a reality check. So maybe travel should be tempered with time in the real world. It adds an extra edge of intensity to your enjoyment, to know that it must end. That does not mean we do not advocate very long holidays indeed, it is just we seem to get more out of it when we have a goal and a vision and some contrast. And anticipation for the next adventure is so much sweeter. This trip set the standard for our future travels, reminded us of the generosity and kindness of people across all cultures, and ignited a life long passion.
Total kilometers travelled? Who cares!
Dedicated to all the amazing and generous people we met along the way. You shaped our world.
"Some people come into our life as blessings. Some come in your life as lessons."
We learned many lessons from our boundless blessings. Even now we try to pay just some of the heartwarming generosity we encountered forward. This continues to enrich our travels with old and new friends and much laughter. You know who you are!