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Ancient Egypt?

February 22, 2010

The room was stark white. An unsteady fan whirred above my head providing a welcome breeze, and an empty desk separated me from a rotund man with the most impressive moustache I had ever seen. I wanted to touch it to see if it was alive, but I wanted a Sudanese visa more so I resisted. He seemed bored, or maybe lethargic from the soporific heat of another February day in Aswan – it was nudging 40 degrees. Behind him was a large landscape photo of the Nile weaving its way through towering sand dunes, while a pyramid stood proud in the distance.

“Where is that?” I quizzed him.

“Sudan,” he replied, as if I had just asked a stupid question. It turned out that I had. Not only was I in the Sudanese Embassy, where they were unlikely to be advertising Yemen’s sandy virtues, but there was a title at the top of the poster that read ‘Sudan.’

“Mumtez!” I offered.

This time he was more animated.”Yes, my country is a beautiful country. You speak arabic? Where you from?”

“Inghilterra…” I replied. He was impressed. He wasn’t to know I had just one word remaining in my Arabic arsenal.  

“Aah David Beckham, Manchester City, Muhammed Al-Fayed!” he bellowed.

This collection of names surprised me, particularly Manchester City. Beckham and Al-Fayed OK, but Manchester City? My fears were confirmed when he said he used to support Manchester United. This man was clearly a glory fan prone to sudden changes of allegiance, and as the fate of my jaunt through the desert was in his hands, I decided, despite our blossoming friendship, that I would quieten down until he had stamped my passport with a visa to enter his country. I handed him a letter from Her Majesty’s Government stating that were happy to recommended me for entry into Sudan. Half an hour later, as I walked out of the embassy thanks to Manchester man’s rubber stamp, I chuckled at the sense of parting with $100 in order to travel through a country embroiled in civil war armed only with a very poor getaway vehicle, a puncture repair kit and a cricket bat.

Truthfully, I will be hundreds of kilometres away from danger zones like Darfur and Southern Sudan. I am very excited about the Nubian desert, a 1,000 kilometre stretch from Wadi Halfa in the north to the capital, Khartoum where it’s essential to be largely self-sufficient. There is no road in parts, only sandy tracks. After 4 weeks in the post from England, a package with malaria tablets, mosquito nets, water filter and other desert essentials arrived yesterday in Aswan, so I’m ready to go. I am heading south with four other British cyclists who set out from Cairo last week and are on their way to South Africa to watch Rio Ferdinand’s England win the World Cup. They will be my first cycling companions since the rains of Hungary, when James Gilmour embarrassed me with his superior pedal power. As well as looking forward to having more than a dictaphone for company, I am also relishing the chance to measure my fitness against my new companions. I met up with them this afternoon and they all look fitter than me which isn’t a good start.

I have only been in Egypt for 10 days. Although I have just scratched the surface of one of the world’s oldest civilizations, it’s not a country that has captured my imagination. I have still really enjoyed myself though, and have found Egyptians to have a fantastic sense of humour. But I guess they need humour to cope with such hordes of tourists. To be a tourist here is to be one amongst thousands of others, most in air-conditioned buses and plenty in England football shirts. I have found myself yearning to be a traveller here in the days when Manchester United flags didn’t adorn the sterns of traditional Nubian feluccas, and when MacDonalds didn’t occupy prime spot overlooking one of the most scenic stretches of the Egyptian Nile. Fresh from the rugged wilderness of the Jordanian desert south of the Dead Sea, it has been quite a shock.

Such a shock, that I decided to take a 3 day ‘time-out’ to visit a friend who lives and works in the luxury gated resort of El Gouna on the Red Sea coast. As soon as I escaped the heat of the tent and began to enjoy the air-conditioned luxury of Becky’s villa, my immune system packed up and I began to fight off the flu. I spent my time recuperating by watching Monty Python and Planet Earth. Michael Palin featured heavily last week, because I also watched him in his more sedate role as independent traveller, journeying from the Arctic to Antarctica in his television series Pole to Pole. After about 2 months, he catches the boat from Aswan to Wadi Halfa, the same weekly 18 hour ferry that I am catching tomorrow (Monday), and continues into the Nubian desert to Khartoum by train. There will be no train for me, but just like him I hope to enjoy a cold beer overlooking the Nile on arrival in the Sudanese capital in a couple of weeks. If the rumours of Sudanese hospitality are to be believed, this leg might be a highlight of the whole trip. I hope so.

As a result of cycling through the desert for a while, there will be no blogs for at least 10 days. If there is one, someone has hacked into my blog account and pretended to be me. Don’t believe them, unless it’s a good blog.  If you liked this blog then sign up for email updates here. Please keep giving to my to charities too! Thanks.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Brian permalink
    February 22, 2010 8:20 am

    Exctinger and excitinger!!
    Fantastic…..Brian

  2. Marian permalink
    February 22, 2010 11:31 am

    Where’s the ginger growth gone or is it just a deceptive photo?

    Following you all the way. Marian x x x x x

  3. Dad permalink
    February 22, 2010 12:32 pm

    I knew that one day you would switch to a decent team and look so happy holding our flag. Just didn’t realise it would be in Asswan! Enjoy the trip to Khartoum and look forward to hearing all about it.

  4. Viv permalink
    February 22, 2010 3:23 pm

    For a minute there I thought I was reading a Somerset Maugham novel…….

    Have fun while you’re away from us over the next couple of weeks and be sure to save up some stories – we love them.

    love Viv x

  5. Nicki permalink
    February 22, 2010 8:31 pm

    Love your work Broomy – take care out there! 🙂

  6. katie permalink
    February 24, 2010 4:09 pm

    You’re in “my” territory now olly! I cannot wait to hear how you cycle through the sand. Our landy saw the sand ladders regularly, especially on the first two days from wadi halfa. It was also in that two days when we set up camp next to the river ready to start cooking supper only to have a local sudanese guy come up with arms waving up and down in crocodile symbol fashion. i think the dog taser won’t keep those away so as pretty as the river looks stay back. And don’t forget to take lots of snaps (geddit?)

    Ugh, the jealousy. You will find that your coffees (no beers dude..) are paid for before you’ve even reached into your pocket. Wonderfully generous and hospitable nation as you said…

    Take care and good luck xx

  7. stuart permalink
    February 24, 2010 10:25 pm

    you didnt say whether you had stroked his moustache after you got the visa!!
    I gather you will be on doxycyclin for malaria.make sure you have plenty of water to take them with. Louise got a serious oesophagus ulcer co she took it too dry!! Keep peddling andd hope your not on sand.Simon is off to Bali today we saw him in Sydney and he was very well LOL S

  8. March 6, 2010 5:52 am

    Hi!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I’ll hate you forever if you dont remeber the bold and 100% handsome – kind of Brad Pitt look alike – from Norway (on Nasser Lake/ Going for South Africa)

    Just wanted to say that you are doing great. Have read your older blogs, seen the photos, and are smiling all the way… Your pen is very good and I like the whole consept!

    Soooo, you ca be very proud of what you’r doing!!!

    This is of coures and beacuse of this fact; The Norwegian Vikings was in your country some years ago, and that you are full of that super DNA !!!….:-)

    Will follow!

    A big fan !
    Bjorn, Norway – South Africa for refugees
    http://www.theshirt2010.net

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