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After some deliberation, we decided to cross Egypt through the WesternDesert (the eastern part of the Sahara). At 1800km over 13 days the route was about twice as far as the other routes, but we were enticed by the prospect of desert cycling on quieter roads and away from the police escorts we understood would accompany us on the other routes.

We just needed to get to the edge of the desert at Cairo without being stopped by the police, as the owner of the hotel had said we would be….

Cycling central Cairo would have been madness, so we decided to take a taxi with our bicycles on the roof to the edge of the city and start from there. It was not entirely straightforward to explain to a taxi driver where we wanted to go, but in the end we managed to communicate what we needed and a driver agreed to take us.

At 5.30am we left Cairo in our taxi, were dropped near the edge of the desert and we set off, glad to be on our way again. After a few kilometres we approached the first police checkpoint with some apprehension, but to our relief the police waved us on and we were off!

The road through the desert joined up several oases and the first one was 360 kilometres away, which we needed to ride in three days. We had stocked up on food and water as we had little information about what would be available before the oasis.

As the first morning passed a strong headwind built, which slowed us and we realised that some of the desert cycling would be quite tough. It was however helpful that the road followed a freight railway line because every 30km or so there was a small manned signal post and (as with posts further down the line) we were able to find shade and take tea with the railwayman.

As night was falling we came across an ambulance station, where we were welcomed and given tea and spent the night on the floor of the ambulance garage. It was one of a variety of places we found to sleep/camp in the desert – we also camped at the foot of a communications mast and slept on the floor of a police station (see photos)

On the third day we saw some birds flying across the desert and we realised the first oasis was not far. After resting in the oasis and buying food and water we moved on into the desert, which became more remote and beautiful. The railway stopped and traffic dropped to a few cars and trucks an hour, although there were still occasionally ambulance stations and simple concrete shelters which provided shade. We crossed the black desert and then the white desert – camping in the white desert a highlight, amongst its strange white rock formations.

The toughest part of cycling through the desert was the wind, not the heat. On the long and often straight desert road we battled into headwinds for hours, watching wisps of sand dance along the road and willing the road to turn just a few degrees off the wind to make the cycling easier. But the hard work seemed worthwhile when we turned a corner and tail winds let us glide quickly through the desert with much less effort.

On a few occasions we cycled at night, by choice at times for the cooler conditions and at times by necessity so we could make the next oasis before we ran out of food and water. It was exhilarating to ride under big starry skies, feeling the cooler night breeze on our faces.

Towards the end of the desert, we stopped to cook food and were seen by some police who then followed us to the next town, to the shop where we bought food and water and on the road out of town and then stopped and watched us as we took a break for lunch. It was irritating to be followed so closely after having so much space in the desert, but we realised we’d avoided the worst of police escorts with the route we’d chosen.

We were most apprehensive about the last section of desert because we had been told that it was the most remote, with no places to get food, water or shelter, and it was also directly into the strongest headwind that we’d faced. We needed to stock up for three days’ cycling, which meant each of us carrying around 14 litres of water and lots of food.

To start with the going was very tough and we struggled to make any progress into the wind, but shortly into the second day we had some luck just when we needed it and the wind dropped so that it was lighter than anywhere else we’d been in the desert and we made good progress.

Then, a day later, we arrived at the Nile valley – the sounds and smells a contrast with the dry simplicity of the desert. We quickly arrived at the town of Edfu, where we visited the Temple of Horus and the next day cycled to the outskirts of Aswan, where we are now, resting in a Nubian-style mud-brick house.

We have to wait here until 22 November and the next boat that we can take to Sudan. We are looking forward to some rest, but are also a little frustrated that we need to wait so long before we can move on. Still, for me (Chris) finally a chance to read some books – my luxury items!

We will also now change the tyres on our bicycles to the heavy duty tyres we’ve been carrying as we have read that there is a lot of sand and gravel on the first few hundred kilometres in Sudan…

It will probably be early December before we can blog again, which we hope to be able to do in Khartoum.