As I crouch down in the Sahara desert sand next to an old building just to the side of the road near Beni Suez, I catch a peek of a truck load of police who drive by looking for me. They insist on driving/escorting me and stopping me from cycling. They couldn’t believe why I would want to sleep in the desert alone, why I did not have a motorcycle or a male companion and why I would be OK alone . I said “No, thank you”, but they insisted. “Can I go please”, I asked and I did go, with a 50 meters lead and hid from them behind a building by the side of the road. I figured if they caught me, I would pretend I was peeing.
Many well meaning guest house owners, motorists, and pedestrians stopped me on my way out of Cairo to say “No, not safe No No No, not safe”. However, an equal number of people stopped me to say “Yes, Yes, Yes” and gave me the thumbs up of encouragement, waved and shouted welcome to Egypt. I followed my instincts knowing many cyclists this month had cycled the road and I kept on pedaling into the ‘is this possible, realm of slightly cautious delightful curiosity.”
Every 50km or so, the police checkpoints got easier and the entourage of people trying to discourage me thinned out as I ventured south leaving the Great Pyramids behind, No, No. No Cycling…Thank You Sir but Yes, Yes, Yes, the scene repeats. The police called down the road concerning the girl alone on a bicycle, the many police at checkpoint number 1 were laughing and told checkpoint 2 that they tried to drive me but they couldn’t find me. By checkpoint 2,3,4,5+ they only suggested no cycling, I insisted yes cycling and the checkpoints went from mandatory to as you wish misses.
As you wish escorts are the kind of chaperones I get offered quite often, a well meaning gesture of chivalry teetering on the culturally appropriate boundaries of mandatory. It is considered highly promiscuous by some people in many areas for a woman to be in public alone, a human rights rant on the confines of women’s freedoms masquerading as a safety hazard, I will leave for another time.
Back to checkpoints, I showed them my Iran visa, my 2 Pakistan visas and showed them my name in Arabic and stood there and politely but firmly said "No" in Arabic. Please don’t get the wrong idea, I was pushing to be able to sovereign cycle and freedom camp unescorted in areas where other cyclists that I just met past through on a bicycle not a truck. The insisting officers wanted to drive me for my safety from the desert elements saving me from myself.
Checkpoint number 3 searched me quite suspiciously and found my gigantic hunting knife that I found on the road last year in Malaysia and they thought the huge knife was a great idea and was very funny. The police then made a phone call, started laughing and gestured to offer a ride in a police truck, already knowing what I was going to say. I smirked and said "Su" (No in Arabic)) and this cleared the way for check point number 4. The police put up my hood on my black shirt which covered my head and made me look like I was wearing hijab, about six police and I had a laugh and then the police boss said "Go, Go, Go" and he did not make me stop to register. I was told the entire squadron of police up and down the road had already called about me.
I camped without my tent for the week under the dry Sahara desert sky. Through a trail of checkpoints, an insane sandy tail wind that was too strong for a tent, I emerged into Luxor. I learned a thing or two in Pakistan and Iran about well meaning paternalistic treatment and how to handle my solo status. There is one grateful bicycle tourist in Luxor right now smiling at the possible, who got to pedal and camp in the desert the entire way there. (Best guess about 750km).
Special note: I took the Asyut Western desert road that goes west of the Nile road and then cut over to the Nile road in Luxor (Asyut Western Desert Rd, Beni Suez, Asyut, Mallawi to Luxor) Also, many police driving the road stopped and suggested I take a ride with them. Don’t get the wrong idea; these are areas that other people just crossed while cycling.