Tempers were getting frayed. A sandstorm was raging in the desert and dozens of cars and lorries had been stopped at the police checkpoint just after the Aswan Old Dam. The road was closed because it was too unsafe to go in the area. I parked Foxtrot and sat in the shade to wait for the road to open.
The officer in charge exercised his authority with much shouting and gesticulating each time one of the lorry drivers approached him and tried to question the stoppage. By now I’d been sitting for more than three hours and I wondered how long they had all been there.
The sandstorm had started the night before as I was cooking my dinner in the roof of the dilapidated hotel that had been my Aswan home for a few days. I saw the cloud coming down the Nile and descending over the city, a thick fog made out of the finest desert sand was switching off the street lights as it advanced. Soon it was impossible to see more than a few metres in front of me and I retreated to my room with its yellowish paint peeling of the walls and the very dodgy wiring.
It had been unusually hot for this time of the year, the mercuy reaching 40C most days and the heat in the room was oppressive. I switched on the Air Conditioning and the old unit sprang into life filling the room with the sound of a car engine but the temperature barely shifted. What a difference this place was compared to Hannah and Trudi’s beautiful apartment in Luxor where they had let me stay for a few days.
I was pondering about this and about the unconditional friendship I had been offered in Egypt by people I knew and people I got to know, when an offer of marriage woke me up from my reverie. The most senior officer at the Checkpoint was standing near me with Am, the policeman in charge of looking after me. Smiling I asked what was the offer on the table, ‘three camels’ the man said. I feigned utter disgust and sounding extremely offended declined the offer explaining that I was worth much more than three camels. He laughed and very quickly up the stakes to 1000 camels. The bartering would have continued had he not been called away to deal with yet more lorry drivers.
Some lorries started to move and the officer looking after me said “you need to go back to Aswan” I smiled sweetly and very calmly told him I was not going back to Aswan the look on his face was one of “Oh no, this woman is trouble” I told him I was not in a hurry, had a tent and could sleep right there until the road opened. “You can’t sleep here, it is the police” he said “Well, I’m not going back to Aswan” Out came the phone and a call was made, no doubt to one of his superiors, and as if by magic I was allowed to go on.
I took to the road with gusto but it was very hot and I had lost more than 4 hours waiting for the road to open.I was determined to make it to a police checkpoint where I was planning to stay the night but a quick mental calculation told me it wasn’t going to be possible. To make things worse there was a very strong cross wind and when a sudden gust put me on the other side of the road I felt shaken. I was lucky that there was no oncoming traffic as a collision would have been unavoidable. Reluctantly, I accepted a lift from my escorts. Foxtrot was loaded on the back of the pickup truck where it would be looked after by three young officers and I joined Captain Mohammad in the front, my feet resting by a machine gun and a water melon.
Luckily, I was dropped at the place where I had planned to stay and a young man took me under his wing. He chose a good place to pitch my tent away from the wind and where he would keep guard overnight, showed me were the toilets and the kitchen were, what was the right tap to get water for tea and generally made my feel welcome. The others, after the excitement of my arrival, carried on messing about either their guns and dusting their bullet proof jakets. It is amazing the ease with which they handle their weapons, the paint gone and the metal shiny from so much touching.
They invited me to eat with them but as I was too tired, they made me agree that I would have breakfast with them. Breakfast was simple but beautifully cooked: a small pot of refried beans, a salad of salty cheese and tomatoes and copious amounts of bread. I eat little as I was conscious of how little food there was and how these young men must’ve been ravenous.
For once, I was able to leave unaccompanied, such joy to cycle on my own and to experience how people related to me differently, lorry drivers blew their horns in salute and one reversed at full speed to offer me a water melon. I vividly remembered the day when I realised how much the constant police escorts had prevented me from interacting with ordinary Egyptians and how much I missed that interaction. It was the day when I was on my own and had stopped at a village for something to eat. A group of villagers approached me, a man in a donkey cart with his children, a smiley teenager and a man who was a teacher and spoke some English. I was having a really good time talking to them when all of a sudden they all scattered in different directions, I couldn’t understand what was happening until I heard the familiar sound of the police car engine. Clearly they couldn’t be seen talking to me.
My every move was watched, they stopped when I stopped, they watched me whilst I drank, eat felafel, took pictures… Every now and again, childishly, I tried to get some minutes on my own slowing down to nearly a halt, knowing their engines would stall and that they would have to overtake me and wait for me a few hundred meters ahead and as soon as they did and were out of my sight I would stop and look in wonder at the silent desert without the sound of their engines in my ears.
“It is for your safety” they would tell me and they were always polite, smiley and good humoured. When I saw several enormous electricity pilones knocked down to the ground by the massive sandstorm that had left Abu Simbel without electricity I realised that there was some truth in that statement on the day I sat in the shade for four hours getting an offer of marriage and waiting for the road to open.
23 thoughts on “Police Escorts in Egypt”
Thanks for the latest blog Blanca – it all sounds amazing… I think 100 camels is a fair price.
Even though I’ll never cycle through Sudan, your country file advice made it all feel real – looking forward to updates on the kit list.
Take care Steven xx
100 camels!!!!!! You do push a hard bargain!
Glad you like the country notes. Stats and gear review to follow
Very glad you reached the border without having to get married – I know you are Superwoman, but managing the rifles and 1,000 camels wouldn’t leave much time for your friends!
Wow Blanca, 1,000 camels, so tempting, but such a lot of responsibility!! Better to stick with Foxtrot…
It’s wonderful to hear that everyone’s looking out for you, even the police, but I’m sure it’ll be great to leave them behind and experience the open road without them.
Loads of love
So glad to read this post and to know you are safe. I can understand your reluctance to have the police escort but its probably for the best, Stay safe.
Blanca, you blog of the sandstorm brought back vivid memories of the sandstorm my son and I were in in 2011 when we rode with TdA Cairo to Capetown. We would have been happy to have a police escort when we encountered kids near Luxor and Aswan throwing rocks at all of us. Ethiopia was miserable, millions of kids throwing rocks and poking their sticks into the bike wheels.
Hang in there! The Sudan is great!
Mmmm. I’ve heard about the rock throwing in Ethiopia. I’ve already decided that if it is too bad I’ll be taking the bus!!
Thanks for your support
Mmmm. I have heard about the rock throwing in Ethiopia. I think the bus may be called for!
Wonderful read, looking forward to the next installment x
Chapeau!! Wonderful wonderful!! Sending love and hugs from Tilly and I xoxo
So good to read this! Love accompanies you as you cycle on.
What an adventure Blanca. Such colourful descriptions…A machine gun and a watermelon! Stay safe x
Great to hear your latest news Blanca. I read, alternating between smiles and jaw dropping open in amazement. Looking forward to the next post. Take care sweetie xxxx
Precioso texto, esperamos el proximo.
El mejor abrazo!
I’m glad you held out, you’re worth more than 100 camels! So glad you’re finally able to travel without the escort and enjoy meeting local people. xxx
What a great read – can’t wait for the full book with photos. What an experience on so many levels. Keep the stories coming as I love being emersed in your adventure for a few minutes of my day xxxx
Each account is beautifully crafted and vivid. I would not do what you are doing, but I have such admiration, always, for your unbounded spirit of adventure and above all for your tenacity. Such weather, such sand, such heat, such guns and police. All those things and the fatigue and effort. My hat is well and truely off to you Blanca my friend. X
Well you are having a big adventure of your own – just different. We’ll compare notes when we are back together in London!
Blanca your writings give us another insight into your journey….
So much poo to deal with
You are amazing and so entertaining! Sending you lots of love and hugs from Ramsgate xx
Carine and Dinks
Great to hear your stories and hear it’s possible to travel as a solo female through those parts of the world. It’s such an important story to tell. Good for you!!
You are a great storyteller. And what material. Much love xx
Ah so this is the longer version about the police escort. Big smiles to you Blanca. Keep enjoying. I love reading your adventure. xx