Sahara desert, Day 1

Day 1 and I ran out of fuel.

Tbilisi, Georgia has probably the worst city road layout I have driven in – until Cairo.  The streets of Cairo are extremely confusing and even more confusing when trying to backtrack for a “re-start”.  Every wrong turn sucks you deeper and deeper into the city – the old Pharos  don’t want you to leave.  It took me quite a long time to get out of town, and when I did I was headed north instead of south.  I made a big loop up and around the city onto the east side desert road until I was finally headed in the right direction.

Out of gas.   As I now know, there aren’t many gas stations on the desert road, or at least within the range of my bike.  With only about 5 km of fuel left in the tank, I see a gas station mirage on the horizon.  Upon arrival, I find it deserted and destroyed, clearly bombed and burned.  I poke around a bit pondering my situation until a blue Toyota arrives with 6 men all carrying AK’s.  There was a lot of yelling “no, no” at me until I explain my situation, “no benzene” I tell the leader.  It doesn’t matter what religious affiliation you prefer, what language you speak, or where you’re from – everyone knows,  “no benzene” is a bummer.

With the little fuel I have left in my tank, I follow them off the road to a small hut where an old ambulance is parked and another 6 or 7 long bearded men are having their morning prayer.  I take out my spare fuel canister and a 6’, ¼” hose in hopes of siphoning a bit from one of their tanks.  The captain, or the one who chooses to communicate with me, takes the can and says repeatedly, “2 nights, 2 nights”.  No idea what he’s talking about.  Do I have to wait 2 nights to get fuel?  I mill around a bit, then low and behold, a man brings out a bottle with a rag sticking out the top, the thing looks like a Molotov cocktail (also known as a petrol bomb).  He pulls out the rag and proceeds to pour the liter of fuel into my bike.

It’s already boiling hot, but they insist I stay for a glass of hot tea and a fig.  They adamantly refuse any money for the fuel and point me down the road where they assure me I’ll fine some more petrol.  I make it to the station, top off my tank and ask to have my spare fueled.  No, no, the attendant tells me and takes my spare can to a policeman standing around the corner.  I now understand that it must be against the law to possess a small canister of fuel – maybe this gets you 2 nights in jail.  So be it – I head out again with only the fuel in my tank and and empty spare.

I’m making pretty good time now, averaging about 80 mph down the long straight desert highway.  As I get into central and south-central Egypt, the checkpoints become more and more frequent and concerned for where I’m going and what I’m doing.  “Do you have a map, let me see your map”, that sort of thing.  I pull into Qena, where I’ll take a smaller 2 track along the Nile to Luxor.  Qena doesn’t appear to be as friendly as the last town, pretty old and depressed.  If fact, now each town I get to, seems to be less friendly.  Many more police and many more locals carrying guns – this is a fist time I see the general population with semi auto rifles on their backs.  It definitely sets me on edge – no photos here today.

I’m getting stopped more and more frequently now, about every 5 – 10 km.  Each stop takes a little longer, and each stop requires more phone calls to clear me.  With only about 15km left for Luxor, I am again pulled over at a traffic stop and this time gestured to get off my bike and park it.   This stop is a bit more serious with armed gunman peering out of the second floor of the buildings on both sides of the road.  Lots of men around me at this point and one younger man pointing his semi auto rifle at my feet.  I don’t speak Arabic, but I certainly understood the exchange between the superior and the young guard.   I think it went something like this.  The captain says, “what are you doing pointing your rifle at the American”, the young man raises his rifle, (now pointed at my chest) and says, “I want to shoot the American”.  The captain tells the kid to get into the truck and put his gun down.  In utter and visual disappointment, the young man somberly climbs into the back of the truck and puts his gun away.

I’m stuck here for about 45 minutes while the captain makes phone call after phone call.  After every couple of calls, he asks me the same questions; Traveling alone? Where you going?  The guy called about 20 different people before someone must have told him to let me go.  Finally, after he hands his phone to another officer, he put his arm around me, he said, “photo for Snapchat”.  Then sent me on my way.

After the most recent killing of the 50+ Egyptian police officers, the President placed Egypt in a state of emergency.  This has obviously led to a heightened level of security around the country and certainly much more so, the further south I get.  I’m sure Sudan will be better.

I’ll stay in Luxor tonight and continue south to Aswan tomorrow.  Before I cross into Sudan on Monday, I need to go to the Aswan “traffic” court to get cleared to leave the county.  Hopefully a formality, but I’m still a bit concerned I didn’t get all of my paperwork from the dock workers in Cairo.

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