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June 25, 2007

The Last of the Checkpoints? - Arrival Aswan

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LOCATION: Aswan, Egypt
Longitude: N:24deg.05'54.
Latitude: E: 032deg.54'01.
Kms from Djibouti: 3,417

Individual travel across the 287 km. of desert between Abu Simbel and Aswan is not permitted by the Egyptians. Foreigners are only permitted to travel in tour buses in police convoys that leave once a day. Our request to secure permits from both the Tourist as well as the Aswan Police was denied after much time spent at the offices of both agencies. With no alternatives available we were going to have to ride and try our luck along the way.


I met up with Jason in Aswan where he was brought and released by the authorities after being arrested trying to paddle back to Sudan across Lake Nasser. We took the bus to Abu Simbel arriving at 8:30 pm where we were able to convince the policeman who questioned us while we were unloading the bikes that we were going to be staying in town. The major attraction in Abu Simbel is the temple complex of Ramses II which was relocated here with the construction of the Aswan High Dam. At the entrance to the temple are four colossal statues each 20 metres high.

Checkpoint # 1 - Abu Simbel

Our journey from Abu Simbel would involve crossing two checkpoints within the first 50 km. Leaving at night was attractive because biking would be easier with the cooler temperatures and darkness was our best option of skirting these checkpoints. We set of around 10:30 and saw the lights of the first checkpoint around midnight. We detoured across the desert to go around it: two shadowy figures silhouetted by the moon against the sand silently gliding past as quietly as possible. The sand was soft in sections making it difficult to walk as well as push the bike. The voices from the post were loud and clear and it almost felt like a scene from the movies. A bright lit checkpost with guards and lots of noise. Two silent operatives silently getting past without anyone noticing.

The second post at Toshqa 40 km away was reached at 3 am. This checkpost was situated a hundred yards from a T-junction. We didn't see any lights so assumed that everyone was asleep. The exception being an off duty policeman in his uniform outside his house who saw us but didn't seem terribly interested. There was a small settlement around with lots of dogs who were all barking loud enough to wake the dead. The checkpoint was dark and we decided to ride through. After crossing the canal a few km. down the road we found a spot in the desert to sleep. Sleeping on the dunes in the desert underneath millions of stars was a very memorable experience.

Desert Camp

Riding the next morning was challenging. We left at 8 am. It was already very hot and riding was difficult with temperatures around 45-50 celsius. We arrived at a small little hut selling colas and chips around noon very fatigued and rested here till the evening. The next hut was a 100 km away so continuing wasn't an option. This is a very lonely stretch of road across the desert where not much survives.


We were going to cross the last and final (or so we thought) checkpoint during daylight hours at 7 pm and the plan was to ride through it without stopping with Jason filming from behind as we rode through. We were only 15 km. from Aswan and we didn't think they would send us back to Abu Simbel. As we went past a policeman put his hand out motioning us to stop but we ignored him and continued.


Assuming that we were done with the hard part and with a little bit of daylight to spare we took a brief excursion to see the Aswan high dam. The downhill to Aswan from the high dam was welcome news to the legs. However there was one final hurdle to cross which we hadn't anticipated. The Old Aswan Dam built by the British in 1902 crosses the Nile outside town. The military control access to the bridge across the dam and insisted that only vehicular traffic was allowed across the bridge and therefore the only way to cross would be to load the bikes on a pickup truck. Walking or biking across the dam wasn't permitted. We spent almost 2 hours arguing with the guards to let us bike across and insisted that we were prepared to camp out there for as long as it took. The officer Lt. Afari, who was called to figure out what all the fuss was about, pointed out that even President Hosni Mubarak wouldn't be allowed across on a bike. The exchange then got increasingly heated with Jason and I accusing the officer of gross incompetence and lack of initiative on his part in finding a solution to the problem, and Lt Afari accusing us of attempted bribery (we'd actually offered to pay for an escort, which was interpreted wrongly). Then somehow in the midst of all the back and forth an agreement was reached: he riding in a car with us following behind. We thanked him for his solution (that we'd suggested 2 hour previously) and pushed on to complete the final few kms to Aswan.


> Total to raise: $4,500
> Total raised to date: $4,700
> Total still to raise: $0

Sincerest thanks to the following for your pledges -
- "We didn't want to be forgotten", UK, $550
- Keith Jacko, USA, $50
- The Speed Family UK, $150
- Karen Bossen, USA, $50
- Wendy Bumgardner, USA, $50
- Will Waller, Dublin, $100
- Casey Dunn, USA, $100
- Anonymous, USA, $250
- The Sheltons, UK, $1,000
- Michael Rawlings, UK, $50
- Crister Brady, US, $50
- Karl Kaseoru, US, $500
- John and Bridget Maxwell, UK, $50
- Jennifer Mackenzie, US, $50
- Ian McCormick, UK, $200
- Terry Mason, California USA, $200
- Jackie and Jean Bernard, Djibouti, $250.
- Erden Eruc and Nancy Board of Around n Over, Seattle USA, $250
- Sharon Kessler, Colorado USA, $500
- Jane Koca, San Jose USA, $50
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- Greg Kolodziejzyk of Pedal the Ocean, Canada, $250

Posted on June 25, 2007 8:14 PM