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Memories of the trip so far: Week 4

Wherever the British Empire once spread or influenced, bureaucracy still rules. The Egyptians have a flare for the trick of sending the victim backwards and forwards for visa stamps, checks, payments, copying and all sorts. They are keen on private enterprise too, so between desks there are helpful people offering advice, money changing, awful confectionary and cigarettes.

It took hours to clear, but when I did the ride into Egypt was a stunner. After just a mile of dilapidated old border buildings, the road began a beautiful descent to the welcoming deep blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. At the bottom of the hill the first real town in Egypt was a shock - horribly poor looking, dirty, populated by tramps and reliant on donkeys for transport. I pushed on for the next town. It was 50 miles away and meant riding into the dark, but it got some good distance covered.

I vowed next day I'd find a hotel just before dark.... But after at late start and 135 miles it was getting dark and there was no hotel so I camped. I'm really glad I did too - stressed at first then relaxed in the beauty of my surroundings and the stars above.

Vin on the way to Amman

Now it was time for something different - the historic city of Alexandria and the Nile Delta beyond. I cycled into the chaos of Alexandria's traffic in the evening rush. Micro-busses and taxis darted everywhere, stopping whenever and wherever they pleased for passenger pick-ups. Trams and their tracks in the roads added to the fun, as did HUGE potholes and drains with no covers which I could literally fall completely into.

A passing motorist offered to help me get to the port. I replied I need to go to the Library not the port - he said 'OK, follow me'.... and drove to the port. That gave me the opportunity to cycle past the citadel where the massive lighthouse stood in antiquity and along to the library to meet 'Cycle Egypt' founder, Ahmed who would put me up for the night.

Next morning I found my bottom bracket bearing had been destroyed by the sandstorms of the past weeks, so Ahmed's friend Asam helped clean and re-grease it. I could now continue for a half day ride into the Nile Delta.

Leaving Alexandria the houses gave way to date palms and bananas, and even more donkeys. So different to the desert on the other side of the city. I camped at a nice little cafe and talked with locals while pitching my tent. An evening meal, camping and a coffee at dawn cost 3 english pounds!

I headed on around the very end of the Nile Delta east to Port Said for my next night. The port is a duty free city, which means that itís cheap, but also has confusing customs points at every entrance/exit to the city. Port Said is the north end of the famous Suez Canal, and I spent the next day heading south along its banks with a brief pause while police decided if I was a spy or not on the bridge over the canal.

East of the canal I was in desert again, the Sinai desert. A headwind had made the day ridiculously long to achieve a decent distance. I stopped for a meal and made friends with the cafe owner. I bivied for a few hours beside the cafe and rode on before 2am to take advantage of a change in the wind, but soon realised I was too tired and stopped again before 4am for another snooze behind an abandoned building.

Lawrence of Arabia rode a camel the opposite direction through this area after he captured Aqaba from the Turks in the first world war. All alone, he was dodging the enemy, trying to reach British high command and inform them of the victory in Aqaba. Again I felt my efforts, achievements, and hardships to be small in a historical context. I headed on for Aqaba through the mountains and desert.

Low on water as darkness fell on my final night in Egypt I asked locals if water was available.... Quickly I found myself in the local school being fed and given a place to sleep for free. The teachers were wonderful people and loved meeting someone out of the ordinary.

At 3:40 am I sent out again on a beautiful starlit road down the wadi. After dawn I stopped to get a drink at a shack beside the road. I wanted Coke but they only had tea, so I joined them in a cup of sweet, black, herby chai. A 'supermarket' - actually a guy in a jeep selling crisps and biscuits - arrived while I was having the tea, so I asked for Coke again. The guy replied 'You want can? I only have big cock!'. I love the way they pronounce Coke here.

I made it to Nuweba for the ferry to Aqaba by lunch time. To get the ferry I endured legendary bureaucracy, filth, confusion, a riot which saw the guards draw their guns, found security with other western travellers, and suffered delays which made the 'fast ferry' a terrible misnomer. I also saw the ferry staff through bin bags of rubbish overboard, a final illustration of a sad attitude to litter and the environment in Egypt.

Aqaba is Jordanian. My research on Jordan told me to expect higher prices than Egypt, but knowledge beyond that was about history, terrain, and climate - I didn't really know much about the rest of Jordanian life. It turned out to be such an internationalised place it felt like an airport - just global brands everywhere. The prices were airport like too - even more than expected. I did find the simple, poorer, local shops and cafes as I rode up the hills on the desert highway north. A man at a snack shack finished his prayers, then served me tea, filled my water bottles, sold be a chocolate bar, and charged 50p for it all. I drank the tea sitting beside his little garden where a cucumber sheltered from the heat behind a pile of refuse.

After a very brief night in a stupidly nice hotel I reached Petra, ancient home of the Napateians, at sunrise. It was overwhelming in scale and beauty, both of nature and mans work. After looking around for 2 hours I left as the coach parties arrived and the tranquillity of the place faded.

Climbing up the road through the modern town I saw friends I'd made on the boat the day before, so stopped for breakfast with them. After, I faced a big climb in the heat but was rewarded with a great downhill beyond.

I met some other world cyclists in the afternoon. They had set off 9 months before from their home in South Korea and were battling up-hill into a headwind heading the opposite way from me. We shared brief stories about the roads in each direction and continued our journeys. It's nice to know you're not the only crazy one!

Just after dark I cycled into Amman airport ready for my first air transfer; to India, or 'Hinnd' as the Arabs say it.