Cairo and the Nile Delta
Updated: Mar 26, 2019
Written by Robert Rorich
Two Rorich's flew north from Cape Town and one Teeton flew south from London. We met in Cairo two weeks ago to begin our pre-adventure cycle around the Nile Delta. We were excited and a little tired as we put together our bikes and cycled through the 'quiet' Friday streets of Cairo to Heba's house. Quiet by local standards was hectic by our standards!
Cycling in on the back roads of Cairo
Heba used to live in White River and offered for us to spend our first night with her, she ended out hosting us for the first six nights between Cairo and Fayed!
We were treated to tremendously hearty local Egyptian food by Heba and her chefs Nahla and Hena in Cairo and Mohammed in Fayed. We couldn't believe how lucky we were to be fed so well and with such variation. We spent our first day of Cairo visiting the Great Pyramids of Giza. It was a marvelous experience to walk slowly around the Great Pyramid, the Sphinx and the surrounding temples and pyramids. We were all awestruck at the mystery and beauty we were finally able to experience first hand.
It was sad to see very few foreign tourists but good to see the number of local Egyptians enjoying the work of the ancients. All right on the doorstep of Cairo, home to 19 million people and growing fast.
We visited and wandered through the streets of Islamic or Old Cairo. The ancient Mosques, hospitals and schools were fascinating. 700 years ago when most of the world shunned any mental disability there was a psychiatric ward in the ancient hospital and healing waterfalls were made to sooth the sick. We visited some great local art galleries and a special café with a liquor license. Ali 'the King of Cairo' as the locals treated him showed us these marvels and treated us with mint tea and some cold local Stella beers.
Angus, Ali, Robbie and the gallery owners
The three of us left Cairo for 10 days to explore the Nile Delta, cycling east to a town called Fayed on the Suez Canal Great Bitter Lake, north along the canal to Port Said on the Mediterranean coast, along the coast west to Ras Al Barr, the mouth of the Nile and back south along the Nile to Cairo. This allowed us to experience Egyptian life in the delta as it is, we saw no other travelers and were totally immersed in the culture of the people we met and stayed with.
To reach Fayed from Cairo we faced a 140km ride from sunrise to sunset mostly along horrific speedy highways, hopefully we won't do too much of that again!
In contrast the last kilometers took us into a quite little agricultural lake town on a road with salt water lake on the left and fresh water canal on the right. In the idyllic setting of Fayed on the lake, as if in a paradise getaway we relaxed for two days. Shopping at the local markets in the morning for fresh fruit, vegetables, breads, teas and other delights and for fish from the fish monger across the road in the afternoon we thoroughly enjoyed the wholesome food experience. We swam in the blue salty water, read on the ancient pretty white pier and relaxed on the lawn that rolled right into the lake at high tide.
Days of happiness and quiet at Fayed with Heba
Cycling north from Fayed to Port Said gave us a lovely morning of riding through small towns along the fresh water canal, as the Suez Canal road is off limits. All along the way local people greeted us in happy Arabic and sometimes with an English word or two. The children and young adults delighted in practicing their English with us and the older people were equally enthusiastic about talking to us and making us feel welcome in their country. The people here are truly remarkable in their open welcoming of local and foreign people alike. Arriving in Port Said at sunset was a special event for Michelle and Robbie as their grandmother Jozette had grown up there before moving to SA.
Sunset over Port Said
We stayed at the St Eugenie Church's lodging, this was the same church that Jozette and her nine siblings attended each week. The priest Father Faried kindly allowed us two nights stay. The architectural engineer responsible for the restructuring of the church, Joseph, kindly showed us local eating places, the ferry to Port Fuad and introduced us to many of his friends at the church. We spent a lovely day in Port Said, experiencing and visiting the exact things and places that Mich and Robbie's family had two, three and four generations ago. Another man who shared generations in Port Said was the cemetery grounds keeper who so kindly sat us down and gave us tea and coffee from his home in the cemetery, which had been in his family for four generations.
Port Said exploring, candy floss on the beach and the kind cemetery groundsman
It was a slightly underwhelming ride along the Mediterranean coast to the mouth of the Nile just north of the city of Damietta. The ride was again mainly on a big highway but fortunately not too far. To our dismay the city of Damietta boasts hundreds of furniture shops with no hotels to be found. Riding through the back roads of the city as it became dark we were able to experience first hand where all the greatly crafted furniture was made, the finished couches all looked awfully comfortable to sleep on. A great stroke of kindness was offered to us from Mina, who we met at the Coptic Church after arriving in the dark. He invited to us to stay at his home with his parents and two siblings in their flat in a suburb just across the Nile. Mina's family were overwhelmingly kind to us and fed us the most delightful assortment of local Egyptian meals, including one of the families precious ducks - being saved for their daughters wedding in August - that lived on their small roof along with their chickens and doves. Other than Mina they hardly spoke English and we communicated largely with smiles and their old school computers google translate.
Ras Al Barr and Damietta living
While we stayed with Mina's family we visited the second mouth of the Nile at Ras Al Barr. It was a calm spot where the huge life giving river finally left the human population behind and flowed into the Mediterranean. We left the next day, after two nights, on the train to a town called Mansoura from where we cycled along the Nile for the day. Cycling along the Nile, was the highlight of our cycling so far! There were many little 'towns' along the way, these consisted of 5 or 6 story buildings built together to form more of a small city than anything else with labyrinths of small streets leading through them. The farms were all so incredibly green and the seasonal fruit trees were in full bloom of naartjies, oranges and bananas!
Nile River riding
We spent the night, for the first time, in a hotel in a city called Mit Ghamr. The hotel was on the top floor of a high rise building and from what we could understand from locals it was the only hotel in the city. The views of sunset and sunrise were amazing and we enjoyed morning and evening yoga led by Michie while watching the sun sink and rise while the city and sky changed colours. The hotel did exert quite a force on our budget but with no competition in town didn't deliver anything more than an old room and a manager and receptionist sharing a bed in the entrance hall that we had to tiptoe past to use the very tired yellow and blue bathroom.
Yoga above the city of Mit Ghamr
Our last day of riding took us along more fantastic Nile riverside riding routes, past some tiny little small holdings where everyone we saw offered us food!
Happy in the tummy, happy in the heart
We mostly said no as we had already been given a free lunch by the kind owner of the little roadside resturant that we were also given a free delicious breakfast at. For the last stretch into Cairo we took a train to avoid the crazy highway cycling.
Our dear friend Heba hosted us for one night in Cairo. A lovely new friend that we met at the St Cyril's Chatolic Church, Christine hosted us for our last two nights in Cairo. Christine practices reflexology as one of her two jobs, much to Michie's delight as she is the cycle groups 'home learned' reflexologist!
Jess arrived in Cairo to stay just one night before heading towards the Red Sea. The four of us were all very happy to finally be together and ready to start our cycling southwards!
Lunch in the desert