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Provided By: Muslim Harji

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Travel Log - From Cairo to Cape Town

Update #2 - Jan. 13, 2006

Dear friends and family,

welcome to the last email before we actually embark on the Tour D'Afrique. Anticipation and nerves are creating knots in my stomach. I'm so excited but at the same time, really insecure - am I ready for this? Can I handle this? Am I really about to embark on a 120-day bike ride across an entire continent??? It seems incredibly surreal at this point and I don't think it will really hit me until Iím on the road biking for the first time.

Since our last email, we have explored Cairo even more, seen even more amazing things. Yes, we can actually say that we have now SEEN the pyramids! THE LAST of the Seven Wonders of the World, the only one that is still standing/in existence! Even before you enter the enclosed property, this enormous triagular structures loom over you, it's absolutely breathtaking! The pyramids are right on the outskirts of the city, and it is not uncommon to go tour them and then cross the street, eat at KFC or Pizza Hut (no joke) and then take a cab home. Even the incessant badgering by street hustlers isn't enough to ruin this absolutely beautiful sight in front of you. Everyone at Giza wants your money, one way or another. I mean even the police officers are trying to sell you contraband tickets to get onto the Pyramids property. You have to walk up a small incline to get to the entrance, and even along the way, donkey and horse and carriage riders are telling you that it is more than 5 or 6 kilometers to the entrance. In reality, it's less than a 3 minute walk. When you finally get to the front gate, you've been so haggled-out that you don't know which people are the legitimate government operators, and which are not. We finally arranged it and managed to get into the Pyramids, only to have other people try and sell us everything from statues to postcards and bookmarks, to camel rides etc. In fact, to even take a picture of a Bedouin on a camel, they want money! It was really an overwhelming experience, but it's only when you tune out all the excess noise that you can really take in the beauty and awe-inspiring structures. I mean if you think about how these pyramids were constructed, stone by stone brought up the Nile from Aswaan, it's really amazing. Compared to the beautifully upkept property of Al-Ahzar Park, it was really unfortunate to see how much garbage and junk had been left behind around the pyramids. All the tourists that have been coming here for more than 100 years have all left something behind - a plastic bottle, plastic bag, cigarette buts, cola cans etc.... it's really sad to see that nothing has been done to discourage polluting here. Possibly the biggest rip off of ALL TIMES here is paying a boatload of money to go inside the pyramid. We forked out the cash, thinking, hey we've come this far, we may as well see what the pharaoh's tombs really looked like. I couldn't have been more disappointed. You climb these really really steep stairs, anticipating hieroglyphics, artwork, SOMETHING, and you get to this room, about the size of my kitchen at home. It is empty... completely and absolutely empty. No exaggeration here folks, it was empty. No writing on the wall, no color, no fake pharaoh standing at the door, nothing. I mean perhaps we had imagined something particular and were let down because of our own expectations, but for that much money, there should have been some sort of pay-off.

The Sphinx is also pretty cool, although not as big as I imagined it to be. Dad and I decided to take a horse ride farther away from the pyramids to be able to get a better overview of the site. There are actually 9 pyramids - 3 big and 6 smaller ones. This has to be one of the funniest things that has happened to me so far here, although Dad definitely doesn't agree. So here we are on our horses, (that we got, by the way, at a fraction of the price that most companies were advertising - thanks to good haggling on dad's side - once a businessman, always a businessman) and I got a really good calm horse. I think there is just some sort of curse on dad with regards to horses because his was some bucking crazy horse that thought Dad was Zorro. To be honest, the horse was foaming at the mouth and his eyes were completely bloodshot, but they assured us he was safe haha. This horse tried twice to jump with Dad on its back and so finally, with the upcoming tour of Africa on his mind, Dad got off the horse and switched with our tour guide to a donkey. Dad says that Jesus and Mary rode donkeys, so he felt holier or something but i swear i have never laughed so hard before. Just to see dad trying to tell this donkey where to go, talking to it like he does with all animals was hilarious. ("No, hey, hey, No!" - people in our immediate family will especially understand that one). After our wonderful horse-ride, we did end up taking the advice of the Lonely Planet (thanks mom!) and sitting at a Pizza Hut across the street and watching the Sphinx light show. That was pretty awesome, because they light up all the pyramids and the sphinx with different colors as they tell you the history of the big kings. It was pretty awesome.

Egypt is surprisingly cold, and for all the pictures of oases and desert, you would never think so, but i haven't been in short sleeves yet! I imagine once we start biking and the blood and adrenaline are pumping, we'll heat up just fine. Yesterday, we moved into the Cataract Hotel and finally met all the riders that will be with us on the Tour D'Afrique. It's very daunting to meet some of these people, who are world-class cyclists, and will be our pseudo- family for the next 4 months. Once I manage to remember everyone else's name, it may get easier. We have set up our bikes and are working out all the last minute kinks and details. Hopefully, everything will work out tomorrow when we start. Well, whenever you read this, think of us, and wish us luck as we embark on this journey.

Take care and look for more updates soon,
Ayesha and Muslim Harji

UP DATE 17 January 2006

Dear friends and family,

well, thinking of a good way to start this email wasn't very difficult - GOD BLESS Tom White and The Seat, and GOD BLESS Paceline Products and their Chamois BUTT'r Cream. I think these two people/products have single-handedly, to be quite frank, saved our butts! We have cheerfully renamed the problem the "asses of evil" haha. Our first four days on the road have been grueling, and if the introduction is any indication, quite rough on the backside. This part is supposed to be the easiest! I don't know how it could be, but i guess i have more excitement to look forward to! So let me bring you all up to date. We left Cairo on the 14th of December. Energy was high, everyone was excited, riders were smiling and enthusiastic. We rode from our hotel with a police escort to the Giza pyramids site once again. It was really good that we had seen them before because our quick time there on the morning of departure would not have been enough. After a few brief words from some unidentified Egyptian official, we all took off, looking forward to the ride ahead. The ride out of Cairo was very difficult, to say the least. As i may have mentioned earlier, pollution is a major problem here. Just trying to suck in oxygen on a regular basis is hard enough, but when you compound that problem with trying to take deep breaths while biking, it's pretty tough. Our first day was daunting, with the distance set at 140kms. During the ride, however, the distance was upped to 170kms, due to conflicts with the location of the campsite. Our Egyptian police escort, which will stay with us throughout our time in this country, has to agree on any decisions taken by our tour director, but realistically, they have been basically dictating where we can and cannot stop, est, sleep etc. So far, in the three days that we have been here, we have never stayed in the place designated by our tour leader and have had to pedal further to a site agreeable to the police captain. Although these security measures
are taken with good intentions - there is the constant threat of terrorism (although seriously, we're in such remote places i don't think anyone in these roadside shacks really cares about a bunch of dirty smelly bikers) - the police presence can really be frustrating at times. They follow us quite closely when we bike and for the
most part, they aren't even 3 meters behind our wheels. The noise of the car engines and the constant stares from these men makes it hard to enjoy nature and our surroundings. I think the hardest part of our days is when they change the distance. When you've already biked 120 kms and you think you're coming to the end, finding out that there are 40 kms more to go is the worst feeling in the world. Your heart just drops and so do your spirits. Needless to say, after three days, we're getting used to it. Basically, so far, we've seen three very similar days, in terms of riding distances. Dad and I are at the rear of the group, which really doesn't bother either of us, because we like stopping and breaking, taking pictures etc. From Cairo, we have cut towards the the Red Sea and have ridden along its coast. While on one side we have this beautiful, clear blue body of water, the other side is a complete contrast with rugged, rocky mountains. We have had great tailwinds so far, and so the ride is much easier than it will be in the future. Although this all sounds very nice, it's very tough. Some riders are pretty sore already, some have developed saddle sores, others muscle cramps and other similar ailments. The Seat and the Chamois BUTT'r have definitely helped us to avoid that kind of pain so far, which is great because I think that that is one extra pain that I could not deal with. Also, from what I hear from those already developing saddle sores, the cure is almost as bad as the sore itself, and involves duct tape on some places where the sun doesn't shine. I think the way that this Seat is built, i may never have to find out exactly what that treatment involves! I have to say after my first day, however, that i was so sore in my lower back and shoulders that I could barely walk. I got to camp, and really didn't feel
like doing anything but lying down flat on my back and waiting for the multiple pains to ease. At the end of that first day, i thought to myself that there was no way on earth that I would ever get back on a bike again, but lo and behold, the next morning, I was up and ready to go once again, almost as if the unbearable pain and events of the previous day had never taken place. It's amazing how group energy and enthusiasm can transfer from one person to another to the person who needs it most. By the end of the day however, everyone is weary, tired and, at times, barely able to form full sentences. After dinner at 7:00, everyone just goes to sleep. Being a night owl myself, i never would have imagined myself going to bed at such an early hour, but I've been exhausted every night, and just fall into my sleeping bag. These days really drain you and take a lot out of a person. I think once we get into the routine of things, it will get easier to deal with everything we are facing. We are just completing our fourth day as I write this, and today for the first time since starting, we got showers! I feel rejuvenated, like a million bucks, and although I know this feeling is short-lived (we bike 160 tomorrow), I'm going to enjoy it while I can. We have reached a small town called Safaga, with a lone internet cafe, a few storefronts selling Egyptian snacks and not very much else. We are camping right on the beach, with the Red Sea's water at our doorsteps. It is a beautiful place, and since the day was relatively short (only 110 kms), we got here at 12:30, early enough to be able to "take in the sights" and enjoy the town a little bit. All in all, these last couples of days have really tested us. I think that from this point on, as we adapt more to this tour, the climate, the conditions, the pace, it will get easier. I know that there are many hard days ahead of us, where the weather especially will not be this favorable, so while i excitedly anticipate more, there is also anxiety there too. Keep your emails and your prayers coming, we definitely love reading the emails and are sure that your prayers have already helped to bring us this far!

More soon,
Ayesha and Muslim

 Dad got off the horse and switched with our tour guide to a donkey. Dad says that Jesus and Mary rode donkeys, so he felt holier or something but i swear i have never laughed so hard before. Just to see dad trying to tell this donkey where to go, talking to it like he does with all animals was hilarious

Shores of Red Sea



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