A Ride in the Desert

Adventure travel. That’s supposed to be done with big, manly machines. But I opted to ride a scooter

Fifteen hundred miles on eighthorsepower scooters along the Mediterranean coast and through the deserts in eight days was the deal. The Cross-Egypt Challenge, first run in 2009, is an effort to promote tourism and alternative transportation in Egypt. Each year, a select group of Egyptian and international scooterists make a long — very long — ride through one of the most adventurous tracks in the world. I sent my application in and got the approval a few weeks later.

Day 1: Cairo to Alexandria

I see that this is not going to be like any group ride I’ve been on. We have two carloads of support groups. In addition to our leader Ahmad, we have two fulltime mechanics, four photographers and videographers. Our first stop is at Abdeen Palace. On the way out of Cairo, we stop by the Great Pyramids in Giza. The road from Giza to Alexandria is long and straight. The road quality is good. We arrive in Alex, our destination for the day.

Day 2: Alexandria to Marsa Matrouh, 324 km

We ride east along the Mediterranean coast. We can’t stop anywhere, except for gas and group photo ops — riding Gulf Air operates 14 weekly flights to Cairo from Bahrain. Book online at gulfair.com CONNECT gulflife hundreds of kilometres. We get to Marina a few hours late for lunch. It becomes dark, and we are still riding.

Day 3: Marsa Matrouh to Siwa Oasis, 309 km

Now we’re getting off the beaten path. The road quality really takes a dive from here — combination of perfectly graded pavement, old asphalt with rocks poking through the top, graded dirt, and non-graded, rutted dirt. The scenery is spectacular. We see deserts that are so flat, you can see the Edge of the Earth. Our destination for the day is Siwa Oasis.

Day 4: Siwa Oasis to desert campsite, 320 km

This road is rarely travelled and has the old two-lane road with the new two-lane road parallel to it. The final 4kms of the ride was riding to the campsite in deep sand. We have dinner under the darkest night I’ve ever seen.

Day 5: Desert camp near Bahareya Oasis to Farafra Oasis, 270 km

We ride through the sand the same way we came in. By now, the new riders ride better. After we leave the desert camp, we stop in Bahareya, a small city in the middle of the desert near the Libyan border, to get gas and change the oil in the scooters. While the mechanics do their job, we stop by a roadside cafe and have Turkish coffee.

Day 6: Farafra Oasis to Dakhla Oasis, 298 km

For once, we arrive at our destination almost on time and have time to take a tour of one of the local sights: The Medina Al-Qasr. Today is not hot by Egyptian standards, maybe 98 degrees, but the walls make the air at least five degrees hotter.

Day 7: Dakhla Oasis to Kharga Oasis, 198 km

After riding through 11 Army checkpoints, our first stop is the hotel, the Sol Y Mar. Next is a ride to a sand dune about 300 metres high. There, a few of us sample the treats of sandboarding. Our next destination is the Kharga City Centre, about 6kms away.

Day 8: Kharga Oasis to Luxor, 349 km

Our last day, the scooters are beat to hell, and so are we. The armed guard has been replaced with Egyptian police. We stop in the middle of the road. We enter Luxor and ride 26 riders wide up the slate courtyard that leads to the Karnak Temple, right up to the entrance.

Written by : Dewane Van Leuven

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