Day 1, October 12: Abdeen Palace, Cairo to Maritim Jolie Ville, Alexandria, 274 km
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 full-time mechanics, four photographers and videographers, and P.R. reps Kristina and Monica, who will post Facebook updates throughout our trip. We also have a plainclothes police officer with us at all times, a long lanky gent wearing a stylish dark-burgundy suit.
Our first stop is at Abdeen Palace, home of the rulers of Egypt when it was a part of the Ottoman Empire. There is a huge Red Bull tent in the courtyard in front. This event looks like any well-planned sports-related event I've seen in America. Young women in jeans and well-fitted t-shirts walk around with cylindrical coolers slung across their shoulders handing out free Red Bulls. We meet the Red Bull PR rep of Cairo, who looks and acts like any P.R. rep you've ever met in your life.
We meet the mayor of Cairo and he shakes our hand and gives us golden keychains. Throughout our trip, the trip leaders arranged meetings with the local government bigshots—the "promoting tourism" angle. We also stop many times for group photos that are posted to Facebook later. (go to www.facebook.com/CrossEgyptChallenge
to check out more photos) We then have our first crash—a Brit who grabs too much front brake on a wet cobblestoned street right in front of the palace.
We leave Cairo late. We are definitely on Egypt Time, even at this early stage. Nothing happens quickly in Egypt. It’s like visiting friends or relatives in the South—it's rude to just show up and leave. You shake hands or do the man-to-man two-cheeked kiss Euro-style, have a tea, coffee, or Pepsi, maybe a smoke a shisha, and sit a spell.
On the way out of Cairo, we stop by the Great Pyramids in Giza. We are overrun by vendors and people selling camel and horse rides. Nobody bothers the gentleman in the burgundy suit. We take a short rest at the Giza mosque so the Muslims in the group can say their prayers. We listen to the mosque's imam give his post-prayer speech. The work week is Sunday to Thursday, and this is Friday, the day that families get together to eat and pray.
The road from Giza to Alexandria (Alex to the locals) is long and straight. The road quality is good. We arrive in Alex and our destination, Alexandria City Center shopping mall, long after dark. We ride through the parking lot of the mall and hundreds of people wait for us, including the Alex scooter club. The sound of house music pulses through our helmets.
We get off our scooters and we start dancing with a group of about 30 others. We danced many times, and every time, it was an all-male affair. I suppose you could get used to this, but I got tired of the sausage fest after a while. But man, some of these guys have moves!
I get back to my scooter, and a policeman hands me my gloves. Somebody in the crowd tried to take them, and a group of six people stopped him. Did I mention that it's safe here?