|Motorcades, bodyguards and Pizza
||[Sep. 11th, 2005|08:57 pm]
Nile for a Smile
The ride from Minya to Asyut itself was fairly uneventful, though people seemed much less inlclined to call out 'hello' from the roadside, there was no overt hostility either.|
Being an 'Amerik-han' (which is what I am assumed to be unless I correct them with 'Britania' - then Egyptian name for British is possibly a throwback to when the UK ruled Egypt).
Although people may be angry at the USA government, either the core Arab hospitality over-rules it in one-to-one encounters, or possibly the many satellite dishes you can find on even the most run down of appartment blocks gives Westerners an air of glamour (understandable if you ride your donkey home from a hard day in the fields to watch CSI Miami). The people I met had no concept of sunblock lotion (and I think those who saw me puting in contact len's were a little freaked by it!). This region is was off the beaten tacks, and I may be the first actual westerner a lot of these people have ever seen given that other cyclist I have spoken to were refused acces to the area.
Asyut itself, a large provincial capital some 400km south of Cairo, is regarded as the gateway to southern Egypt. It used to be the end point for trading caravan (until 150 years ago, primarily slaves). Since the 1980's until fairly recently and I was a little suprised that the police were content to let me cycle the area.
I was met by an affable police captain on the road to town wgho asked what I was up to and called me a "great hero" when I said I had started in Alexandria (I'm sure the lucky policemen he asigned to slowly follow me through the region called me a lot of things as they crawled along at 20k an hour, 'Great Hero' probably didn't feature on the list). Every time the car reached the end of it's duristriction, the replacement would try to convince me to just load the bike into the back ('Very Faster').
As I reached the outskirts of Asyut a police car took station just in front of me and a Nissan pickup truck (favoured by the police) move in behind me to form the most bizarre of conveys, with a dusty cyclist in the iddle as 'El Presidente'.
Getting a hotel in Asyut was not easy, with the first claiming to be full (e.g. you are more trouble than you are worth) and the second trying to charge me 3 times the going rate (the guy at reception having to make a phone call when asked 'how much is a room for the night?', I mean, I can't be the first person to ask this).
Once I was eventually settled in the cheap no star 'The Accursed Infidel' (I can't recall the actual name, it was possibly less interesting) I found a policeman at the front door and 2 plain clothes guys in reception (who were to stay there all night).
I explained that I was just popping out for food and was told to 'wait here 5 minutes' until another pickup truck with 6 plain clothed State Security guys showed up and drove me to a nice pizza place, waiting outside while I ate.
They shoved me in a taxi for the return trip to my hotel (with one of their number in with me, while the rest of the troops followed up).
It was here that my tired brain collapsed and I left my travel wallet in the car, containing my passport, a couple of months worth of a local's wages and my visa cards. Utter disaster.
The policeman at the door could only shrug his shoulders, with a 'not much we can do' air (here you hail a passing taxi at random). Much stress followed with an English speaking elderly gentleman translating for me to a telephone hire shop (basically several phone booths controlled by the receptionist). She was kind enough to let me call the British embassy to get help from the consular desk.
It was looking like I would be stuck in town with no money for few days at least, possibly a train trip to Cairo when the hotel manager walked in and announced "Your body guards have found it".
Fortunately the positive flip side of religion is a fairly clear cut view on stealing things and Ahemed (the driver's name) found the wallet and drove back to my hotel to return it (I tipped him 100 Egyptian pounds).
All in all the good folk of Asyut proved to be the nicest bunch you could hope to meet.
My motorcade returned to collect me in the morning and drove me to the city limits where a series of single police car escorts escorted me futher south to Sohag, birthplace of the past fundamentalist insurgency.
More to follow