Yesterday we biked into Luxor with a motorcycle police escort after two days of hard cycling. We had crossed over the Red Sea Mountains, some sixty kilometers of climbing and another eighty-five through barren desert to our camp site. We made camp by the road side at a police check point. A dozen or so police armed with AK 47s and a machine gun mounted Landcruiser stood guard over us. At the evening briefing Tallis tells us to make a lot of noise if we get up to pee in the night. Let the guards know it is a rider not an intruder. Last year one of the riders nearly got shot because when the guards saw a furtive figure in the bush, they called out in Arabic for the person to identify himself. When he wasn’t able to respond, the guards cocked their guns and the rider rapidly understood he was the centre of attention. An unfortunate incident was narrowly avoided.
We passed an uncomfortable night by the roar of the ceaseless flow of trucks honking, grinding gears and lurching to a stop at the checking point before pushing on the next day to fabled Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. And for us a rest day. Time to step back, regroup and ready ourselves for the next stage. Minor ailments are taking hold among us. Bad colds, inflamed Achilles, skin infections, hand palsy. We’ve only been on the road for a week. Yet we’ve pushed hard covering over 700 kilometers in six days. We share our small miseries searching for a scrap of comfort, reassurance that this is par for the course and all will right itself with time.
On our day off some stay at our camp, a basic hotel that offers a scrap of land for the tents and rooms for those who wish to upgrade. (I do.). Most sign up to tour the Valley of the Kings, despite an early start and a near-day long commitment. The effort is worth it. There is an ineffable quality to stand in situ in the desiccated landscape of limestone hills and feel the presence of the past, not ancient and remote, living, the hills groaning with the sounds of great labour and the chants of ritual, that can never be replicated in a museum. Museums entomb, the tombs themselves give birth to an imaginative connection with that past. The painted figures seem to breath and are on the point of stepping out into the light to take their rightful place among us.
Back at camp the information white boards are up. We will start as always at the break of dawn.