Day 5: Ismailia – Ras Sudr: Reaching the Sinai Peninsula
Wednesday May 25, 2011, 136 km (85 miles) – Total so far: 506 km (314 miles)
Feeling better in the morning I set off to cross onto the Sinai Peninsula. To reach the Sinai Peninsula from mainland Egypt you have to cross the Suez canal. There are 3 points at which you can cross it. Firstly 20km north of Ismailia is the “Friendship Bridge”. I had passed the entrance to this bridge yesterday. There was heavy security there and seeing as the entrance was on a highway I don’t think a cyclist would be able to cross there. The second and most popular option is the Suez tunnel south of Ismailia, all cyclists heading this way seem to take the Suez tunnel (as they are usually heading to/from Cairo.) Unfortunately though the bike would need to be brought through in a car/truck since it is not allowed to cycle the tunnel. The third and last option which I didn’t know much about was the Ismailia passenger ferry. Searching on the internet I could find very little information on it apart from it’s location. It seemed the most convenient though so I decided to give it a shot.
Finding it was easy, just 3km outside Ismailia. I pulled up at the entrance and was met by 5 soldiers with pretty large rifles! They were very surprised to see a foreigner there and asked what I was doing, thinking I was lost. They asked to see my passport and asked where I was going. When I told them Ras Sudr I was met with a chorus of “No way”‘s and told that there was no chance I would be allowed to cross. They said it was too dangerous to cycle to Ras Sudr and that I should turn back to Ismailia! Explaining my plan and route and telling them I would be staying in a hotel that night they still seemed adamant that I couldn’t cross. Once they saw that I was fairly determined to get to Ras Sudr tonight I was brought to a couple of different soldiers around the small area. Eventually one of the higher up soldiers gave the permission for me to cross as he didn’t see a problem. All in all it took nearly half an hour to convince them to let me through!
Back at the first group of soldiers I was able to have a good chat with them before the ferry arrived. It turns out some of them were from towns I had passed through in the last few days across the Nile Delta. They told me I was the first person to cross this way by bicycle which explains the reluctance to let me through. They wished me the best of luck and told me to watch myself as they said it was dangerous out on the Sinai. Soon enough I was on the ferry and crossing continent, from Africa to Asia, over to the Sinai peninsula. I couldn’t help but be a bit excited now, the more adventurous part of the trip was now beginning.
Once on the shore of the Sinai the scenery instantly changed. The green agricultural land of the western shore was now replaced by large swathes of desert interspersed by abandoned buildings with barbed wire and watchtowers. After a short stretch of desert I arrived in a small village and stocked up on supplies including 7 litres of water as I wasn’t sure when the next village would be. Past this village was where the real desert started. The traffic died down and I was mostly alone on the road. This area seemed to be mostly controlled by the military and I spent the next 60km passing through military checkpoints and passing groups of soldiers at the side of the road. Most of these seemed surprised to see me out here but let me through with no problems. I probably could have stocked up on water here so it was unnecessary to carry all that water for this section.
The heat was pretty intense out here, hotter than anything I had experienced before. My cycle computer was reading 49Â°C but that is usually a bit off so I reckon it was a bit over 40Â°C , still pretty damn hot! This meant that any water I had was soon boiling hot, this led to it being fairly nasty to drink and meant it did nothing to cool me down. This was a problem I would encounter again in my trip down the Sinai.
After 60km on this quiet desert road with only the odd surprised truck driver for company (many when they saw me would wave madly and repeatedly beep the horn), I arrived at the turn off for the Suez tunnel. I was now on the main road down the west coast of the Sinai. This route is well travelled by any cyclists coming this way so I would have no further problems getting through military/police checkpoints. I stocked up on more food here and got some cold water into me which was a fantastic feeling after drinking only hot water for the last couple of hours.
Along this road I came upon the first evidence of the recent road blockages by the bedouin. A burnt out car now lay by the side of the road, the scorch marks showing where it was set alight to block the road. I had read warnings about these recent blockages before I left. It seemed armed bedouin groups had blocked the main road down the west coast of the Sinai in several points as part of a protest. They did this by setting alight cars or piles of tyres and due to them being armed there was no interference by the police or military. The bedouin currently feel they are being neglected by the Egytian government and since some of their demands are not being met they are staging protests like this around the Sinai. Due to the lack of effective policing in Egypt, especially on the Sinai peninsula, the bedouin have free reign for protests like this at the moment.
It was another 60km to the town of Ras Sudr. The slight headwind had turned into a strong tailwind upon passing the Suez tunnel so the first 40km were pretty easy. The last 20km were a bit tougher though with the stomach cramps which had been plaguing me all day getting continually worse. After passing line upon line of abandoned beach resorts I arrived in the equally abandoned town of Ras Sudr. I got a cheap room at one of the 2 hotels in town and spent the next few hours there cooling down from the heat!
For dinner that evening I was back on Egyptian food. The only place in town was a small Egyptian seafood restaurant. I thought it would be grand once I avoided the shellfish, which was the one food I was told to completely avoid over here. As soon as I sat down the owner offered me the seafood soup which I declined (due to the shellfish) and just ordered grilled fish. A few minutes later though he arrived with the soup (full of shellfish!) and told me it was free as I was a guest in Egypt. Ah well! I got to bed early hoping a good rest would help me recover from this sickness which seemed to be getting worse before it got better.