Riding a motorcycle through Cairo is a challenge. There is an odd rhythm to the traffic here, but more than that there’s confusion yet a bizarre order to the movement.
Welcome To Cairo, Egypt.
In a city where most women are veiled, it’s interesting to see the colorful displays of women’s and intimate apparel on the streets.
While traffic planners, now that’s giving the city a lot of liberty, have in some areas created barriers or medians between two-lane roads, this doesn’t stop pedestrians. Crosswalks? Forget it. Traffic lights? Sure. But pedestrians never wait. They cross in the middle of the road and when traffic is moving at 40 or 50-mph. On some roads where four or five lanes of traffic are going one way, pedestrians will walk into the line of fast-moving traffic, wave their arms to let traffic through then holding up the palm of their hands in an effort to make the vehicles stop. At anytime there could be a dozen people in a 10 meter area all trying to cross while traffic is zipping away. Cars practically brush by the Muslim robes many are wearing, and still others pat the cars rear as they race to get into the next lane. It’s a city of traffic toreadors where people risk lives to cross streets. There’s the Nile and then there are some canals. So bridge hopping is the next game. If you don’t know the cities streets and which are one way or that way, you can get lost for hours trying to just get to the other side which you can painfully see whilst looking for a bridge.
Since Luxor I’ve been in contact with Mohamed. To be sure, Mohamed could be the most popular name in all of Egypt, so second names become important. In this case, I was referred to Mohamed Magdi by Gareth who with the help of Mohamed Magdi’s english translating could communicate with Mohamed Anwar, who runs a small but efficient shop not far from Cairo’s city center. It was important for me to get the bike into a safe haven while coordinating fixing the fork seal that’s been leaking since Ethiopia and ideally changes the rear tire, provided that DHL had followed through and got the long lost Zambian tire to Egypt.
Mohamed met me at Mohamed’s workshop. Medium build wearing smart business casual attire and driving a BMW 5-series, M. Magdi runs a furniture business which he inherited management of from his father. An avid motorcyclists and a huge fan of M. Anwar, he’s committed to helping travelers and his friend by playing matchmaker and translator. Going out of his way to battle through Cairo rush-hour traffic, M. Magdi knows what it’s like to be a foreigner in strange lands and between phone calls, text messages and personal meetings M. Magdi made my stay in Cairo warm and friendly. The crew that gathers at M. Anwar’s motorcycle shop did as well. Travelers should know about this passionate mechanic. His shop is in a narrow alley off one of the main roads (Le Cornich) that runs along the canal (GPS: N30deg01,289 E31deg13,825). Oddly, M. Anwar doesn’t start work until 12 noon, leaving the morning for prayer and time with his family. But he works well into the evening.
Dimly lit and displaying character that only age and lots of work could give it, Anwar’s shop is basic but comfortable. He’s always first to offer a cup of tea and I never went hungry as food always seemed to show up at the right time and there was always an extra plate for me. Meticulous and thorough, Anwar is proud to show-off his bikes and those of his clients. He imports hard to get bikes for his elite biker friends and can find most any part you could want. High ceilings and supported by aged brick that with the low light and high contrast of the dark environment, it looks like a movie set carefully styled and propped. But this is it. High above one wall is a row of wooden framed bird houses where dozens of doves coo and flap their wings while Anwar performs his magic on the bikes below only taking a break at prayer time or for a cup of tea. This could only be a movie, you think. But again, this is Cairo.
I’d prepped M. Anwar through M. Magdi that I wanted to address the following:
– fork seal
– steering head bearings (just seemed to have a hard notch, not critical but would be nice to fix)
– wheel bearings – just inspect
– replace rear tire with Zambian tire
– vibration/noise from engine case or frame
– exhaust bolts loose
– straighten brackets for panniers after falling in Ethiopia
It was a simple list that we would tackle together. But we needed to move fast. As with Sudan, I realized that my time in Egypt was expiring. Sure I could extend it with much bureaucracy, but I figured Jordan, Israel and Syria all awaited. And I wanted some time to spend on Sinai. Turns out that the date that I first entered Egypt marks the date for the validity of the carnet and my Egyptian license plates — not the date that I finally got my bike out of customs.
M. Magdi helped me find a hotel downtown and we discussed things that one must do while visiting Cairo. He also put me in touch with another American motorcyclist living in Cairo and in school majoring in Middle Eastern studies. We’d later have a chance to grab a beer and catch up on stories, but it was time for me to play tourist while hanging in Cairo.