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Of Hieroglyphs and Harleys: All Modes of Cruising Egypt

7 Dec

Two months ago, I left behind the comforts of Connecticut – and my job here at Mustang Motorcycle Seats – and set out on a two-week journey through Egypt.

My itinerary included the usual highlights of a once-in-a-lifetime vacation, as well as number of motorcycle-related encounters that are well worth sharing. Arriving in Luxor, my traveling companions and I visited the Temple of Karnak and then toured the Valley of the Kings (think King Tut, Ramses VI, etc.).

I’ve travelled extensively, but the cultural contrast of Egypt elicited surprises around every corner. We spent a mesmerizing five days cruising up the Nile (it flows north).

Donkeys remain the most common mode of transportation for rural folks throughout Egypt. The banks of the Nile provided an endless tapestry of old men on donkeys, usually pulling a cart overflowing with crops. We glided along, watching children improvise this traditional mode of transport to play a polo match on donkeys.

On the water, fishermen on feluccas (traditional sailboats of Egypt’s Nile) cast their nets while locals boarded 10-passenger “ferries” (14-foot rowboats) to cross the longest river in the world, where some bridges are separated by a hundred miles or more.

The end of our riverboat journey was in Aswan — Egypt’s southernmost city — where armed personnel and bomb-sniffing dogs patrol the city’s High Dam that holds back the 310-mile-long Lake Nasser. Downtown Aswan is a whirlpool of honking taxis, careening scooters, the omnipresent donkey carts and the occasional camel — all flagrantly ignoring the rules of the road and right of ways.

Scooters abound in every town in Egypt — particularly the endlessly clogged streets of Cairo and Alexandria. While I didn’t recognize many of the scooter brands (Dayun bikes were everywhere), I was surprised to see a number of old Jawa bikes (from the former Czechoslovakia) and I was downright shocked to see a Gold Wing touring around Alexandria.

Just within view of the Pyramids of Giza, you can witness a variety of passenger seating arrangements onboard scooters. These include a solo rider with bundles of straw strapped on high; a husband, his wife (clutching her billowing black robes) and two children — plus a chicken in a cage; a gaggle of four, yes, four men hanging on — each, it seemed, facing a different direction. In addition to these passenger configurations, I spotted many bikes zooming around at night without the benefit of headlights!  The only things scarcer than helmets on these scooters were female drivers.

My two-week vacation was drawing to an end, having seen almost everything from a 13th century BC temple in southernmost Egypt near Sudan all the way north (almost 1,000 miles) to Alexandria’s Mediterranean beaches (of Cleopatra fame).

My last stop was a visit to the upscale island of Zamalek, in the middle of the Nile near the center of Cairo. In this well-to-do residential district (think New York’s Upper East Side), one can find European-style, trendy restaurants as well as a Ritz-Carlton hotel.

And there, on the corner of a tree-lined street (quite a rarity in that country), was one of my more surprising finds in Egypt — a modern, glass-faced building that is home to Harley-Davidson of Cairo.

I had emailed the manager a few weeks earlier, mentioning that I would like to come by for a non-business visit — just a quick stop to see the store. The email reply was pleasant, but my actual reception was beyond warm. The entire, multilingual staff could not have been more professional and gracious. You would have thought the “Mustang Seats” pens I handed out were priceless.

The dealer, Indji Ghattas, treated me to an amazing dinner at a nearby Egyptian restaurant. Dina Wassef, Harley-Davidson of Cairo’s assistant general manager, and Sarah Behman, the purchasing engineer, joined us for dinner. This trio of talented women are the heart of Harley-Davidson of Cairo, which could easily serve as the poster child for a top-notch dealership anywhere in the USA.

These three women told me there are very few female riders in Egypt.  Nevertheless, there are an increasing number of Egyptian women ready to ride and a growing HOG (Harley-Davidson Owners Group) chapter in Cairo. To my surprise, not only was (more…)