From Honking Cairo: Road Touring the Nile Delta

Running for the Train
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In Egypt's Nile delta region, the river fans out into many canals.

Finally, by 2 o' clock and after 90 km (56 mi) of mind-blowing sights and sounds, we reached the outskirts of Tanta, the biggest city of the delta. We had to slow to a crawl to get through the muddy and pot-holed streets packed with the animals and people in a poorer part of town. We also had to stop frequently for directions (we had not seen a sign in English since we left Cairo) to the train station and the end of our cycling adventure and the beginning of our train adventure. Since we were running short on time, we had decided to take a train to Alexandria for a few days.

So far on our trip, we have succeeded in taking our bicycles on trains in France, Spain, Italy, and Tunisia. It was time to test the Egyptians. After figuring out how and where to buy tickets and deciding to reserve in the first-class coach—you have to see the crowded and tight second- and third-class cars to know that taking bikes on them would be possible but very difficult—we moved everything to the right platform, prepared everything for loading, and awaited the train. Having practiced on- and off-loading bikes many times now, we are practiced professionals, but nothing could have prepared us for what almost happened.

No one told us that the first-class cars had only one door and that the train we were taking would stop for only three minutes! When the train did arrive, we were about 75 feet from where we had to be. And when everyone on the platform started rushing, we realized there was trouble. We had to run five Wheeler bikes, two trailers, two big and heavy sacs, five sets of panniers, and assorted other bags to the single door where there was no official room for the bikes.

Anthony ran with two bikes and leaned them against the train before running back to get more stuff. I (with two more bikes) jumped on the train and started trying to arrange everything so there would be room for all the bikes, bags, AND five people. After what seemed like only a few seconds, I turned around and realized that some helpful people were literally throwing the remaining bikes into a pile on the train behind him because... the train was actually leaving. It was moving! And Andrea, Corinne, Padraic, and Anthony were still on the platform!

I quickly vaulted over the pile of bikes and leaned out the door, ready to grab bags and people as they arrived. And what did he see? His four panic-stricken and wide-eyed teammates all in a row, running alongside the train as fast as their legs could carry them and their very heavy bags. It seemed like they would never make it. They were too far away and carrying too much stuff. People on the platform and others in the train with me were yelling at them to run faster. But they couldn't. Uh-oh, thought I (who didn't have the tickets), this could be a problem.

Fortunately, just as it seemed like I would have to travel alone with the Wheelers and everyone else would wait for the next train, the train slowed and then stopped and made it possible for everyone to jump on board. Whew. But after only a few seconds, it started again and everyone was stuck in a small area with a pile of bikes, bags, and about ten people—the five of us, a porter, the conductor, and two other helpful people. Needless to say, it took another 15 minutes to sort out the mess, stash the bags, arrange the bikes, and find our seats, but whew, at least we were all on the same train.

The Nile
The Nile Delta is the unusually fertile triangular-shaped area formed as the Nile fans out into many canals and then drains into the Mediterranean. (Deltas got their name because they have the form of the Greek letter "delta," which is shaped like a triangle.) There is so much water in the Delta, and the earth has been replenished so frequently, that some people consider it one of the most green, fertile, and cultivated regions in the world.

Because there is so much opportunity for agriculture, every available piece of land is used for crops or people. Which means that it is a very crowded part of Egypt. The population density in some areas is believed to be more than 1,000 people per square mile (386 per sq km). Many work as farmers raising beans, corn (maize), cotton, millet, rice, and wheat.

The most impressive thing about the modern Delta is the complex system of irrigation canals that keep this area producing year-round. This was plenty apparent to us as we followed the waters on our bikes. Every field and every furrow was being used to grow crops, and water was in great abundance. There appeared to be three basic devices for getting water from the canals into the irrigation ditches that crisscross the Delta: the shadoof, first used in about 1600 BC; the Persian wheel, created in the second century BC; and the modern water pump, which chugged away in every corner of the Delta.

All Original Material Copyright © by BikeAbout

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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