A group of 16 adventurous travellers plan to scooter across 1700km of roads from Alexandria to Abu Simbel via Sinai in October. The journey will take place over nine days in a bid to promote tourism in post-Mubarak Egypt.
The aim, says Ahmed Elzoghby, a participant and the group’s spokesperson, is to “attract world attention [to the fact] that Egypt post-revolution is not that dangerous and still has so much to offer in terms of touristic sites and world-class resorts.”
The cross-country challenge will also put Egypt’s roads to the test. According to the World Health Organisation, Egypt has one of the highest traffic death rates per person in the world. Elzoghby admits that “it is quite a challenge to ride as a group on highway roads.”
One route they have slight concerns about is the road between Suez and Taba in South Sinai, though Elzoghby said they have been coordinating with the Ministry of Interior to ensure security.
Another goal is to promote alternative modes of transport, such as scooters, bicycles and motorcycles, which are environmentally more friendly than cars and take less space on the roads, the group argues.
The idea for the challenge came about three months ago, on a casual Friday, when the group of friends met in Alexandria, where they all live. Initially, the suggestion was to take a Vespa trip to Sharm el-Sheikh. “At the time, we were already driving scooters,” Elzoghby said. They then thought about extending it to Luxor and Aswan, and finally Abu Simbel. “We wanted to grab the world’s attention during these difficult times.”
Tourism revenue, which accounts for 11 percent of gross domestic product, has dropped significantly since the uprising in January and February, which ousted former President Hosni Mubarak. This fiscal year’s tourism revenue, up to June 2011, is expected to be $3 billion less than last year’s, according to the Ministry of Tourism.
In an effort to counter this downward trend, and remind the world about Egypt’s touristic highlights, the riders will pass by its major landmarks: the modern Bibliotheca in Alexandria, the Great Pyramids of Giza in Cairo, the Suez Canal, South Sinai’s tourist spots, the Karnak temples and the Valley of the Kings near Luxor. The tour will finish at Abu Simbel.
Asked how the post-Mubarak environment has affected the preparations for such a tour, Elzoghby said he was pleasantly surprised at the support he received from government ministries, something that might have been difficult in the past. As an example, he said that the group met with the tourism minister after just sending a letter informing him about the not-for-profit initiative.
“Before the revolution, things of that nature wouldn’t have had that momentum. There’s a lot of positive energy around,” Elzoghby said.
One of the biggest challenges in preparing for the trip, he said, was setting a date. Early September would have still been too hot in Upper Egypt, and mid-September would have, at the time, clashed with parliamentary elections. The elections have now been set for November, and the group has reached a compromise of starting the journey on 14 October.
The Cross Egypt Challenge is at the moment self-financed, though the participants are looking for sponsorship. Elzoghby said their total budget is LE370,000, a sum that includes accommodation, meals, gas, helmets, photography and other equipment.
“If we can’t find enough sponsors, we might end up staying in camps. But we’re determined to make this journey successful, with or without sponsors,” Elzoghby said.
The group is offering complimentary Vespas to anyone who wants to join the main team for the whole journey, with registration open till Friday 9 September. Otherwise, interested motorists can join the challenge for two segments of the journey: from Alexandria to Cairo (210km) and Cairo to Suez (140km). Registration will be open until 1 October.
For more information on the Cross Egypt Challenge, go to the official website: http://www.crossegyptchallenge.com/;
or Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/CrossEgyptChallenge;
or check out Twitter: @CrossEgypt