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Hazards of desert trek paled to Cairo taxi

Sun., Sept. 18, 2011

“Cairo was a dump,” Ted Lowe said, recalling the day he arrived in Egypt with his daughter and son to race an ultramarathon in the Sahara Desert.

They bought all the bottled water they could carry and avoided local cuisine because they couldn’t take a chance on getting sick before heading into the desert.

But with a little time before meeting the race group, they arranged a last-minute tour of the Great Pyramids.

“When you call for a cab, they send two, because one is likely to be in a wreck,” Lowe said. “That’s what happened to us. One made it through. We jammed into the taxi. It was extremely uncomfortable in the heat.

“Our guide shows up and he’s limping. When we told him we were in Egypt for a race, he warned us to be careful,” Lowe said, noting the guide had been in a car wreck a few months earlier and was the only one of six people involved to survive.

After the tour, the guide left the Lowes in the city with two cabs and a drive of about 30 kilometers back to the hotel.

“The two taxi drivers took off,” Lowe said. “We were in one of the cars and they were racing and laughing.

“Horses, carts, motorcycles, trucks with pigs and cattle were filling four lanes and driving on the road shoulder and paths as well, all with no discipline.

“I started gripping the seat. I couldn’t find a seat belt. The driver was weaving in and out of traffic, passing sometimes on the shoulder, swerving to avoid people parked on the side of the road.

“When the driver saw me holding on he’d tease me and take his hands off the wheel.

“Then we passed by a wreck. People were dragging a guy off the road after he’d been run over. They pulled him up into a meat wagon. Then they put a wrecked motorcycle in the same van.”

Undeterred, the taxis continued racing into a tunnel under the Nile. “I’m thinking of Princess Diana all the way through it,” Lowe said.

“We had enough of Egypt by the end of that ride.”

But they managed to pack in a little more local flavor before they got to start the race.

A sand storm engulfed them at the hotel before they left, breaking glass and turning the pool brown.

On the race organization’s bus as they headed toward the open desert, they were stopped at a military roadblock.

Despite the 40 armed security guards traveling with the race group’s caravan, the soldiers checked each bus and removed the one Israeli runner among 160 racers.

“I’d already noticed that the maps in the seatbacks on Egypt Air did not recognize Israel,” Lowe said.

“The Israeli rejoined us by the morning of the second day of racing, having worked through the embassy all way up to top leadership. He became a good friend.

“All in all, it was not a great start. We were glad to finally be way out in the desert.”

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