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Greetings from Egypt!
We left London in the same fashion as when we arrived, in rain. We arrived into Cairo late in the evening and had pre-arranged to have a pickup to our hotel. Egypt is very overwhelming for the senses – the sounds, the smells, the dust…
Cairo is one of the most densely populated cities in the world.
“It’s chaotic, noisy, totally unpredictable and seething with humanity.-Lonely Planet
– Lonely Planet
We have been to other countries where we thought they drove like madmen (yes, Paul and I are terrified of even those TO drivers), but Egypt is like on a whole new scale. The other funny thing about Egyptian traffic is that there are pedestrians everywhere and instead of walking on the sidewalk, they walk on the road. We have gotten quite used to this now and we rarely walk on the sidewalk (which has at least a foot high curb – lots of exercise going up and down).
Another adjustment we had to make was our living conditions. We had been spoiled rotten in England, staying with friends and lovely hotels and it was quite humbling our first night actually being in the type of places we will spend the
next 6 months. Flip flops in the shower, laundry in the sink, sleeping in sleeping bags instead of the questionable sheets, squatting….
We visited the Pyramids the next day after some trouble finding the right bus. We were surprised by the lack of tourists around. We wandered through the Pyramids with an American woman, Janice travelling by herself that we met on the bus. The Pyramids are an amazing sight and it is totally unbelievable that they were built thousands of years ago. We wandered out, hungry for lunch and the first place we saw was Pizza Hut. We hadn’t even been in Egypt a full day and already we were indulging in Western food. As you can see, the Pizza Hut had a great location with a great view. We have also realized the need to seek out Western hotels and fast food, for their lovely (by comparison) bathrooms – toilet paper included! Janice showed us how to take the metro and it is interesting that they have two seperate cars at the front that are woman only.
It is very warm here during the day, but gets cool in the evening. However, since Egypt is a
Muslim country, we have had to dress quite conservatively even in the heat. For me, that means pants and a t-shirt and I still get stared at (just in a curious way – don’t get worried Dad!), simply because I don’t have my head covered. The women wear head coverings and some even wear the full burqas. About half of the men wear a long gown and sometimes a head covering as well.
Into the Desert
After our one day in Cairo, we decided to head into the Western Desert and took a bus for Farafra. When we told people where we were going, they looked at us like, why would you go there? We asked ourselves that same question once we had arrived! After a 8 hour bus ride, where we were the only tourists, we arrived to the oasis town of Farafra. Throughout the desert, there are a series of oases and after miles and miles of desert, it is interesting to see lush vegetation. Farafra is a smaller oasis and we really didn’t see any other tourists and there were only one other family at our hotel. We walked through the village and the children all
yell “hello” and “welcome” and it is really sweet. They ask where from and when we say Canada, they all say Canada Dry – a popular drink here. We went on a half day trip into the desert to see some sand dunes. You can see that they took us to the middle of nowhere.
The Police Presence
The Egyptians are very concerned about tourist safety and as we took the buses throught the desert, we would pass through various police checkpoints and they would have to register “the 2 Canadians”. These checkpoints would be every 100 km. When we went on the day trip, we had to write a letter saying we did not need a police escort. There are police on every street corner, wearing wool suits! Every hotel in the desert that we stayed at, they would post a policeman at the hotel, although they often ended up playing ping pong all day. Their are different police for everything, tourist police, traffic police, etc.
The Kind Stranger
We moved on to the next oasis, Dahkla. Dahkla was larger than Farafra, but there still were very little tourists. Again we had hoped to arrange a tour
with others, but couldn’t find any other tourists. We decided to do our own tour, Lonely Planet style. We took a taxi to the old town of Al Qasr and this is where a wonderful coincidence occured that would benefit us for days. We couldn’t find a taxi back to Dahkla so we walked to the police checkpoint and they said they would find us a ride. The flagged down a man, Mohsan, our kind stranger, for a ride. He didn’t want to charge us (it is 30 km) and we quickly realized that he was not your ordinary desert citizen. When he gave us his card (everyone wants to give you their colourful business cards – taxi drivers, touts, etc), we realized he was the PR Manager for the Egyptian Tourist Office for the Western Desert. He was very friendly and wanted to take us on a tour of the area, since he had some time (for free!).
“When you travel, at some point you will find yourself in a dire predicament – out of money, out of food, unable to find a hotel room, lost in a big city or on a remote trail stranded in the middle of nowhere. However, someone will miraculously emerge to take care of you – to lend you money, feed you, put you up for the night, lead you to where you want to go. Whatever the situation, dramatic or mundane, some stranger will save you.” -“The Kindness of Strangers”, Edited by Don George (Lonely Planet)
This quote is from a book that was given to me by my co-worker Irene and it is a fabulous collection of short stories about kindness you encounter when travelling – highly recommend! –
We’ve been reading this book and Mohsan was that kind stranger for us. We weren’t in a dire situation, but we were frustrated and you rarely encounter so much kindness, without wanting something in return.
Mohsan took us on a tour of the area – drove us from site to site and explained about the history of the area and the people, even treating us to a drink at the end. We were headed to the next oasis, El Kharga that evening and he said he would drive us, since he was headed there, but he had his family with him. Instead he arranged the bus we should take and said he would try and meet us at the bus station in Kharga. The bus arrived at 10pm and we were surprised and happy to see Mohsan’s smiling face waiting for us to drive us to the hotel, he had arranged if we wanted (a great place at a great price). We were going to Luxor the next day and since there is no public transportation directly there, he had arranged a taxi for us to go the 4 hrs at a good price. Mohsan is
a senior ranking government administrator and he was definitely not benefiting from the arrangements. We were treated amazingly well everywhere we went because we were “with Mohsan”. We were continually amazed at his kindness and giving nature. It is people like Mohsan that make travelling such an great way to connect with the local people.
We have been in Luxor for a couple of days (we found all the tourists here!) and are headed to Aswan on a Nile cruise tomorrow. This has been a very long blog, so we will continue next week.
We are loving all the emails! The comments on the blog are great – they take a few days to show up, because we have to approve them.
Paul & Dawn