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[RC] Egypt: The Road to Cairo - Merri Melde

When I first decided to go on this trip, or should I say, Invite
myself along on this trip, I mention my decision to go was made
literally in about 10 seconds.  MA didn't find out till after it was
done, and I kind of felt like it would be cheating.

The first few days I was here I felt like I WAS cheating.  Whenever
I've travelled, it's always been out of my backpack, on my own,
arriving in a foreign country by myself, having to figure out how to
get into a city one you land at the airport, fend off the swarming
taxi drivers who try to take you to the wrong guesthouse and try to
rip you off.  Try to find another guesthouse late at night when the
one you pick out of the Lonely Planet is not there; figuring how to
find the right bus to take you somewhere when everything is written in
their language and nobody speaks English. You get your ass grabbed on
busses that are so crowded you almost have a panic attack. Riding in a
3rd class train compartment and being so grateful you and a friend
have actual 'seats' on a luggage rack, etc.

Here at MA's I would be - and was - cheating: I was staying in a
house, being driven around by a driver, everything was arranged for
me/us, food cooked for us. I need a bank? I'm taken to an ATM. I want
to go to Sinai? It's all arranged for me and I have a beautiful villa
to stay in. I am SO over thinking that it cheating!

This is just another view of living/travelling in a foreign
country. I'd have never experienced any of this if I'd come to Egypt my
normal way. It's great to be able to do it the hard way, but it's OK
to do it the easy way, and important to do it if you get the

Look at all these wonderful people I've met and things I've done. And
MA isn't included in the wonderful people category - she's way beyond

Anyway - in our little $2.50 sleeping rooms the only thing to cover up
with were these huge thick blankets that I'd love to have in the
Sierras when It's 15*F outside. In here I'd suffocate. But wait - I
had those beautiful Bedouin scarves I bought. I pulled one out,
covered up with that, and that's all I needed.

I got up at 6:30 and went and sat in the little tea area. It was nice
and cool, the sun just about to come up, with the mountains towering
above us. Sunrise in a villa on the Red Sea one night, sunrise under
Mt Sinai in a little Bedouin camping place the next night.

Ali joined the fire and made a few more phone calls, and said he found
us a driver who'd take us back to Cairo for US $120. We were glad, as
he would've taken us himself if nothing else turned up.

An Israeli couple was staying there; everyone seemed to like them or
at least get along. I asked Ali about them, and he told me how things
are in Israel. It's not the same thing we always hear in America -
this was the point of view of someone who's lived here in Egypt his
whole life (and he doesn't hate Israelis).

In America you just don't get the other points of view except the
extremism. There are always more than 2 sides to every story and as
Americans, saddly, we often get only one. It's hard to have any other
opinions when you know only one side.

Our driver Said got there around 8:30 with a nice roomy van; Ali said
we were going to pick up some other people, drop them off in Taba,
then he'd take us to Cairo. That was 1 ½ hours of backtracking, but we
didn't care and I was thrilled because we'd be seeing a new portion of
the Sinai.

We picked up an Israeli couple and a British couple at St Katherine's
monastery - they'd climbed Mt Sinai at night to watch the sunrise -
and they were a bit - uh, slightly - perturbed to see that the taxi
they'd hired to take them to Taba now - surprise! - had 4 more
passengers and baggage. Uncle Ali (as Hortense calls him) has his

The Israeli man put his arm around Said's shoulders and they went off
to negotiate. The Israeli man was friendly (while the others slept);
we talked as we drove back to the east coast. The Bedouins were out
there doing what they do every day: herding goats, riding camels. A
few acacia-like trees dotted the wadis occasionally.

The Israeli man didn't know their name in English, but he did say that
a Bedouin will hang something from a tree, and come back a month or a
year later, and it will still be there. Isn't this Bedouin concept of
not taking what's not yours so nice?

It was warmer again on the coast, and the Gulf of Aqaba was a
beautiful inviting blue and turquoise.  The coastline was dotted
either with hotels and condos (Hortense called them "mushrooms"
because they pop up and grow so very fast) and little primitive
palm/bamboo huts to stay in (those looked fun!) - diving and
snorkeling heaven.

We turned into the Sofitel Hotel where these guys were staying and we
went in to use the nice bathrooms. Oh my - I'd have no problem
cheating and staying here a night or 2. Usually my only way into these
fancy places are to use the toilets, like I was doing.

As we drove along the gulf, we could see - Saudi Arabia! Tracy and I
had thought we could see it in Sharm but it was only an island.  This
was really Saudi Arabia! And then before we got to Taba, we could see

Tracy said "Merri - we are looking at Saudi Arabia and Jordan!"

I just can't get over this. Our driver Said stopped at a pretty bay
for us to take pix (his idea - and I'm sure he knew the café owner),
and later at a spot where ancient pilgrims on their way to Mecca
carved writing in stone. We stopped for lunch at a little dive in
Taba, and while the driver left, supposedly to do something with our
names and passport numbers, we walked down an alley to the beach - and
sat by and waded in the Gulf of Aqaba, with Jordan and Saudi Arabia in

I mean - I was standing in the Gulf of Aqaba!!  Maybe nobody gets as
excited as Tracy and I do about these things.  We walked back after
half an hour and each had a HUGE lunch - huge plate of Egyptian rice,
baladi bread and tahina, 3 different types of fried fish, plus a bowl
of salad - each! And the tomatoes must taste very good here, because
I'm eating them, and I don't think it's just because I'm in Egypt. We
couldn't finish it all.

Back on the road we drove back out of Taba, away from Saudi Arabia and
Jordan views, and turned inland on the upper highway crossing the
center of Sinai - yet another view of the peninsula. First was a
winding poorly paved road through a very narrow canyon - through more
jagged harsh mountains - I've just run out of words to describe this
country - I give up. See my pictures when I get them downloaded.

We emerged from this canyon onto a high desert - and a thick
sandstorm. Which lasted only a mile and we drove obviously onto
heavier sand which didn't blow. All kinds of desert we passed: flat,
absolutely flat, as far as the eye could see; hills, mountains. Herds
of goats, scattered camels, some of them loaded, but just grazing with
no Bedouins in sight. We passed a herd of goats tended by a few women;
they were dressed all in black except for their faces - which they
covered with a veil (except for their eyes) when we passed.

Out in the middle of nowhere in the light sandstorm would be a police
checkpoint - and a mosque (or a gas station and a mosque). Said would
stop, shake hands, and hand the guys a newspaper. We passed a little
Peugeot-like car stuffed with people, with the top of the car
overloaded with boxes, suitcases, TVs - like that IKEA VW commercial
on TV. The 2nd car like that we passed - guess what. Said knew
them. Having taxi'd all around this area for 23 years, he knows a lot
of people.

He pulled beside them (yes we're going about 110 km/hr, luckily not a
lot of traffic) and waved and honked; they waved and honked. 2 or 3
flashed especially big grins and waved at us. They were Egyptian men
returning from working in Jordan. Said let them pass us, and we passed
them again, and there were our new friends, grinning and waving
heartily. I said "Tracy, they love you!"  T "That's why I'm keeping my
head down. Boy, if I had a big ego, I'd be really happy here!"

I felt a little safer with this driver - until Hortense said he was
getting sleepy. This must be an Egyptian man driver thing? So she
climbed in the front seat and kept him talking - all the way 3 hours
to Cairo. She later said "I ran out of things to say!  Every little
bird or camel or hut I saw I'd ask him about it. He started just
grunting answers, so then I got him to talk about his family."

Hortense saves our lives again. Not only did we enjoy her company but
it was so handy being with an Arabic speaker. Gives you a huge mental
cushion of comfort.

A couple of places Said hit the brakes: drifting sand on the
road. "Black ice in the Sinai," said Tracy. We crossed under the Suez
canal again (!!) and emerged into a full-on sandstorm. Wind, blowing
sand, low clouds - and sprinkles! Oh dear, this looked serious (We
heard later the airport was closed) - this could mean my dream of
galloping in the desert just may not happen this trip.

But oh well! I wouldn't have traded away anything I did. If it's meant
to be it will be, and if it doesn't happen it wasn't meant to be.

The closer we got to Cairo, the traffic picked up, and Said found the
REAL gas pedal, and he scared the s**t out of me several times and I
wasn't even looking. I was thinking about how nice a good shower and
HAIR WASH would feel at MA's (I am NOT travelling with long hair
again), but after a few near sideswipes and scary swerves, I amended
that to thinking it sure would be nice just to GET to MA's.

We crossed the Nile into Giza, and suddenly the 3 great Pyramids pop
up right there on the edge of the country where the desert starts -
how fantastic, I think every time - does anybody ever get used to that

We did get to MA's at 5:30, and what a wonderful reception we got from
all our friends: 25 leaping bouncing yipping ecstatic wagging happy
dog tails, 2 cats 2 turtles 3 goats and a camel. Or - I'm not sure,
maybe I was really tired and some of that was a desert mirage. The
shower felt great and the cold beer went down well.

MA's son Nadim and his girlfriend Vanessa (just returned after Nadim's
job in Cyprus ended) came over, and we had a great meal of chili and
fuul. Then Nadim, Vanessa, Tracy and I walked in the cool damp evening
(felt so nice!!)  to Morad and Hortense's house. They were having a
minor party and some seriously fierce soccer X-Box games. I only kept
my eyes open for an hour before I had to slip home.

the best is yet to come :)

===========================================================Prudence and focus 
will carry you a long way on a horse.
~  Frank Solano

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