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The Road to Cairo

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 chance.

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 that.

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 ˝ 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 connections.

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 Jordan!!

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 view.

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 shit 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 view?!

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 good.

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 :)


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