<% pageTitle="2004 Dahshur Dawdle - Abu Sir Egypt" homeDirectory="/2004dahshurdawdle/" eventSponsor="belesemo" leftBanner="kerrit" rightBanner="ridecamp" %>

Dreams Fulfilled

I am in LOVE. His name is Asa'il (or Harry).

We woke up to a beautiful sunny morning. This was My Day. Tracy didn't feel good so she stayed home. MA and J dropped me off at Morad's. I suddenly realized I hadn't put a charged battery in my digital camera - some professional photographer I am!!

This was my only chance to get pictures of me galloping in the desert! I was about to run on foot back to MA's when I saw a car with a driver in the driveway who'd just dropped some people off. I didn't know who he was, didn't care - I ran up to him somewhat panicked. "Oh! Oh! Can you drive me down the road very quickly!?" "Yes yes come."

I ran around to the passenger side and jumped in, and the driver backed out of the drive, even as the 2 ladies I hadn't met yet gave us some startled looks. He drove me to MA's where I ran in and grabbed the new battery and ran back out to the car and hopped in. He drove me back, I thanked him profusely, and I hopped out to meet the ladies whose driver I'd carjacked. They were Denise and Fiona, with (what a great coincidence this is) Arabian Horse World magazine.

Fiona and the art director from the magazine are flying out with us on the same flight tomorrow. Could anybody have planned this any better? "By the way," I said, "I am a horse photographer":)

Denise was riding with us and Julie (and her black stallion) and Hortense and Morad and Christina. A groom leads out into the sunshine my mount: a huge magnificent flaming red stallion with a flowing mane and white-rimmed eye. My eyeballs popped out, and when I climbed aboard my jaw dropped.

He turned into a fire breathing dragon - he tried to savage the groom holding him and tried to bite my leg several times, and he lifted me out of my saddle (English saddle, not used to this!), and lunged, mouth wide open into the palm branch we walked under as if he could devour the whole piddly little date palm itself.

When he walked he bowed his beautiful neck to his chest and his mane rippled over both sides of his neck and his forelock covered his face. His steps were light but he was so terrifically powerful I was like a mosquito on his back.

I noticed the reins were extra double duty thick - probably because he pulls so hard he's broken a few. Great! As we walked a short distance down the paved road, he shook his mighty head and jerked it down again, and I knew he could launch me to the moon if he wanted.

Oh, Morad, what have you done to me??

We turned into the mango grove which drops you right onto the desert at the Sun Temple. Harry was walking calmly but I could just feel him ready to explode. I remembered the first racehorse I rode just bolting away with me at a dead run (or so it felt) and I had no control and I was scared.

This is why I love endurance riding - it's my speed (slow), and lots of it. We got to the sand, and there were maybe 7 or 8 of us, and I thought Oh God, we're all going to take off like a cavalry charge, or Morad's going to come charging by me, and Harry's going to deposit me neatly in the sand (thank goodness it's sand).

But everybody just walked on, chatting; Morad trotted near me, and I said "Morad, you might've put me on too much horse." He gave me a big grin and said, "He's the lightest one I have," over his shoulder as he cantered off to some other riders on a hill. His lightest one? Right. I was going to die out here. Visions of getting my face smashed again popped into my head - I wanted to gallop in the desert!? How 'bout just a pleasant little canter on a quiet little gelding instead of this colossal dragon?

Morad came cantering back, and he and Pal took off galloping up a little wadi. Hortense said to me, "Come, we can go up this hill." I thought, well, if he bolts off at a dead run, at least it's sand and he's going uphill. I had a cross on Harry's neck if I needed it though so far out here on the sand, I hadn't touched his mouth. I was ready though, I knew it was coming.

I moved my hands just a little, and thought Forward, (but not too fast), and Harry bowed his head and floated into a trot. I could feel every powerful bone and muscle of this horse beneath me; I wanted to canter in the desert!? Heck this trot is pretty darn nice, thank you.

At the top of the hill where it flattened out, I thought Oh Shit, here we go - and Harry did nothing but continued floating over the sand at the trot awaiting my command. I did notice I was still barely touching his mouth. He had a big smooth trot and was ahead of Hortense so she moved Maximus to a canter.

I thought, OK "THIS is where Harry bolts off" and what the hell, it's time to find out if I'm going to hit the sand or get scared. I gritted my teeth, I touched my legs to his sides every so lightly - and Harry bowed his flaming head and touched his nose to his chest and broke into a canter the same speed as his trot, and I still had never touched his mouth.

Oh my God, I thought, what is this thing I am riding!? We cantered on, trotted on, and came to another group of people, and Pal joined us. We'd left the others behind by now, and I asked Pal if it was OK for me to have left Morad behind and he said Yes of course.

Mohammed said, "Come with us," and Pal said "Let's go!" and he took off. I said to Harry, "Let's go!" He tucked his nose to his chest, picked up the right lead I asked for and we cantered along the western Sahara desert (or the Libyan desert), past the pyramids of Abu Sir. We came to the top of the little wadi we were in and the desert flattened out - acres and miles and countries to ride through - anywhere!

I could ride from here straight to Morocco if I wanted to! Morocco! The group cantered onward; my wonderful mount and I canted by ourselves 50 yards away. Much of the footing out here is not as deep as you'd think - a galloping hoof leaves an impression as deep as one on a groomed racetrack, though the sand's just a little harder.

A lot of the sand is also rocky, and it almost sounds like a gallop over cobblestones. The consistency/footing of the sand changes: from the harder sand to the rocky sand with firmer footing, to soft sand where they do sink down. I could feel the change in the footing and the adjustment in Harry's stride - I'm sure the horses quickly learn to read the footing - though he never bobbled. I could've drunk a glass of champagne from his back. And I still didn't touch his mouth - the reins just sat on his neck.

Harry and I drifted further from the pack; I urged him to a gallop, and my magnificent steed and I flattened out into a gallop, passed the pyramid and temples of Saqqara, and it hit me: oh my God, I am GALLOPING A HORSE IN EGYPT BY THE PYRAMIDS!! I could have cried.

I did cry, many times that morning. This couldn't be real, I was in another world and another time. I am so sorry Steph and my friend Connie were not out here also, but I shared this ride with them anyway. Plastic Walmart-but-not-Walmart-but-worldly-cancerous-plastic bags rolled across the desert like Nevada tumbleweeds.

One was heading our way and would intersect us if I didn't change course. MA said these Egyptian Arabs didn't spook at flying plastic bags. I noticed none of them had in our rides in the countryside. We continued on course, and Harry galloped right on over the plastic bag. I veered back toward the others; we climbed another hill and looked around us.

It was a beautiful partly cloudy and cool day with a slight breeze - just perfect. We walked/slid down the hill, and Pal said "Let's do the Back 40," or something like that, and we all took off again. Pick your path - anywhere, any direction, any speed, any company - just go! Pal and I fell behind the others, and slowed down to a walk.

He said "I read some of your stories on EnduranceNet - I just can't wait to see how all these Eccentrics you're meeting are going to flesh out!" He also read about mine and Steph's tea with the Sun Temple guide. Yes, he said, we did eat his lunch.

NO matter how poor they are they pride themselves on sharing whatever they had. To have refused to share his tea and food would've been impolite. But geez, I didn't have to pig out! Pol's wife is, and I may have said this incorrectly earlier, the Norwegian ambassador to Ethiopia. He talked about his wife's job, and Addis Ababa and Ethiopia. "You have not seen, nor can you imagine, the utter misery and poverty in Ethiopia. I've been to slums in Mexico City and Bogota - they don't compare."

It sounded absolutely hopeless with no light on the horizon - not to mention completely depressing: civil war, famine, disease, millions of refugees, an unbreakable cycle. I said "Then there's no solution." Pal "Short term, no. Long term, yes. You just have to keep hope and keep pushing forward."

His wife is coming to Egypt Friday; I'm sorry I didn't get to meet and talk with her. WE talked about ruins in the area - he said there are hundreds of known sites buried out here - they just aren't excavating them. A lot of it's political and a lot of it is Egypt's treasury - to be dealt out over time.

Pal told me Harry had another name: Asa'il. It means "Honey." Julie of the new black stallion had previously owned him, and couldn't quite pronounce Asa'il. "It sounds like Asshole; I'm giving him a new name!" And Harry he became.

By now we'd lost the others - here riders can cover a lot of ground and they quickly become spots on the horizon - they'd swung east around a string of sand hills. We walked till we got out of the deeper sand, and Pal said "Let's see if we can find them."

As we walked along, I couldn't keep my hands off Harry. I patted his beautiful neck, I ran my hands through his mane, I patted his big red butt. No queen had ever had a more beautiful seat on a golden thrown than I had right here. "How do you say 'You are beautiful' in Arabic?" I asked Pal. He said "'Enta gameel.' It means not only physical beauty, but beautiful from the inside." Oh, yes. I leaned over Harry and put my arms around his neck and I hugged him. "Enta gameel, Asa'il."

Pal moved his horse to a trot, to a canter. Harry graciously bowed his head and floated to a trot, and bowed his head again and glided to a canter. Pal was now galloping, full out running ahead of me. Harry asked me - asked me! - if he could go. "Meshe Harry!" Go on.

He spread his wings, and we ran through the desert. The wind roared in my ears and whipped his mane in my face and drove the tears out of my eyes and across my face. If I cocked my head to the side I no longer heard the wind but the 4-beat of his hoofs on the sand. I dropped the reins and put my hands on that golden red neck and felt his strength through my fingertips. "Enta gameel Asa'il!"

Maybe it lasted a minute, or maybe 10 minutes - but I'll never forget it. We rounded the corner and saw nobody, so we canted on to the top of a hill. Still no other riders, so Pal said "Let's go that way. I'll show you something." And so we canted on, down one row of hills into a little wadi and back up another hill.

Harry adjusted his strides perfectly to the uphill or downhill, softer sand or hard. We crested the hill that Pal had picked out - and we met MA, Jackie and Christina coming from the opposite direction. On top here was a big hole about 20 feet deep and maybe a car's width all around with a hint of remains of a wall, with sand piled all around the hole. "It's a tomb. They just aren't bothering with it because there's so many other big things. There's hundreds and hundreds of them."

Can you just imagine what this area looked like 4000 years ago before sand buried everything? You just get the feeling out here that you are riding over ancient treasures everywhere. We walked down the hill, and walked and trotted along a while, talking. Harry had a big walk and we were out in front, when I spotted 5 or 6 riders off in the distance. I wondered if it was Morad and Hortense and Denise.

Wait - why wonder?

I can zip on over there and find out! I lifted my fingers and Harry confirmed with a bow and we cantered a mile across the desert. As we got close, I could see it was nobody I knew - it looked like a low plodding tour group. Boring! Harry and I arc'd in a big circle and cantered the mile back to our group.

Pal then trotted up to me. "You want to go?" He read my mind! Off we cantered to the distant Japanese Hill, near Saqqara. And cantered and cantered and cantered, over buried remains of Egypt's 4000 year old history.

Japanese Hill is where the Japanese are excavating a huge site a little distance, maybe ~1/2 mile from the Saqqara Step Pyramid, which is likely part of Saqqara. It's the highest hill around, and you can see the 3 Great Pyramids of Giza, Abu Sir, Saqqara, and the Bent and Red Pyramids from Dashur, stretching north and south as far as you can see.

The pollution wasn't so bad this morning after yesterday's bit of rain. (MA said that last year Cairo surpassed Mexico City with the worst polluted city in the world.)

Harry posed with me up top, then we slid our way down and galloped around the hill to meet the others. I took pictures of everybody, and kept handing off my camera to people: "Take my picture!" Usually I prefer to be behind the lens. Not here - not with my new gorgeous Egyptian boyfriend! (Who was quite photogenic I might add.) Please - nobody tell Stormy about this. He gets very jealous.

And OK, now I understand a little the Egyptians' love affair and addiction to stallions. I think this is the first time I've ridden one. They are different! We trotted on past the Abu Sir pyramids, heading back home. I was looking at a nearby hill, and thought - why look, just go! I turned my hand, and Harry picked up a canter, loped to the top, and we stopped and looked around one last time, then trotted back down to join the others, to the Sun Temple, and exited the desert at the mango grove.

I was so happy I cried all the way home. I didn't have to say anything to Morad when he and Hortense and Denise got back a short time later. He laughed. "See? I told you!" I have him a big hug - thank you, that was the best ride I've ever had in my life. I'd've given Harry a kiss on his big red nose but he'd've probably bitten my face off. (And Stormy would've been REALLY jealous, because he loves the nose kisses.)

Ahh - that dream fulfilled, it was time to move on to the rest of our last day in Cairo. We zipped back to the house then zipped to Somiya's stables across the road - she was having a brunch for everyone. I ate enough for 3 - starving after my desert romp with my flaming wild Egyptian stallion. Another trip to MA's house, then we drove in to Maadi with her. Meeting us there would be Nabeel, to collect his Sinai guide money. We'd pre-agreed on paying him US $100, instead of $150 (US dollars are better than gold here). Two of us thought they deserved nothing at all since they didn't get us home and we had to pay an additional US $120 to the new driver, not to mention the driving fiasco in Sharm, and Nabeel trying to take us everywhere HE wanted to go; two of us felt like we could just pay what we'd agreed on, since during our argument to turn around and go back to St Katherine, I said "You can go back to Cairo tonight, we'll still pay you." Technically I hadn't added "what we agreed on."

So we left it to MA to tell us what she thought was best, and she said, and her son Nadim agreed, pay them no more than US $100. Neither Jackie nor Tracy nor I were looking forward to the confrontation, and MA said what we'd all been praying she'd sayy, "Don't worry. I'll take care of it" - like she's graciously taken care of everything here.

We cowered in the den where MA's comuter was sending and receiving email while she went to meet Nabeel at the door, pay him our $, chew him out for us, and send him away. Thanks (yet again) MA.

We went back to the Bedouin market store where we all bought more goodies. The man pulled out something to show us: a very rare very ornate and very old woman's Bedouin head covering. He said there's a picture of it in the January Conde Nast travel magazine.

It was ornately decorated with rows of silver and gold coins - the woman can use these if she needs money. The number of silver/gold pieces on the brow band indicate how many boys ahd had, girls on the other side, and grandchildren. The different colors of cloth indicate what family and tribe she belongs to. Exquisite colorful beadwork hands down both sides of the veil. Stones to protect her from the evil eye might hang from the corners; gold and silver charms, including the hand which also protects against the evil eye, also hang from the browband. This one he said was worth several thousand dollars.

I asked if I could take a picture of him holding it up. "No." Oh, OK, no problem. "I will put it on you." (This guy liked to tease us - MA's known him a long time). "Wait wait! You need a scarf." He ran to get a scarf to drape around me; then I was readied for a picture.

He gave us each an embroidered Bedouin bag on the way out. Another stop or 2 in Maadi, always joining the mysterious Cairo traffic flow. It's fascinating, hypnotic (if you can stand to look), totally indecipherable and disorganized - but somehow it works. No computer program could even analyze this - but I am just starting to scratch the surface of understanding this foreign language.

I expect like all language it takes years to really master it. MA says, "Think School of Fish," and that is about the best way to describe the Cairo traffic. Always moving forward, flowing, weaving in and out, side by side, sometimes very close but never touching, completely independent of each other yet an intricate ballet of teamwork - and this includes cars, busses, donkey carts. On the highway from Giza to Cairo over the Nile, yea, sure, there are sometimes stripes painted for maybe 2 or 3 lanes (wide enough for 3 or 4 cars each), or maybe not, maybe the paint dried on the paintbrush as they got further away from the paint can, and they abruptly end.

They don't mean anything, and I mean, they don't mean anything. On this highway over the Nile you might suddenly get, say, a terrible craving for a bite of cauliflower. You're driving 100 km/h on the far left side of the (usually) one-way Cairo east-bound side of the highway (in what we Americans might call "the left lane"), and you see - what luck! - a donkey pulling none other than a cartful of cauliflower!

You dart among the fish (no sudden swerving, and you might even use your turn signal) and ever so smoothly (one hopes) you make it to the far right 'lane' where you stop in front of the donkey, and he stops behind you, and you get out of your car, and you and the cauliflower man exchange pleasantries and piastres and cauliflower on the sidewalk while the donkey, used to this, waits ever so patiently as the rest of Cairo zooms by at 100 km/h.

Or, maybe one hot afternoon you're zooming home in the far "left lane" and you're dying for a warm coke or hot peanuts or something, and one of those little handcarts just happens to have been parked in the far "right lane", so you deftly swirve over quickly, pull over, get out of your car, and chat and eat peanuts in the hot sun on the highway over the Nile, while other drivers wish they had time to stop for hot peanuts. It all just works - but don't EVEN ask me to try to drive in it.

We were driving along this bridge back to Giza and Abu Sir for the last time (this trip) around 6 PM. I said to Tracy for the last time (this trip): "Tracy - there are the Pyramids!!"

They stuck up out of the desert and over the highrises in the dusk. A full moon was riding over the irrigated fields. A lot of peasants/farmers were on their way home - a parade of carts and animals: a donkey with a big bulging load of berseem (their clover/alfalfa, grown everywhere in the fields and cut fresh daily) also carrying a man, and ponying 2 gamoosas (water buffalo) and 1 cow; a donkey pulling a huge cartload of berseem and pulling a man pulling 3 gamoosas; a loadless donkey leading a man leading a cow and gamoosa; any combination, all going home to eat and rest after a hard and long day's labor to survive, before going out early next morning.

We went home to start packing - we were going to Janie's for dinner, where Nadem and Vanessa were making a special moussaka - when MA realized Nadim had left her computer in Maadi. Ahh! We had to have that to download my pictures from today, and burn all my pictures to CD before I left. I rode with MA back into Maadi and soaked up more of the knowledge and lore and stories she imparts. We were back at MA's at 8 and I quickly crammed stuff in my bag before we went to Janie's. I said hi to Harry as we drove by his house on the way. At Janie's we had a great dinner and a last visit (this trip) with our friends in Egypt. When we left the full moon was shining straight down on us. I said goodbye to Harry as we drove past the last time (this trip). Enta gameel, Asa'il. Shukran. J


[The End - this trip:)]