In my first twelve hours here, I rode a camel and visited the Great Pyramids of Giza. So…. it’s gonna be a good trip.
This is Mallory, by the way, the newcomer to the trip, who joined the Shoebaru team in Cairo!
Cairo was an intense maze of cement buildings, noise, and people. Very crowded and endless car horns. Thankfully Em can decipher the squiggly lines of Arabic, and our Google Maps seems to read the streets of Cairo (somewhat) accurately. Camels, donkeys, and sheep roam the streets and burning trash? Well, I’ve gotten used to it.
The morning after my arrival, we visited the Great Pyramids. They are incredible…just as you would imagine them to be. So incredibly large and magnificent. It’s very humbling to stand at the base of stones that were laid 5,000 years ago. Wonder of the world. Check!
After Cairo, we headed south and drove along the Nile. There are a ridiculous amount of rickshaws and speed bumps. Literally, one speed bump per quarter mile (we measured). Good for safety. Bad for the distance we have to cover. Our walkie-talkies to communicate between the cars are about 10% directions and 90% speed bump humor.
The Nile provides amazing irrigation, so either side of the river is lush and green. There are many palm trees with hanging dates (instead of coconuts). A few miles out east or west turns into sandy desert, so we just follow the green path south.
We arrive to the city of Aswan, in southern Egypt, on the border of Sudan. The only way to enter Sudan is via ferry that runs once a week. Here’s the problem. We can’t enter Sudan without visas, and Sudan stopped issuing them to Americans a few weeks ago. Shucks.
But we don’t give up that easily. Through various contacts, we have been in touch with a man at the Embassy in Sudan’s capital city of Khartoum. We also have an amazingly helpful contact named Timur who has been trying to work his magic here in Aswan. Opening a border is not easy.
We are hopeful to obtain the visas…and while we wait, we’ll be spending a few weeks in Egypt. If you are going to be stuck somewhere, better to be where there are hundreds of temples, tombs, and interesting things to see. Plus, we usually have them all to ourselves! Tourism is down in Egypt 90% since the revolution last year. Everyone is shocked to see Americans. “You American? Wow! All America afraid of Egypt.” The economy is really hurting here…which pulls at our heart strings every time we start the bargaining process.
For our extended Egyptian stay, we rented a little villa on Elephantine Island in the Nile. It’s brand new with A/C, a beautiful balcony overlooking the river, and a washing machine! Spanish decor interior with a white exterior and run by our new friend Gasser and his wife Ayet. They were married 8 months ago and are expecting their first child soon. Gasser and Ayet invited us to their home multiple times: to watch their wedding video, enjoy fresh Strawberry juice (Joe’s favorite) and have a rooftop dinner.
Elephantine Island is home to Nubians, an ethnic group from Southern Egypt/Northern Sudan. Everyone knows everyone in the village, and most of them are cousins…a continuous joke to us. The Nubians have been very welcoming to the five random Americans living on their island. Elephantine also became the first delivery location for World Clothes Line, my “buy 1, give 1″ clothing company that has partnered with Shoebaru. We gave new t-shirts to the children on the island.
We’ve created a little Egyptian life here. We’ve got our favorite bakery where we buy boxes of sugar cookies and our go-to coffee shop where the owner knows our drink of choice (grape juice!). We swim off our friend Mustafa’s boat and take day trips to local beaches. We know the ferry boat drivers, street pizza makers, and internet cafe owners. Yep, we are quite popular.
We’ve had a wonderful opportunity to experience Ramadan and the great celebration of Eid, marking the end of the holiday. Since the Sudanese consulate was closed for a long holiday weekend, Joe, Emily, Scott, and I took a trip up the Nile. So much for roughing it on a backpacking/camping trip…we’re taking 5 star cruises! We rode north up the Nile to the famous town of Luxor (capital of Ancient Egypt) and visited many incredible temples along the way: Abu Simbel, Edfu, Kom Ombo, Karnak, Luxor, Valley of the Kings, Hatshepsut, and the Colossus of Memnon. Our Aswan contact and now good friend, Timur, accompanied us as our tour guide. We saw all of Egypt’s finest – huge ruins, columns, hieroglyphics, and status of ancient gods. We marveled at the greatness of Ancient Egypt and stuffed ourselves silly on the cruise buffet!
If we weren’t having enough fun, we decided to treat ourselves to everyone’s first hot air balloon ride! It was BREATHTAKING. We could see the Nile, lush green agriculture and people working in the fields, the urban city of Luxor with its many temples, and the surrounding mountainous desert. It was sunrise, and the purple hue of the early morning was gorgeous.
Thanks to Timur, Gasser, Ayet, Mustafa, and all the helpful people of Aswan and Elephantine.
Love from the land of camels!