One of the great journey’s to be had while in Egypt is to travel the length of the Nile, south to north, on board a traditional sailing vessel known as a felucca.
Aswan is a small Egyptian city relatively close to the border with Sudan. Surrounding the city are rocky hills, almost pink in color; one of which contains the mausoleum of Aga Khan lll, the 48th Imam, who died in 1957.
The Blue Nile cuts through Aswan’s center and under the bright midday sun she shimmers and glistens with a gentle relaxed beauty; like that of a tidal pool or crater lake. The water itself reflecting the appearance of a thousand diamonds mounted atop a vast fluid sapphire.
Dotted throughout this section, the river hosts dozens of tree covered islands that lend further to its overall allure; enhancing the richness of a land once ruled by pharaohs and sultans with their hoards of gold encrusted jewels.
Aswan proved to be a city that appreciated a more relaxed way of life. The polar opposite of its big brother Cairo. Here you can stroll down the boardwalk alongside the Nile and even though hawkers still attempt to make sales, their numbers are few, and their style less abrasive.
It is a city in the desert and therefore a kind of oasis. With a river through sand dunes guided by the arch of palm trees; swaying not from wind but from strong thermal currents. Continue reading Felucca on the Nile →
Baksheesh: A small sum of money given as alms, a tip, or a bribe.
The request of “Baksheesh” while in Egypt comes frequently and often for no apparent reason. Baksheesh, like a Tip in the west, is an amount of money paid on top of the agreed upon price. A way of showing your appreciation for excellent service.
The mere fact that you are enjoying your day, walking around, seeing the sights, should not constitute a cash payment to all locals of that city. In Cairo however, and the rest of Egypt, that is precisely the interpretation.
The requests inevitably become white noise and after a while they are treated with the same attention to detail you would assign the annoyance of a fly-by insect; you know it’s there but with a wave it will be gone.
This became rote within minutes of exiting the dark wood lobby of the hotel.
At first I simply set out on foot. In complete denial of how the heat, dust, and noise would affect me. My goal, as always, was to take in my environment then settle on a plan of action that would ultimately have me standing toe to toe with the famous Sphinx while contemplating the many theories regarding his loss of nose.
Walking in Cairo is interesting; my head was swiveling as I took in all the madness. Given the last couple of days though this was all beginning to take on an air of familiarity. The chaos was my new normal and I found myself inwardly enjoying the crazy. Continue reading The Big Baksheesh →
Day one in Egypt; one for the books. So much happened and at different ends of the crazy spectrum. Where else can you be exfoliated, temporarily blinded, rescued by a mirage, greeted by a ghost, and conned by a wanna-be doctor to the tune of appetizer, main, and sweet. ..times two.
My entry through the border into Egypt had, in hindsight, seemed like the most normal of events. No drama, no bribery, no unnecessary body searches. The whole process completed without care or friendliness but with a result both efficient and satisfactory.
In Sands of the Sinai I wrote this paragraph and now it was time to pay. “The border guards fit perfectly into this environment. They were gruff, unfriendly, and even though I suspected untrustworthy I had nothing at the time to base that on. They were efficient though and let’s face it, that’s all we really want from a guard at the entrance to any country that is not our own”.
As day two in Egypt began and the sun came streaming over the rubble mountain outside my window, I opened my passport. There, among many other visa stamps was my entry permit to Egypt. I could immediately see a slow toothy grin emerge through sweaty stubble and spread itself over the faces of each border guard. Continue reading The Mogamma Odyssey →
The Carlton Hotel looks like a nice place. Its vertical crimson sign proudly displaying its name against the exterior wall. There was an awning of similar color; tattered but an awning none-the-less. If ever there is a mark of a classy establishment it’s got to be the awning; nowhere else I had stayed on this trip had one.
The van I had traveled the desert spluttered towards the doorway like an emphysemic nomad; weather-beaten, ill-tempered, and unhealthy. Where it was going next I had no idea. The driver stopped talking to me shortly after his jubilant outburst following freedom from the hard-blowing Sinai sands.
I am not sure if he was a little embarrassed by his lack of survival skills or if something else was cooking and he just wanted rid of me as quickly as possible. Of course it would be the latter and this would be a lesson learned and re-learned many times during my stay in Egypt.
The word “Carlton” was emblazoned in thick gold lettering, on a slant, upon both glass doors. The “A” on one side was missing but the Carlton on the right-side door was complete and proud. I opened that one and entered Continue reading Con Man of Cairo →
Nowadays, Cairo conjures up images of rebellion, bloodshed, barricades, and overall civil unrest in the city’s center known as Tahrir Square. Not to mention military coups and the ousting of two sitting presidents in as many years. Egypt has been through a lot in recent years resulting in an image that has been severely tarnished.
That did not used to be the case though.
The mention of Cairo once brought with it images that stuck fast in the imagination. Cairo, Egypt; the home of Alexandria’s Lighthouse, a world wonder for many centuries, pyramids, pharaohs, the sphinx, Tutankhamum, and Cleopatra; the doorway to the Sahara. It is a land of mythical stories and legends, too many to recount.
How did they build those pyramids? How did the boy pharaoh really die? Did Cleopatra bathe in milk? How did the sphinx lose its nose? Continue reading Sands of the Sinai →