What to say about Egypt…? Mysterious, ancient, messy, random, beautiful, sparkly Egypt…
Last episode finished off at night 1 of the 4 night cruise down The Nile. The cruise ships really are the easiest and most cost effective way to explore the most famous parts of Upper Egypt (which is southern Egypt, but that’s the direction The Nile flows from and is thus considered ‘up.’) The ships are kind of ridiculous and slightly tacky, but once you’re sailing, it doesn’t matter. The luscious fertile Nile corridor is breath taking – its perfect balance of cool water, green farmlands and date palm perimeter, giving way to golden sandy hills and azure skies. Highlight: sailing through the protected waterways on a separate, smaller private boat to visit a Nubian Village. Other highlights of Upper Egypt were The Valley of The Kings and Karnak Temple. I could never have imagined how prolific the hieroglyphics are across all of the temples and tombs, or how detailed and well preserved they were, even colourful at times.
After the cruise, Mum, Jodie and I caught the all day bus to Siwa to begin our desert trip – and instantly I fell in love with its mud-brick houses, donkey-drawn taxis, friendly people and local produce. Siwa is approximately 150km from the Libyan border and truly is an oasis in the middle of the desert, right beside the Great Sea of Sand. The Siwans are a culture unto themselves, with their own languages, laws and traditions, although of course they now have a long history being influenced by the rest of Egypt and Islam. A young Siwan man, Naser, was our guide for our whole desert trip and took us out into the desert to camp overnight in the ancient ex-ocean, the Great Sea of Sand that is now miles of rolling soft sand dunes with fossilised remnants of its underwater past. Sleeping on the desert sand with no tent, beneath the stars and the full moon, were perhaps the most sacred hours of my young life, as were the sunny sandy days, interspersed with fun moments of sand boarding and swimming in serene cool and hot springs. I am aching to return to the Great Sea of Sand and to Siwa. Visiting the Black and White desert outside Bahariya and spending time with Naser was also unforgettable.
Week three of three was spent mostly in Cairo, with a short trip to the famous port of Alexandria, where I bought a bejewelled evening gown and fantasised about its glamorous poetic past, all the while being actually unimpressed by the grimy reality of its modern times. Cairo is equally filthy, but amongst the soot and the rubbish, it oozes with character. As with Istanbul, Cairo’s not quite how it’s made out to be. Sure there’s the tourist haggling and pyramid gimmicks, but it also has a real small town, family feel around its 22 million people. The streets feel safe, the vibe is random and disorganised (aside from the Islamic conventions that most adhere to) and it was great to speak with people about the revolution. Staying with Jodie and Ahmed also helped to make our time their special, as we felt like honorary locals being with them and their family. Highlight of Cairo was EATING EATING EATING and more eating. Latest addiction is Kushari (not sure exactly how to spell it) which is carbohydrate heaven and dangerously cheap – macaroni, vermicelli, rice, lentils and crispy fried onion with chilli tomato sauce – words can’t describe how tasty and how fattening it is. I loved learning bits and pieces of Arabic too and became fascinated by Islamic art – that romantic, scrolling, hypnotic text, the detail in all the relief work, the dainty application of colour and painstaking precision in the woodwork. To be honest, I enjoyed the Museum of Islamic Art more than I enjoyed the Egyptian museum. Do make the effort to find it if you are ever in Cairo. Although the Egyptian Museum was a great experience too – it’s like a factory outlet for ancient relics! Hardly anything has labels or any sort of order – it’s just an all in brawl! Ha!
The people I encountered in Egypt were equally as unforgettable as all the ancient wonders – Naser and the Siwans, Ahmed’s family, the cheeky and heartbreakingly handsome cruise ship staff, the numerous taxi drivers, tour guides and the COUNTLESS Mohammed’s. And of course, the street kids. It was confronting to see such poverty first hand, as it always is. And surprising to see it butting up so closely with the wealthy – the dirty-faced, hungry children and the wealthy Arab women with their gold accessories peeking out from behind their veiled silhouettes – their worlds are so close and yet so far apart. I must admit though, it made me think of my own country often, and our Indigenous people who remain so dispossessed, and how oblivious the world is to this situation in Australia. A lot of people I encountered didn’t even know there was a race of people native to Australia. You can imagine how shattering this is to hear, as an Australian.
I’ll summarise from my warehouse room in London by saying – if you haven’t been to Egypt, do make the effort to go. And if you go, do make the effort to get off the tourist trail and let the real Egypt get under your skin. The next opportunity I have to return there, I will.
Turkey photos are up at www.facebook.com/pottergeorgia and Egypt will be up asap also…
Til next episode, bosa habeebi!