Desert and city
18 May 2013- Cairo, Egypt
I can see THE pyramids from where I am sitting. Very surreal. Cairo- the largest city in Africa and one of the largest in the world, twenty million people. Australia has 21 million. We arrived this afternoon and a peaceful drive it is not! We have driven in some crazy traffic but this place is bonkers! There are no lanes and constant non stop tooting of horns which makes you tense! In addition to that the space you have around your own car is a tiny fraction of what it would normally be, other cars just come so very close as they overtake or weave all around you. When driving down a road it can go from 3 lanes to 5 or even 7 it’s literally the maximum amount of cars that can fit in the space with mere centimetres between them. We have been told all this tooting its a language of sorts, they are communicating with each other, but its one we def don’t speak! On the dual carriageway there are cars and trucks zooming all around, donkey carts, buses stopping to let people on and off and people parked up to stop for a cup of tea!
We are staying in Giza (an area of the city) and its something else. Arriving we got off the main road (using a combination of GPS, a map and luck as the GPS is almost useless this far north) and onto a smaller road to make our way to our camp. Suddenly it was a different world. Cars, donkeys, carts, water buffalo coming in from the fields, dogs, cats, tuk tuks all fighting for the same space, the road. Groups of men sitting around smoking sheeesha, children riding bikes and flying kites amongst the piles of rubbish, loads of cats and dogs picking their way through the enormous amount of rubbish that is lying all over, often the piles are smouldering, acrid smoke billowing into the thick air. To be honest it was a bit like what I would imagine a war zone might look like- with small fires all over the side of the roads (rubbish being burnt) most buildings seem to be falling down or not finished and for some reason all over Egypt there is rubble, big piles of bricks or concrete like a large building site. Certainly not the picture of Egypt most people who fly in and fly out would see but there is so much life happening and its intriguing and vibrant as well as so noisy and chaotic.
We briefly thought about skipping Cairo but decided we wanted to see the pyramids and a few other things in the city like the Egyptian Museum so here we are. Such a change from where we were last night- the White Desert. We really enjoyed the Western Desert especially a section called the White Desert. We stopped for a few swims in springs, travelling through a desert where you can swim is brilliant! But it was the White Desert that captured us. Its like being on another planet, white shapes bursting out of the desert sands, each a block of pure white chalk carved into a myriad of shapes by the wind and shifting sands. Our camp spot was just perfect catching the end of the day shade tucked behind a large chalk dome. It was so beautiful and quite and we were aware it was likely our last remote camp on the trip as we wont find any of that in Europe. Completely silent, which is so unusual, no people, birds, rustling of tree leaves nothing, you could hear the silence, almost as if our brains were trying to work out why nothing was coming in. We saw rather than heard a desert fox pad past sniffing here and there as we were finishing our dinner. We woke up early this morning to watch the sunrise from bed then dozed again for a bit and were chased out by landy heating up quickly.
Egypt is such an interesting place. It goes without saying it has an extraordinary history. It was the greatest ancient civilisation in the world and is now in the process of much more modern changes. Almost every conversation here starts with “Before the revolution…” or “Since the revolution” Everyone has their own, usually very strong, opinions about how things are better or worse. Egypt was a police state and some people seem to be a bit lost without the strict guidelines and the relative security that went with that. Others seem to be relieved and think in the long term Egypt will be better off, they just need to find their feet again. When we first arrived the trial of former president Mubarak was on TV (it has since been postponed) and the host at our camp was nervously pacing around very animated in his beliefs! Everyone seems to agree there is more crime now and people are doing it tough at the moment. We get daily travel advisories about this protest or that protest which have nothing to do with foreigners, just warnings to stay away from large groups of people in case it gets nasty, as it often does when the police and protesters clash. The hosts of where we are staying now say a lot of times it’s the same people at the protests and they are paid to be there, everyone else is trying to make ends meet. Certainly the Revolution was an incredible thing. I get the impression Egyptians are deeply proud of their revolution that they were able to do that and are now at a little bit of a loss as to what to do now! Certainly we noticed a very heavy police presence everywhere or at least the infrastructure to be heavily policed. Mostly the police are sitting around drinking tea and smoking.
We have started to organise our ferry to Turkey. There is no timetable as such but it goes twice a week and is primarily for trucks that can no longer travel though Syria. At the moment we have a window of dates when the ferry is likely to leave- around the 22-25th May. So our next stop will likely be on the Med, and going out of the doorway to Africa!