Egypt: A gentle start to Africa
Following on from the very boring blog post on the intricacies of import/export & Egyptian bureaucracy (never in my LIFE did I think I would have any desire to write anything on that topic! Who knew?!), here’s something that’s a little more personal and hopefully interesting :)
As we started writing this, we’d been Africa for 3 weeks*. We had to count that in the calendar three times because we really couldn’t believe it. Emma estimated it to be about 6! We’ve had so many intense, diverse experiences since arriving - it’s astounding it us all happened in such a short amount of time. *At the point of publishing, it’s almost 6 weeks - Sudanese 3G, Ethiopian intensity and general overlanding life got in the way of publishing!
The steps at our first African hostel:
Transitioning from the European lifestyle has meant lots of different things. Some have been welcome changes, others less comfortable but part of the adventure, and some that we’d never have anticipated in our wildest imaginings.
Landing on African soil, we welcomed the heat with beaming faces upturned to the sun, accompanied by deep sighs of relief. Don’t you think the body just relaxes so much more when it’s warm? Your muscles can stop their work tensing up to brave the cold and everything releases. Ahhhh so lovely! Plus, the December nights in Egypt were nice and cool so we didn’t have to endure sweaty tents or stuffy cars.
Emma the sun worshipper in new African style culotte-dress:
A Cairo skyline:
An equally happy change is that time has well and truly slowed down. We’ve ripped up the checklist of ‘things to see’ (apart from the apparently essential pyramids which Emma had to be dragged around kicking and screaming, and a marginally more interesting temple - more interesting because it was built by the cool ass Queen ‘Hapshetsud’ who paved the way for women to rule a country for the first time in Egypt), and we’ve stopped counting the days and placing time limits on ourselves for how long we can stay in a certain place.
A ’reluctant‘ participant in the Luxor tour...trying to find Rameses 2nd, the subject of a poem in the English Lit GCSE Anthology! (Couldn’t find his tomb though, it’d been trashed as he was such an arse hole...apparently!)
That said, we are definitely still learning how to be free (it’s surprising how many layers of obligation/FOMO you have to shed to do this) but we’re on our way. Becoming more aware of the unnecessary, arbitrary standards we set for ourselves that we think we have to meet has been a really good step.
Our 5 days at Al Sorat farm, on the outskirts of Cairo in Giza, was a perfect opportunity to practise said freedom. We stayed there by accident actually (and in a bit of a sulk) after being turned away from the Sudanese Embassy one Thursday. We’d got up at the crack of dawn in Alexandria after finally getting our car back, arrived proudly on time at the embassy - knowing it was the last day of the week before everything closed for the weekend - and found a handful of people waiting on the pavement only to be told ‘closed today, come back Sunday’. The staff were grumpy and didn’t feel it was necessary to give any reason for the closure (the European expectations of clarity and efficiency are so hard to shift!). Still adapting to the ‘this is Africa’ mantra, we left feeling frustrated and that our time had been ‘wasted’. On google maps, the Sudanese Embassy gets a score of 1.2. Has anyone ever seen anything with a score this low? We hadn’t. But anyway, the Embassy lived up to its score, both on the day we were turned away and when we did get back there 4 days later. It was complete chaos inside: no systems, no instructions, delays upon delays and all for a sweet $150 per visa!
The The Sudanese Embassy in Cairo’s listing on google. It has jumped up .4% since our visit! Hopefully things are on the way up...
So we arrived at Al Sorat by accident and in a bit of a sulk.
4 days later, we were dragging ourselves reluctantly back out of there, sulking for a different reason. It was bloody paradise! We were looked after so lovingly by Maryanne, the owner of Al Sorat, a woman whose kindness seems to never end. She takes in homeless dogs and needy horses and has created a family for people who previously had none, referring her 12 staff as her ‘families’ whom it’s obvious she loves fiercely.
We set up our first proper camp here, decorating our awning with green Christmas tree fairy lights, making a nightly fire from the pile of wood that Maryanne had generously offered to us, and sharing our little base with a beautiful array of dogs: black dog (Dahab), old dog, shluckie dog, wolf dog (JC) and white dog (Funa). Every morning when we popped our heads out of our tent they’d be there, hopping up and down on the grass, waiting for us to come down and give them a scratch and for them to show us the carnage they’d created during the night.
Some of the beauties:
We ran, shared meals with the staff on the floor by the fire, had a motorbike lesson, rode the horses, drank beer with Maryanne and her friends, cooked, sat, meditated. We had such a wonderful time and loved getting to know Maryanne, Hany and the gang. We left stocked up with beers, coffee and even almond milk with the help of Maryanne who picked up our ‘essentials’ for us before we left to go South. We definitely didn’t expect such an special experience and left having learnt this little lesson to SLOW DOWN, strip away the agenda and open our hearts to whatever our paths may cross. This is Africa!
Egypt was, in some ways, a gentle start to the African part of our adventure. Writing this in Sudan, I can say with certainty that we took lots of things for granted in Egypt! Yes, the driving, the discordant sounds of morning prayer from the many mosques, no wine with dinner (god forbid!), the mozzies, the Arabic, the shy hijabi girls, the bartering and the baksheesh, the lack of fresh mushrooms (?!) and the confusing enigma of lemons and limes becoming interchangeable synonyms for the same small round fruit were all things we needed to adapt to!
We soon got on board with koshari for dinner (a delicious LE5 (~20p) carb-overload street food dish made up of brown lentils, rice, spaghetti, tomato sauce, garlic, chilli, lemon and deep fried crispy onions) and fuul (a bean paste) with pita , falafel aubergines for breakfast.
We even got less bad at the infamous, unavoidable & perplexing dance: ‘Negotiating with an Egyptian’. We adopted a trial and error approach to learning the dance: when to smile or feign shock, how to show interest in the wrong item in order to ‘test out’ the seller’s limits, when to pretend to walk away, when to push, when to compliment the seller’s country and ask about their family, the international signs for ‘discount’ or ‘oh my god that’s faaaaaar too expensive for my minute budget’, how to play good cop (Ross), bad cop (ALWAYS Emma), what to say during pretend conversations about how you ‘don’t really like it that much’ and ‘didn’t we see a bigger one for half the price down the road?’ and of course the cardinal rule that you never, ever accept the first price you’re offered! Above all though, Egyptians love it. It’s absolutely a work of art! A game in which you can play, have fun, be a little bit cheeky and do your best to anticipate the next cunning move of your opponent :)
But although there were these little hurdles, we enjoyed the good life! The supermarkets were stocked with fresh and varied food, imports were available (enough so that we were able to make both a Swedish & British traditional Christmas dinner on 24th & 25th December) restaurants served diverse food and petrol stations were stocked to the limit with as much diesel and petrol as you fancied. You could find a hotel on booking.com, a swanky villa on AirBnb and a flat white in a coffee shop. Amenities were available really regularly along our entire journey through Egypt and we really never went without very much at all.
Snaps from Christmas: our veggie wellington, Swedish lucia buns, whisky ginger sours and our posh villa/pool!
We had entered Egypt with apprehension. We’d heard the same advice and anecdotes from many: ‘you’ll be exhausted in Egypt, everyone wants your money, everyone wants to rip you off, it isn’t safe, there are terrorists, as a woman you won’t feel comfortable walking around by yourself, just get out of there as quickly as you can”. The first night we arrived in Cairo we went out with our money belts strapped on and our shoulders somewhat hunched ready to ward off hawkers and scammers. But in our opinion, the apprehension, advice and anecdotes were misguided. On countless occasions, people helped us with no expectation of anything in return. Many times, we were invited for tea, breakfast and dinner. People protected us, gave us advice, looked out for us. They patted their chairs next to their fires in the evening and said ‘come, sit with us’. Almost never was there anything more in it than a desire to make us feel welcome and share some companionship. All in all, the Egyptians we met were beautiful people and in hindsight we had things really easy.
Sailing on a faruq on the Nile at Luxor:
As we followed the Nile south, the little luxuries we had been enjoying became a spec in the distance and the barren landscapes, remote wilderness and beauty of The Sudan came into view on the horizon.
Getting the ferry to the border at Abu Simbel:
En route to Wadi Halfa and the Sudanese border:
Sending love to all and luck for whatever adventure you might be on right now. Xxx