Today was mostly a travelling day, but driving back to Cairo from Alexandria we continued to enjoy watching the world go by:
andcatching our flight to Aswan in southern (Upper) Egypt where I am writing now. I always love people-watching at airports, but Cairo was the most exotic yet:
It was like this everywhere we went – local Egyptians were just as curious about us as we were about them. They were wonderful to us; many people walked up to us and said, “Welcome to Egypt!” Today we were standing outside a convenience store and a woman came out and called to us, “Welcome! Is there anything you need? Can I get you anything?” Another told us she wanted to visit Great Britain but she was too afraid to go because she felt her English wasn’t good enough. It was almost perfect and we assured her that it was. Whether or not she would be able to understand some of Britain’s thicker regional accents remains a question, but we certainly didn’t raise it with her.
At the airport, our wonderful guide Waleed explained the sign we saw at the airport for the turnoff to the “Seasonal Terminal.” One of the tenets of the muslim religion is the requirement to, at least once in your life, if you are able, make the pilgrimage to Mecca during the religious season of Hajj. When a man from a village sets out for Mecca, his entire village comes to see him off. They arrive in caravans of busses and there is music and dancing and food eaten seated on the floor in the terminal. So you can imagine the chaos that would ensue at the international terminal. The villagers return to greet the returning pilgrim again and they will have the freedom of their own terminal to celebrate his return. Wouldn’t that be wonderful to witness? It takes place this year from August 30th to September 4th, probably the hottest time of year to visit Cairo.
Speaking of Waleed, he is a marvel. Our lovely guide is devoted to and passionate about his country and has a heart of gold. He has bought us many treats and if anyone shows an interest in something special, he makes it happen. He calls us, “Family” and we have become accustomed to hearing him bellow from down a museum hall when he needs us to gather: “Fam-i-leeeeee.” He’s also an archaeologist (and, seasonally, a farmer) and when we were at the pyramids he had people approach him, touch his arm and say, “Shalom, Doctor.” He is treated with great respect and we have had access to many sites (such as going down into the tomb at the Step Pyramid) that other groups did not.
Norman, the owner of Royal Heights in Victoria, is also here working to make everything perfect for us, ensuring all our comforts are looked after, assisting Waleed with restaurant and menu choices, etc. He spent years living in Egypt giving guided tours from Scotland before he emigrated to Canada and he and his wife established their own tour company. He planned a leisurely itinerary that is not lacking in experiences, education, meaningful visits and awesome food.
He likes a beer or a glass of wine as well as the rest of us, which is not always easy to find in a country that is 90% Muslim. When we have eaten at dry restaurants we have had wonderful housemade juices – mango, lemon-mint, strawberry, etc., which are often nothing more than blended, frothed fresh fruit – like drinking a glass of Egypt sunshine.
We did have time in Cairo to visit the iconic Mohammed Ali Mosque and Citadel before we headed to the airport but I’m going to post on that separately. Tonite here in Aswan we will be crossing the Nile by motor boat to Elephant Island where we will check into the Movenpick Hotel, one of the nicest hotels in Aswan.