I always find it impossible to predict the gifts a place will give. Egypt gave me something that I could never have asked for. She gave me a name.
It begins with the horses. Not just any horses, our guide informed us, Arabian horses. Of course they would only give us the mild and gentle ones; not the horses that could dance or pull embellished carriages. My horse was called Whiskey. As we trekked through the large northern desert, the enduring monuments of Egypt were fixed just on the horizon. The end of the day was just beginning and I adjusted my scarf around my head to battle the chilly breeze. I held Whiskey’s reigns with hands decorated in Turkish rings. I began to remember the events that had delivered me to this moment.
Overwhelmed with calmness, I took a deep breath and for a moment could smell the freshness of the Red Sea. My snorkel kept catching water and my arms and legs were covered in tiny bumps that reminded me that it was far too cold to be swimming. The sea whispered to me and I listened. I began to run; I ran from the sea, through the sand, and along the mountains. Mecca was in front of us, and the mountains of Moses lay behind us. I allowed my memories to leap from one to the next, the way the past naturally dances through the mind.
Leaning out of the window of the taxi, the sweet smelling sugar cane moved gently with the subtle breeze. I awoke that morning, with the call to prayer bouncing loudly around my room. It seemed to fill every corner, beckoning me out of my warm bed. And I let it. I wondered if I would still like the sound if I understood its meaning. That sleep felt heavy, like it was the deepest sleep I have ever had. Although, deep sleeps always seem to fight each other, all wanting to wear the crown of the deepest sleep. Of course there is no way to know for sure. My dreams had been loud ones; the kind that stay in your head until the first conversation of the morning fills your ears.
My thoughts sailed through my mind like our little boat on the river that runs north. I looked at the line where the river and the sky met. The sky held a low hanging haze and when the haze whispered to the water, the water responded with an impression of the haze. I wondered for a moment what the haze must think of its reflection. I wondered if it was pleased with what it saw. I most certainly was. Every point, every line, every color was arranged so perfectly, as if we were in a painting. And in that moment, I was so thankful that the artist had chosen to paint me into the scene.
In an instant, only the time required for a wink, I was drawn out of my mind and back into the desert by our guide. He began calling to my sister, using a name that only barely resembled her own. The last glimmer of light that the sun had to give, caught one small green jewel on my ring, and I allowed that moment to lead me back into my mind.
I thought for a moment that I could taste the redness of the hibiscus tea that a shop owner had brewed for us. Beautiful things were all around us. Descending from the ceiling were glimmering glass ornaments. The shelves were filled with brass lamps and candlestick holders. He had placed a tray of Turkish jewelry in my lap. This is for you. I wondered if he knew something about me that I did not. The warmth of the tea on my tongue, allowed my body to melt into the small sofa.
I remembered what it felt like when I first washed my hair in Egypt. It was gritty and sandy to the touch. Everything was. A layer of dust was just a way to tell the time. As things grow old, they collect dust. And I thought that perhaps this is why Egypt felt so timeless. Everything was dusty, as if the entire land was a shop that sold curiosities from the past. The hourglass had broken and had scattered the sands of time in every place it would reach. And some of it had found its way onto me.
In a rather unnatural manner, my mind jumped from the dust to the sea. Confused, my mind skidded between memory and reality. And then I heard the guide shout. Marina! I responded. Yes! He continued to call me Marina and I continued to respond. He seemed to be calling from beyond himself, and I was answering from deeper than within. And there was something about this bizarre pattern that revealed something. Egypt had given me a name.
I was covered in her dust, I was hearing her call, all while I was breathing her air. I felt for a moment, that I was becoming part of her. And there was something about it all that felt so permanent.
What is your name? My name is Marina. What will you name be tomorrow? My name will be Marina.
As we continue eastward on our year of adventure; we have now left behind the part of the world that we are the most familiar with in terms of family history, culture, language, food, religion, etc. Our first destination in these stranger waters is Egypt. For the record, Tiffany and Scarlet did travel to Egypt this past spring. Scarlet chose Egypt as the place that she wanted to visit for a 10 day mother-daughter bonding on her 10th birthday. The girls were with a pre-arranged tour group run by an Irish woman (who goes by the nickname Mara) and her very capable assistant, Fatma. By all accounts, their trip was an incredible adventure that created indelible memories. Tiffany decided then and there that she had to return to this fascinating place with her whole family and so here we are.
What comes to mind when you say that you will be visiting Egypt? Pyramids, pharaohs, King Tut, hieroglyphics, the Nile River, Cleopatra, Moses, the Red Sea. Of course, all of these things and much more! The largely desert country straddles the Middle East and Northern Africa. My knowledge of bible history is a bit rusty but I vaguely recall that Egypt is the land where the Israelites where held in captivity and servitude by the pharaohs for many years. The ‘Exodus’ from Egypt of God’s chosen people was a 40 year arduous trek thru the desert until they reached the Sinai Peninsula and the Red Sea. Moses ‘parted’ the Red Sea (with a little help from above no doubt) and the Israelites crossed into the ‘promised land’ of Israel. This is my very much abridged version of the famous bible story and I am sure that I have left out many important details.
We arrived in Cairo very late on December 28 (3:00 am in the morning) and booked the first few nights in the Le Meridien Hotel which is connected directly to Terminal 3 at the airport (there are 3 terminals). We had promised our girls a swimming pool and room service (a welcome change from our austere Airbnb’s). Le Meridien was great and we enjoyed a relaxing few days as we eased into our Egypt experience. I was able to get some work done as we allowed our girls a small break from homeschool as well and the girls (especially Scarlet) enjoyed the large outdoor heated pool.
It was time to move on to the Airbnb that Tiffany had found for us. The residence is located on the shore of the Red Sea in the town of Dahab (in the Sinai Peninsula). The trip required a short plane ride from Cairo to Sharm El Sheik and then a 55 minute drive by car to Dahab. The house had an idyllic location literally on the shores of the Red Sea but as it turned out, it did not have much else going for it! The online photos (and description) did not seem to match the house much. We had expected that ‘the beach house’ would be quaint but also comfortable. The water stopped working after a few hours and the internet connection which I need for work was very poor. The kitchen area also had a nauseating sewer smell that we tried to air out by opening the front and back door. But our efforts did not seem to help matters much. It was already dark but we needed to be able to at least flush the toilets (we had some drinking water). We called the property manager who initially greeted us at the house when we arrived. About 10 minutes later, a truck pulled up to the house and a man jumped out and pulled a hose into the yard, opened a wood door and proceeded to fill the water tank that was buried in the front yard. Apparently the tank had run dry. (We did not even know that there was a buried water tank in the first place.) After the tank fill-up, the water was working again and we went to bed. The next morning, we discovered that the water had stopped working again! We waited until about 8:00 am and called the property manager but could not reach him. About an hour later, we finally got thru to his cell phone and he came over to the house. He did not come inside but simply turned on an outside spigot and water gushed out. He looked at me somewhat puzzled and left. I went back inside the house and sure enough the water was working again for about 20 minutes and then it quit again. The internet still was not working very well and the odor in the kitchen still hung in the air. The water shutting off again was the last straw for me and Tiffany proceeded to find us another rental in the area. She cancelled our reservation at the ‘beach house’ and found a vacancy at the Red C Villas literally about a 1 km away. (FYI…for anyone booking thru Airbnb, a decision to leave a rental should be made within 24 hours of arrival but the decision should not be made lightly as many Airbnb owners have a strict policy of no refunds for cancellations. We assume that Airbnb owners do not want to risk getting a bad review and will often offer a partial refund to unsatisfied tenants). We had not completely unpacked so it was no big deal to pack up, find a taxi and head to our new temporary home in Dahab. We knew that we could not check in until later in the afternoon but we counted on at least being able to drop our luggage and perhaps hang out at the outdoor pool. When we arrived a the Red C Villas, we met the owner, an English gentleman formerly from London. He graciously allowed us to store our luggage on the premises. We also upgraded our booking to a 2-level unit that was just being vacated by a Russian couple who had spent 2 months in the villa. The owner (Stephen) is a very pleasant fellow and we got to know him quite well.
Dahab, Egypt is an interesting place indeed. I looked up the meaning in arabic which is ‘gold’ or ‘golden sand’. Islam is the dominant religion in Egypt. Five times a day (starting at sunrise) we heard the ‘call to prayer’ from the mosques. The ‘call to prayer’ is a deeply moving and melodic chant if you have never heard it before. We walked the dusty streets of the town near Asala Square. This is what all the locals were doing since there were no ‘walkable’ sidewalks as such. There were roving packs of goats wandering the streets in search of food oblivious to the human and vehicle traffic. We were informed that it was ok to feed the goats any food scraps and leftovers. And so we did…several times. One morning when I was headed out to find ‘Ralphs’ German Bakery’ in our neighborhood (an authentic ethnic bakery and cafe) started by an expat from Munich in 2009. I saw a small pickup truck drive by with four camels sitting into the back, calmly looking around – probably happy to be riding for a change instead of lugging a saddle pack and tourists around on their humps! Definitely something you don’t see everyday in the states especially on Maui!
There is not a single vehicle stop sign, yield sign or any street sign for that matter. There is honking (of course). It seems that everyone and his brother is a ‘taxi cab’ driver and they will honk at anyone walking down the street to pick up a fare. This was the only place in our travels so far thru Europe where the ‘taxi’ drivers hail you instead of the other way around. We had done our homework in advance and somewhat knew what to pay for taxi rides (very inexpensive, usually 10 to 20 Egyptian pounds which is roughly 50 cents to a $1.00). We really liked one of the taxi drivers that we met, Mostafa Mahmood. Mostafa is 23 and moved to Dahab with his mother and father about 5 years ago from Luxor. He speaks a little bit of English and always had a great smile and disposition. We called on him whenever we needed a taxi to go somewhere that was too far to walk. Mostafa also arranged a special trip for us to “the blue hole” which is a well know diving and snorkeling spot about 5 kilometers from Dahab. The trip also included a long camel ride for all of us which was quite the experience. This is what ‘tourists’ do in Egypt and the camels for the most part seem pretty agreeable. The use of camels by the nomadic Bedouin tribes for travel across the desert goes back centuries.
We spent a lot of time at an area in Dahab known as ‘the lighthouse’. The area is popular with expats and travelers primarily for the diving and snorkeling. There are many seaside restaurants, all very affordable and friendly. The total bill for a satisfying meal for all five of us (including milkshakes or ice cream and Turkish coffee or Bedouin Tea) was always less than $25 USD (500 Egyptian pounds). One can find pretty much any kind of food (Russian stuffed cabbage rolls, pizza, fresh fish, vegan, Thai curry, baba ganoush, shish kebab and everything in between). We had a late dinner at one of the restaurants that we especially liked (Jays) and we noticed the lights in the distance across the water. I asked our server about the lights and he told us very matter of factly, ‘that is Saudi Arabia’. I must admit that hearing this from the server was kind of ‘mind blowing’ as to exactly where we were. Saudi Arabia was literally 14 kilometers away (less than 10 miles) from where we were having dinner. All of the restaurant proprietors were extremely friendly and made us feel very welcome. We were always greeted with ‘you are welcome’ . Whenever anyone anywhere meets us we hear a minimum of three ‘you are welcome’, ‘you are most welcome’, ‘first time in Egypt?…Welcome’. The Egyptian people are not only very hospitable, but it is apparent that they sincerely want us to be pleased by the food, service, camel ride, and will go to any length to ensure this. We were always asked where we were from. While Dahab seems to be popular with tourists from Russia, Germany and Japan, American tourists are apparently rare in this part of Egypt. The food staples at the small local markets (no supermarkets in Dahab!) were also very inexpensive. There are also inexpensive fruit and vegetable markets as well that we frequented to keep our ‘seemingly always eating’ children and the neighborhood goats well fed.
I even got bold enough to get a haircut in Dahab as I was starting to look a bit like a mad scientist with my crazy hair. My ‘barber’ spoke no English but the proprietor of the ‘spa’ which offered the ‘mens haircut’ and a full menu of every other type of facial and massage that you can imagine translated for me.
We were pleased with our visit to Dahab in the Sinai Peninsula and the friendly people that we met. We are excited that Devin (Tiffany’s oldest daughter) on break from college is rejoining us on Saturday and will be spending the next month traveling with us. We are off to Luxor in a few days and then back to Cairo for the next leg of our Egyptian travels. There will be much to report about in the coming posts!
If you are anything like me, then the first question that pops into your head once you decide where you are going is: What to wear? I needed to create the perfect capsule wardrobe for a 10 day mother daughter trip to Egypt.
Here are the steps that I took:
Scoured the internet for ideas.
Didn’t care for the clothing suggestions presented.
I did appreciate the idea of the capsule (every top must interchange with every bottom in order to maximize the number of outfits)
Read everybody else’s blog and then decided to write my own.
I wanted to make sure we were appropriately dressed and comfortable, yet still looked like ourselves in our pictures. Why would I pack frumpy travel clothing when I don’t dress like that on a normal day? Also it was important to me to pack lightly so that we could bring home art, rug, large tapestry wall-hanging, lamps and gifts all in our carry-on.
I was delighted that my 10 year old daughter who has definite opinions about fashion allowed my to choose all of her clothing for our trip. Here is what I chose:
Scarlet’s tops and skirts
Scarlet also had a pair of flip-flops and black converse, which got left behind in Egypt. There were plenty of shopping opportunities and Scarlet purchased the royal blue dressed pictured above and wore it several times during our trip. The two things I wish we had packed that we didn’t were light weight jackets as it was cold in the morning and evenings, and make-up. I rarely wear make-up at home so I thought I would be fine; however, I felt really naked compared to the women in Egypt who wore a ton of perfectly applied make-up. I wish I had brought mascara, bronzer and lip gloss at least. I went on an exhaustive search for linen pants thinking I would be boiling in the dessert, but in fact I was really comfortable alternating between the two pairs of skinny jeans that I packed (March 2017). I never found the linen pants I was after. Here are the items that I packed:
short sleeve tops
dress and cover-up/ night gown
Egypt was amazing! There are no words to describe the feeling of being in such and ancient and sacred place. The best part of it was giving my beautiful daughter Scarlet my undivided attention and really seeing her for who she is. Scarlet shone so brightly on this trip she relished every moment, never a complaint and our schedule was packed from dawn until dusk every day.