Friday, January 22, 2010

In which our heroine crosses a few things off of her bucket list

Figuring there is no time like the present, I have just begun traveling for the spring. It is my first time out of the States since June 2008, when I graduated from college and decided that it was probably time to get a job and an apartment . . .

The plan is definitely lofty -- my friend Bonnie (travel partner in crime -- she was my buddy in Paris and the Cayman Islands as well) and I are on our second week in Cairo, and then it is off to India, Thailand, and Cambodia! If I actually get myself together (please don't look at the last time I posted on this blog, it will tell you exactly how good I am at finishing projects that I start), I will be able to post stories of our trip up here for you all to read!

Egypt has been wonderful. I have yet to meet an Egyptian who has not been friendly and welcoming (um, and I have to say -- they are THRILLED to find out that I like Obama. That man is like a cultural passport in his own right). The city is full of noise and chaos, there is a fine (or thick) layer of dirt on most surfaces, including my feet, and every few hours I find myself reminding Bonnie not to pet the street cats.

By far the mot exciting moment of the trip happened last Sunday and Monday. Since the storm in Haiti ten days ago, I know that has been dominating the news, so in case you did not hear, there was also a massive storm in Egypt. My friends -- Bonnie, our host Ashish, our driver Ahmed, and our friend Sara -- and I had just accidentally hiked Mt. Sinai...

...Okay, quick aside. It feeld wrong to just skip over the climbing of Sinai, but it has become my reflex since the next events were so dramatic. We went to St. Katherine's monastery on Sinai, a few hours' drive through the desert. It was the site of the burning bush, and is nestled at the base of Sinai, where Moses received the Commandments. Upon arrival, we were offered a "hike," and not realizing exactly where we were, we took it. Soon enough, we realized we were climbing steps -- 3,750 of them, to be exact, the Steps of Repentance that take you up the mountain. Turns out, Sinai is RIGHT THERE, and no one thought twice about warning us. I climbed it in my moccasins, the other three were in jeans, and if I hadn't insisted on it, probably no one would have brought water. But it was BEAUTIFUL. A Sunday, so we were some of the only people around, and the day was clear for miles and miles. The mountains are epically huge, and I believe my words upon summiting were, "Now I'm basically Moses."

...But onward. Driving home, we saw this beautiful electrical storm in the distance, with lightning every few seconds. I woke up two and a half hours later to find that one of the many passport checkpoints along the road has barred our passage due to flooding, and so we were turned away, and ended up spending the night sleeping in the taxi at a rest stop that had not lost electricity. Stressful. We all wanted to go home, a sedan is no place for five people to sleep, I couldn't remove my contacts, we were all grimy from hiking, and us three ladies didn't really want to leave the car since it was dark and no women were up and walking around that we could see. Long story short, it was a LONG, dark night with little sleep, until 4 am when we saw the parking lot of the rest area was flooding -- almost touching the undercarriage of the tour buses in the lot, and coming near the doors of some of the cars. We woke up Ahmed to move the car to higher ground (I will say at this point that I was freaking out -- it looked like so many news features I've seen, the brown floodwaters rising and rising. But B and I played it cool -- well, she actually was enjoying herself, weirdo -- and put all our things in our bags, took off our shoes, and prepared to wade around in the parking lot if we had to abandon the car), and waited for daybreak.

We ended up unable to leave until 11 am, when word found us that the roads were clear and we started driving. Note that by this time, it was clear there was no gasoline available since all the stations had lost power, and we'd been driving for hours previously; also, a policeman had been actively trying to separate the foreigners from the Egyptians (our driver was Egyptian . . .), noting our license plates and telling all the people on tour buses not to take their suitcases with them. Both of these things compounded the stress, and we were very happy to be on the road, even if it meant navigating a completely changed landscape.

And it was. The storm washed so much sand into the Red Sea, the hills were entirely different fromt he previous day when we drove the other way. The road was submerged in a foot or two of water in some places, the concrete completely busted up in others, and a thick layer of mud in still other spots. My one badass moment was when B and I jumped out to push the car in front of us as it got stuck in the mud, only to realize we had shamed all of the men from the other nearby vehicles into jumping out, as well (natch, we got the car -- and then our taxi! -- out of the mud)! Add a second storm a few hours later, and my nerves were entirely shot by the time we reached Cairo . . .

I'll leave out some of the details, because I am not entirely sure what I can/can't say about the storm and how we got out of it safely. Suffice to say, I've been praying for the folks stuck in Sinai, as well as those along the Red Sea coast of he mainland, who were also hit with some ridiculous flooding. The airport at Sharm el-Sheik was closed, as was the border with Israel. A man died on the Nile as far south as Aswan because his boat capsized in the rising waters. I've lost track of the death toll and destruction statistics, but at least seven people have died, and last I heard there was a group of missing tourists. Hundreds of families are without homes now, and I am not sure what the water and sanitation situation is at this point . . .

So that was that. Since then, I convinced B to wait a few days before we go down to Luxor ( southern town, home of the Valley of the Kings), for two reasons -- they lost a lot of electricity, and I was very nervous about leaving the haven of Cairo for a few days. Since then, however, we have been chilling with our new favorite food, koshari, and exploring the souqs and neighborhoods of the city.

And I almost forgot! This entry got its name because I got to see the pyramids at Giza (getting stuck in a flash flood was oddly NOT on my bucket list)! Well, just goes to show you how easily I can get distracted . . . but I'll keep it short. They are really weirdly beautiful, especially the way they pop up in the suburban skyline. I got to ride a camel (!!!), but the cool factor dropped a few notches when B and I realized our camels were getting tied together . . . and led around by a four-year-old! A very cool four-year-old, though . . .

All right, bedtime -- goodnight (or good morning, or good afternoon -- I can't keep track of the time change . . .)!

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