Ever since I saw the movie Agora I have wanted to go to Alexandria. The movie is about a 4th century woman named Hapatia who was a mathematician, astronomer, philosopher and teacher. Her father was the curator of the library of Alexandria, whose mission was “collecting all the knowledge of the world”. It is a movie about ideas and the ongoing controversy between science and superstition but what I really loved about it was that it centers on this wonderful, brilliant woman who, in 391 A.D. when women were not generally treated as equals, taught scholars. I fell in love with the notion of Alexandria and the library as the place where Hapatia was admired and celebrated by learned men during turbulent times. How heartbreaking it must have been to live and breath the preservation of knowledge and then to witness its total destruction. An estimated 40,000 – 400,000 scrolls of priceless information were lost forever when the library was burned.
Even though the current library is new (2002), it has a connection to the past. I am thrilled to be here in the largest public reading space in the world where 250,000,000 books and scrolls are housed (though sadly not on display). I feel like I should be studying something profound or saying something philosophical but I just sit here…writing my post…in the bibliotheca of Alexandria!
Buses, boats, trains, hiking, history, hostels, cities, covid, weather, people, food! And at night, dreams! Of which my most recent is me trying to maneuver a car through a non-existent gap in a Cairo traffic jam (a normal day for residents of this sprawling 25+ million metropolis). I’m frantically yelling into the din that I need to get back to my blueberry field. I wake up in a cold sweat!
We have spent our last few days roaming through ancient churches, resting, and walking around the Souk (the Cairo Islamic market) where the crowd was crushing. It brought back a high school memory of going to a Queen concert at the Civic Center before they had reserved seating.
We also went to the Zabbaleen City (the literal translation is Garbage City), a Coptic community who’s entire thriving economy is based on collecting and recycling Cairo’s garbage. Coptics represent the majority of Christian’s in Egypt and the religion dates back to 42 A.D.. As we walked we could see women and children through doorways sitting in large, dark spaces surrounded by, and sorting vast seas of spread out garbage.
This trip has been a great adventure! There was less hiking than hoped for and more time spent in cities (which is challenging for me) but overall, it was a feast for all the senses, not the least of which was taste. I have eaten my way through Egypt and Jordan both, and now my work here is done.
We leave for the airport in a few hours and we are eager. The only thing better than travelling is coming back home. I am excited to see family and friends and if my night dreams are anything to go by, I’m also ready to get back to my blueberry field. And Gord is also ready to start planting seeds on his farm.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you for reading and for your comments and emails. It has been a real pleasure sharing this extraordinary adventure with you. See you on the flip side!
Getting to the black and white desert by public transport definitely weeded out the uncommitted. Expensive excursions were easy enough to come by but intel to get to the Bahariya Oasis, the desert village from where the National Park could be accessed, was vague and ambiguous. When we arrived to the Turgoman Square bus station in Cairo, the place where we read that the bus left from, we were told that only Egyptians were allowed to buy tickets. Four bus stations, two taxi rides, two stints on the metro, consults with three branches of the Tourist police for permission, and much walking later we found ourselves in front of a small rundown mini bus, amidst a cluster of rundown mini busses. After the driver confirmed with the Safari camp that we had a reservation, he agreed to sell us a ticket to the Oasis for 150 Egyptian pounds ($12). As per usual, Egyptian mini buses leave when they are full and our rickety little van was no different. Two hours later it reached its 14 person capacity and we were off.
Each of the five hours that passed took us deeper into nothing but the endless rolling sand of the western tip of the Sahara. It was dark when we reached Mohamed’s safari camp and the end of the line for public transport. From there we joined an existing safari in an off road Land Rover and began a two day desert odyssey into a unique landscape of sculpted beauty.
We have finished our time in the desert. I love deserts but being with a group also reconfirmed to me how much I am not a ‘tour group’ person. But it was the only way to feasibly see what we saw and I’m glad and grateful we had the opportunity.
Backpedaling a little bit – the day we left Aswan (before heading to the black and white deserts) we woke up super early and took the bus to the next town with a few young travellers we met to see the camel market.
There was a festive air in the market with lots of money and livestock changing hands but no central auction. It was full of men, old and young, but not one woman. Except myself, and a couple of the Europeans that we were with. One was a young German girl with blond hair and yoga pants and I think many camels would have been traded for her. She attracted so much attention it became overwhelming and we had to leave. We said goodbye to our young friends and headed back to Aswan to chill before the night train back to Cairo.
With some extra time back in Egypt we decided to see a few sites that were too far flung to visit before leaving for Jordan. The Abu Simbel temple was first on the list. To get there we crossed the Sinai again, back up to Cairo, back down to Aswan and another four hours further south almost to the Sudan border. It was a long haul but worth it!
Our next destination is deep into the Western desert at the Bahariya Oasis. From there we hope to do some hiking in the black and the white deserts. We won’t overdo it as my Achilles have finally settled down and I don’t want to anger them again. Especially so close to when we are heading home.
The Karak desert castle is a famous ‘crusader castle’ but the occupation of the Franks (the crusaders) was only 46 years (1142 – 1188 AD); a short time in the castles long history. Inscriptions found inside the fortress, combined with historical sources indicate that it was originally built by Mesha, king of the Moabites as a temple to the Moabite God, Chemosh during the Iron Age in 850 BC. It has been conquered, occupied and added on to many times since, by many civilizations. The huge multi-layered castle is a maze of corridors and rooms and if only rocks could talk, the stories it could tell! I leaned into the stone walls trying to absorb the history and let my imagination run loose. It was fun at the time but might have contributed to the horrific nightmares of violent death and destruction that I had for the next four nights. Just a wild guess!
We have done some great hiking, met wonderful people, ate delicious food, seen incredible sights but we are ready for warmer nights. And both my Achilles’ continue to be stubbornly uncooperative. So we returned south to Aqaba to cool our heels for a few days on the coast of the Red Sea before taking the ferry back to Egypt.
The evening we planned to leave Jordan, the wind turned ferocious and the ferry was cancelled. We sheltered ourselves and all our belongings back inside our own castle walls to wait out the siege. The waves were roaring like a thousand foot soldiers on a rampage and the attacking wind sounded like it was ripping our little orange dome apart by the seams. But we successfully held down the Fort and our small, strong keep survived the onslaught intact. The morning dawned bright and blue, we raised the drawbridge (and by that I mean the tent fly), packed up and set out again to catch the ferry. (I may have seen too many castles!)