Category: egypt

Miles

Short videos I made, from my trips to Rome and Egypt.

Footage by myself and Chandra. Photos mostly by Chandra. So Many Miles by Sarah Slean. Many the Miles by Sara Bareilles. Videos by me!

The cats of Egypt

In Ancient Egypt, they worshiped a cat goddess, Bastet (also known as Bast or Baset). I have loved this fact since I was little, because I got tired of watching movies and cartoons where the cat was the bad guy. I was (and am) a cat lover, through and through.

Because of Bastet, cats were sacred to the Ancient Egyptians. The bodies of pet cats where mummified along with their owners, cat statues were carved and royal cats were even given elaborately jeweled collars and necklaces.

Alexandrian cat, by me

Cats are everywhere in Egypt, to this day. They are underfoot at monuments, in markets, on the streets. Some of them are ugly and vicious, wild things. Others are much more friendly and will come when you call them. The rough cats in the meat market in Cairo sat underneath the carcasses and licked the blood. An adorable orange tabby wound itself around my legs at the Cairo museum. We saw two cats tear chunks of fur off each other in Alexandria.

Cats! by me

There’s a very interesting custom that derives from Bastet, that our tour guide finally explained to us. When you walk down the street in Egypt, you often hear Egyptian men making an odd noise as you walk past. Bsbsbsbsbsbs, they hiss. I was confused.

Apparently, Egyptian men compare sexually attractive women to cats. And so they make that noise, bsbsbsbs, because it is the same noise they make to call a cat, after the name Bastet. Interestingly, cats actually to respond better when you make that noise. And maybe women too?

Djoser's Dog by me

There are some stray dogs around too, for you dog lovers.

Watch the sunrise

#82. Ride in a hot air balloon.

sunrise by me

Number 82 is the third on my list of 100 things to do before I die that I got to do by going to Egypt.

Originally I wanted to go on a hot air balloon ride because a) I’m afraid of heights and I’m all about conquering my fears (except spiders) and b) when I was a teenager and printing other people’s photographs, someone came in with the most beautiful pictures from a hot air balloon ride in Ottawa. You see, the best times of day to go on a hot air balloon ride are dawn and dusk. When I was little (and even to this day) I used to watch the bright balloons appear one by one on the horizon as the sun began to set. We used to count them out loud and pick our favourites.

I never imagined that I’d get to go on a hot air balloon ride in Egypt.

Ballooning by me

When Chandra and I booked our Egypt package, I saw that there was a supplement you could add for a hot air balloon ride. It was expensive. I was afraid to mention it. But Chandra said it first. “How cool would it be to go on a hot air balloon ride over Egypt?” And done.

It was worth every penny. It was even worth waking up at 4:30am. Because we watched the sunrise over the Nile. Because we saw the Valley of the Kings stretch out beneath us in the early morning light. Because we glided over the city of Luxor.

Sunrise over the Nile by me

I wasn’t afraid, not for a second. I thought I might be. But I was too busy taking photos, and then suddenly we were in the air, 200 metres up.

The Valley of the Kings by me

It was one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever done in my life. And that, my friends, is why my list of 100 Things to Do Before I Die exists.

Africa, culture shock and number 89

#89. Go to Africa.

In case you didn’t know, Egypt is in Africa.

I knew this. I think. I mean, my brain knew this. It’s pretty much common knowledge. It’s just that when I thought of Africa, when I wrote #89 on my list of things to do before I die, I wasn’t thinking about Egypt. I was thinking about safaris and places like Kenya or Madagascar. Or maybe even someplace like Rwanda (since I was a member of Journalists for Human Rights at the time and we were working with the Rwanda Initiative.)

The only images I had in my mind of Egypt were pyramids, temples and sheer linen dresses. We are a product of the media, and my expectations were fabricated mostly from historical fiction and BBC documentaries.

But Egypt is one of the most populated countries in Africa. Cairo is the largest city in Africa. There are about 25 million people in Cairo on any given day. In one city. There are 33 million people all of Canada. Our largest city, Toronto, has just over 2 million people.

Cairo isn’t just the home of the Great Pyramids of Giza, it’s also the home of millions of people and is the densest metropolis that I have ever seen.

Needless to say, it was an intense culture shock. I have never been to a city even a little bit like Cairo before. The traffic is so bad that it can take over three hours to make a 30 min drive. Every time we were on the roads, I thought we were going to die. There are no road rules, no traffic lights. There’s only pure determination. Every vehicle is dented, scratched, damaged in some way by its life on the streets of Cairo.

And there aren’t just cars on the streets either. There are also carts, drawn by donkeys and horses. Egypt is very much a city where the modern and the antiquated are thrown together and live side by side. I half expected to see a Bennett Buggy driving down the street.

The houses in Cairo are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. There are thousands of huge apartment buildings, stacked almost on top of each other. There are buildings that look more like shacks, with satellite dishes on top. Everything seems to be in a minor state of disrepair and in need of a good paint job.

This is actually Luxor, a much smaller city than Cairo. But you can get an idea of the type of buildings.

There’s another aspect of the culture in Egypt that I wasn’t prepared for. As an obvious tourist, I meant only one thing to the people of Egypt. Money. Everywhere you go in Egypt, someone is trying to sell you something or ask you for money. They will take your luggage from you and then ask you for money for carrying it, even though you were perfectly capable of doing it yourself. They charge you 5 Egyptian pounds for a camel ride, then ask for another 20 for you to get off.

Everything is about hassling and haggling and it is thoroughly exhausting. No one even speaks to you unless they want you to buy something. And when you walk through the market, the vendors yell things at you to get your attention. “Do you want Egyptian husband?” “You have beautiful eyes!” “Are you from the moon?” “I will kill my four wives for you!” “You walk like an Egyptian.”

They offer camels in exchange for your hand in marriage. Someone offered me 2 millions camels. It was a good day.

Egypt was a definite culture shock. It was my first African country. Next time, I’ll be better prepared.

Next time, I probably won’t go to Cairo. Luxor was much nicer.

See the pyramids along the Nile….

#100. See the pyramids.

I’ve seen the only remaining wonder of the seven wonders of the world, have you?

whoa, it's a pyramid! by me

The first thing that I ever wrote down on my list of 100 things to do before I die was to see the pyramids. I have been fascinated by Egyptian history since reading Lloyd Alexander’s Time Cat when I was little and finding out that the Egyptians thought that cats were gods. I’ve always been a cat person, okay?

There’s something iconic about getting to see the pyramids. Eiffel towers, Colosseums, Statues of Liberty are the bookmarks of travel guides, the milestones of trips around the world.

The question is, do you see the pyramids to say that you have seen the pyramids, or do you actually see the pyramids? Do you stop and think about what you’re seeing? About how long it has survived? About the thousands of people who built it, or the millions of people who have stood where you’re standing and looked up?

The pyramids aren’t what you think they’re going to be. Behind them you can see downtown Cairo. Across the street from the Sphinx there’s a Pizza Hut and a KFC. The pyramids are no longer a relic of a great civilization. They are, instead, a magnet for tourist dollars and cheap souvenirs.

I wouldn’t let them ruin it for me. As I stood there on the sand, I forced myself to look up and not at the merchants circling nearby. I forced myself to remember every favourite moment in all of my favourite historical fictions that made me fall in love with ancient Egypt.

The pyramids are a feat of engineering and design. A colossus, withstanding the test of time and giving the Pharaohs what they desired most - immortality. Because thousands of years later, we still stand amazed.