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Friday, March 6, 2015

The Long Camel Ride Part I

I had two goals in mind for this year's winter in Egypt.  The first was to make it to Wadi El-Hitan and see the whale bones; the other was to ride a camel across the desert from Giza to Saqqara.  With the first accomplished and documented, it was time to move on to the second.  Walk out of our apartment and a couple of hundred yards away you'll see this road sign.

It's only about seven miles to Abu Sir and just over ten to Saqqara.  (Spelling note:  I try to use a spelling that will let you Google a place and then hit a Wikipedia entry.  The local sign painters have their own ideas.  Arabic script is generally written without most vowels and you just know to plug in the right ones when you read it.)

Unfortunately, the military frowns on camel riding across their desert installations which lie in the path I wanted to follow.  So my desire to play Lawrence of Arabia had to be scaled back.  Camel trips "near" the desert are available as far south as Abu Sir.  I had multiple people wanting to help arrange a ride, of course.  Let's go to the map:

The red line shows my "dream route," while the blue is Google's pretty accurate representation of reality.

We delayed the trip a couple of times due to overcast weather.  The local folks say this is the worst winter they can remember.  It has been overcast on far more days than we have ever seen.  The forecast was favorable for Tuesday, and Linda (she, the reluctant but loyal accompanist, once again) wanted an early start.  Our friend Gomaa, had arranged for the camels.  Gomaa  brought foul and tamea sandwiches for breakfast and I supplied the tea at our apartment.  You can see that we were both excited about the early start.
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Once we got to the "rental counter," Gomaa introduced us to Ali, on the left who would be our guide and road guard, and to Abdul, our camel handler. (we'll meet him shortly)  That is business agent Muhammed on the right.
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Now, meet the camels.  They are tall animals that kneel to let their riders mount up.  "Lean back!" is the key direction.  They are going to get up back end first, so not leaning back will lead to a rude surprise.  Abdul is giving the orders.
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We brought two cameras along.  Holding them steady was a real problem, so you will see a little less than the usual quality in the pictures from this trip.  And, oh yes, watch out for tree limbs!
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The picture on the left was pretty much my view of things for the next couple of hours.  The first half mile or so was along city streets.  Abdul would walk all seven miles in that wool coat, leading our camels.  Ali had a scarf for extra warmth.  It was about 68 degrees up on the camels where we were riding.
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Soon we were passing some of the agricultural land near the Ring Road where farmers were harvesting the alfalfa that horses, camels and donkeys eat in the Cairo area.
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There are quite a few horse stables near the Ring Road and once we crossed that area, we were into date and mango farms that are not easily seen via auto.
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This Google Map shows the agricultural nature of the land just south of the Ring Road along our route.

(to be continued)

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