Category Archives: ENGLISH

Jo Rust: Solo around Africa, Now in Egypt!

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Around two weeks ago I was invited to a group ride to the Pyramids & the citadel in Cairo. The reason for receiving the invitation is that I’m proudly one of the very few female riders in Egypt, let alone one who rides as a means of communing on daily basis in the wild jungle of Cairo traffic. The ride was sponsored by Biker Zone and it comes as a Welcome and reception of Jolandie Rust, the first female to attempt circumnavigating Africa on her bike, SOLO!

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Like I said, I’m a rider. BUT, and that’s a big BUT here … “to ride” is a verb which qualifies for anything that moves, and around Egyptian riding communities, we tend to get more flexible with terms, so: anything that moves “on two-wheels” …  so, no, I don’t ride a bike … hold your horses and let’s narrow it down to a SCOOTER!

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Now l let your imagination ponder a while on that hilarious scene: Me, in all my sturdy giant body, on a blood red Fiddle II, driving through the gateway of the Heliopolis hotel where the start-point is set for the ride, and with a nervous glance on the bunch of fully-safety-gear-equipped machos standing in a row, who were looking down on that clumsy  scooter driver as she halts midway looking for a place to park, when some security guy points out an empty slot in the array of bikes parked on the left. I turn my head and there they are,  with their sparkling chrome parts blinding me for a split second: Shadows, VTXs, Harleys, Boulevards .. every single brand in the cruisers list, lying there like monsters ready to leap forward and eat my dwarf Fiddle at any moment. But my brave Fiddle raises its head high in Pride, and drives confidently through, and settles finally between two Shadows, with its front tire hardly visible between the two giant tires on its sides.

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The ride was simple, on an easy speed of 80km/hr, but the sun was grilling our skins alive. We made it to the Pyramids in less than an hour, then to the Citadel in about half that. Nearly all bike & scooters clubs in town where present in this ride (Yes, we have quite a handful of those): Cairo Scooters Club, Egypt Riders, Ducati Egypt MTI, TiTans, Egypt Female Bikers , BMW Motorrad Egypt and Shadow Riders Club. All on board for promoting tourism in Egypt as a safe country for tourists, riders and adventurers alike.

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The day ended with a press conference for  Jolandie Rust. Jo is a South African adventurer. In April 2011, she set out on a long journey, that started in her hometown in South Africa, covered all the western coast lining countries of the continent and almost all the coast of the Mediterranean before ending up here in Cairo to start her final lag of the journey back to South Africa through the eastern border countries.  She’s crossed 19 countries on her route and Egypt is #20 in her list. Afterwards, she posted a nice piece about Egypt and her brief experience both with the culture and the people. She wrote in reassurance to all people out there who feel worried about the situation given media coverage that is usually focused on a single perspective of the events and mostly fails to convey the day-by-day life inside the city: “I haven’t felt threatened or in danger in any way since entering Egypt and have only been met with a great deal of kindness and support everywhere I go. I really do hope that things will return to ‘normal’ again soon for the people of this wonderful country.

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I was glad we met up later in some other event and we had the chance to chat for at least half an hour about her trip, her future plans and her next steps around Egypt. For a girl who has the courage, will and determination to hop on a bike and ride solo across deserted wilderness, and urban cities  in which she knew no one, and even through politically troubled areas (Libya was a good challenge, as well as arriving in a Cairo under curfew), you’d think that she would be wildly out-spoken, too self-engaged to notice anyone around or to say the least: be cocky. Instead, I found her to be a very modest, down to earth person, keen on sharing a lot about herself and her dreams without conservation and willing to answer questions that she must have been asked a dizzilion times in a dizilion number of places with the same enthusiasm and simplicity as if they’re being asked for the first time.

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A journey like that comes with no guarantee of safety, no shortage in surprises and no tolerance in dangerous situations. Jo has been robbed off all her gear once, kidnapped in another, spent hours of waiting at border crossings,  denied entrance visa to one country on the route, and probably had more motorbike problems (minor or major) than she can remember,  but the thing that gets someone to carry on day by day on such a tiresome & troublesome long journey is what Jo describes in her own words: “I have a dream, and I will not stop till I reach the end point”.

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The hidden pearl of the Western desert

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The over-night trip was pretty exhausting, 500+ Km along the road from Cairo to Matrouh and then around 300 Km to the south into the western desert. After 9 hours of straight travel, the only thing you need to see is a warm meal, a hot bath and a clean bed. But what I saw as I entered Siwa completely shattered my hopes. Image

As I stood in the center of this very small town, starring at the crumbling ruins of the 12th century fortress that locals call Shali and which constitutes the old town of Siwa where inhabitants resided safely within its walls, and listening to nearby shop-keepers in the typical nomadic garments as they communicate in a local dialect of a centuries old Berber language unspoken in any other area in Egypt, I was simply perplexed! In the exterior, it was just a humble village where houses are still built from clay, and where the local means of transportation are limited to donkey-driven carriages and carts. It seemed to be the literal opposition to modernity. “Just another village, not far from my home-village in the delta”, I thought.

I found my condolence in the soon-to-start desert safari that we were scheduled to join as soon as we arrived in town. And so I separate myself from even those small traces of modern life that manifests itself in houses, shops and imported goods that fill up the town center, and immerse myself in an eternal view of the golden sands. Just miles and miles of endless dunes that leaves you totally disoriented and bewildered, needless to say SCARED, as the 4 WD vehicles race up and down the steep slopes.

Right before sunset, we stop over a high sand dune and indulge into a tiring contest of sand boarding; a Sisyphean task where we’d sit or stand on a wooden board, slide down the dune and then breathlessly struggle our way up the absorptive fine sand. After sunset, a camp is set up and people gather around the bonfire for a delicious fire-cooked meal. When darkness falls, the desert sky is covered by a blanket of a thousand stars so close you can almost reach out and pick up a bunch of them.

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Our rented bikes navigate us as we follow the Lonely Planet map through the palm fields and olive gardens which surround the town center in an almost perfect circle. The long leaves touch our heads gently and we stretch out our hands to pick some dates. It was the sweetest dates I ever tasted, fresh off a palm tree. It was only our second day in Siwa and we couldn’t be more eager to have our own tour in its whereabouts, so we rented some bikes from a local shop and headed on a lonely-traveler adventure across the fields. Four km away from the town, the hill of Aghurmi stands ahead as we approach the small ticket office on the side of the road. We climb up the short hill into the ruins of the temple of the Oracle.

At some point in time, probably around 700 BC, this temple which was originally built in worship to the sun god Amon-Ra, housed a divine oracle whose fame was widespread in the eastern Mediterranean. However, the temple itself has placed itself in historical tales because of one single visit. In 331, Alexander the great, having conquered Egypt which was then ruled by Persians, set sail from his newly-founded city of Alexandria, reached Mersa Matruh, and marched toward Siwa along the desert route that we’ve just used only yesterday.  As it was customary for each of the pharaohs of Egypt’s 28th Dynasty to travel to Siwa to be acknowledged at the temple there as the son of Amon-Ra, Alexander was no less. He wanted the same declaration of divine power to legitimize his conquest of Egypt and put himself on the same footing as the pharaohs. As we enter the temple, or what’s left of it, nothing seems apparent of such a great history. The site is more of crumbled walls and passages than any specific structure. However, the magnificent panoramic view of the town and its surrounding fields and natural springs is alone worth the 4km trip.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We take a different route back to the center of town. On the way we stop by a large field to have our lunch. We’d grabbed some tuna cans, bread, cheese and some drinks from the local supermarket early this morning, so all we had to do was a dinner table, so we improvised one! A few wooden logs thrown here and there did the trick, using some as seats and a couple of them as a table to lay our food on. Soon, we had company too, as some local children with ages ranging from 4 years old to 10 years old gathered in silence watching us from afar. We tried  to invite them over but they wouldn’t approach, they just giggled and exchanged naughty remarks about the “strangers in their field”. One of them, a skinny 7 years old boy had the courage to ask us if we would like some dates. It’d have been such a silly question to ask him “from where?”, so we just nodded. He then literally “walked” his way up a three storey palm tree in an unspoken agility, held the end of his red shirt with his teeth and filled the gap in between with some dates then “walked” – this time backwards – again down to earth. He dropped the dates right in front of our amazed eyes and ran back to join his gang. We wereso touched by the gentle gesture that we insisted to offer the kids some biscuits in exchange, the younger ones showed interest, but the older ones quickly refused politely saying that give-away food is for charity, and they wouldn’t accept charity. A wave of disappointment at my “modern” life acquired culture struck me as I realized the pride of a 7 -10 bare-footed years old in simple clothes who understand the difference between “need” and “desire” almost instinctively.

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As we reach the center of town we realize that we have to ride one more kilometer out of town, this time towards the north and along the main road, in order to visit “Jabal Al Mawta” or the “mountain of the dead”.  We park our bikes in front of a souvenir booth and head to the ticket office. The area was loaded with tourists, and accordingly security personnel were checking on every visitor, asking where you came from and in which hotel you are staying. Past the security clearance, we make our way up the eng

After a 10 kilometers bike ride all day, it’s only sane to have some rest. So we head back to the hotel for a quiet nap that lasts till eight in the evening. We had heard during the day that a café near Cleopatra spring offers a nice dinner over a bonfire and if we’re lucky there’d be a Siwan show. Not exactly knowing what to expect a “Siwan show” to be, we rent a couple of donkey-carts to take us to the spring. Moving through pitch black narrow lanes among the fields, it takes us around 15 minutes before we could see the bonfire and hear the loud chanting accompanied by soft drum beats. Suited in a secluded area right in the middle of the endless fields is this natural water spring known a Juba spring or Cleopatra spring. In the morning, it looks like a circular swimming pool, and is treated as one too since most visitors cannot resist taking a dive into its emerald water. Right next to the spring is a small café, with wooden rooftop, wooden chairs and woolen rags and pillows spread about. A bonfire is lit in the middle of the yard next to the spring, while candles are spread all around the concrete edge of the spring. Diners are invited to pick up their food from an open buffet set up inside the café, then choose their seat in the yard, circling the Siwan ensemble of men in their local costumes of white “gelbab” and head cover – called “hammudi” – who enthusiastically chant in their special Siwan language to the beats of a couple of drummers. A couple of them also perform some sort of a traditional belly dance as part of the entertaining show.raved stone steps marking the route to the top. The entire platform of the mountain is covered with grave hol  es, sometimes only inches apart, such that the whole mountain is but one huge necropolis. The tombs date from the 26th Dynasty, the Greek (Ptolemaic) and the Roman periods and some of them are open for visitors. The most popular ones show paintings of ancient Egyptian gods on their walls alongside hieroglyphic scriptures. Reaching the tip of the mountain you have yet another marvelous panoramic view of the whole oasis and its surroundings.

It’s next to impossible to experience Siwa in just two days, let alone summing up a history that is as old as history itself in just a few pages.  But our visit to Siwa had to come to an early end as we had to head back to Alexandria early next morning. However, these two days had left an imprint on my soul that would probably last forever. It is said that Siwa casts a spell on all its visitors, just one visit is enough to make you addicted to it forever.  So, I’m sure that this will not be the last I see of this wondrous land. Siwa still has a lot of treasures to discover and deeper culture to experience, so let that be another story to tell.

By: Shereen Adel

Paris .. The Lego City!

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it was the best of times, it was the worst of times”

This opening paragraph of Charles Dickens’ “Tale of two cities”, amazingly sums up all my impressions of France, French history and even the modern world as I’ve come to know it. But despite the unhappy thoughts about France I had from reading Charles Dickens account of the French revolution, as well as the rather unappealing account of mischievous lives of Victor Hugo’s characters in “Les Miserables”, somehow I grew up fond of the French history and culture. After all, both Egypt and France have an intertwining history.

As an Arab, let alone a veiled one, traveling for the first time outside the Arab region and into a post 9/11 Arabophobic world, a trip to Paris was a much wondered upon one. Will I face problems in the airport? Will security personnel mistake me for a terrorist? Will I be harassed in the streets? A lot of similar questions kept pumping onto my head for the whole four hours of flight between Cairo and Paris. However, and to my greatest shock, the moment I set foot on the Parisian lands all my concerns and fears vanished into thin air, same air that I now have to struggle to breathe-in with the thousands of ARABS flooding the Champs-Elysees that summer back in July 2005! Fact hit me that Paris is so full of Arabs, dwellers and tourists alike, that I think Napoleon himself would’ve felt like an alien here!

The Champs-Elysees is the prestigious long boulevard that runs down for two kilometers between the Concord square where our very own Egyptian obelisk stands, and the Arc de triumph, the symbolic 49.5m tall structure that marks the huge square named after “Charles De Gaulle”.

I felt like I’m walking in city stars, only with its

floors laid down side by side on the ground. On the sides,

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all the famous brand shop windows dazzle the passerby’s eyes with fashionable clothes, extravagant watches, top of

the notch glasses and fancy perfumes. It’s easy to see why this street in

particular has become so famous in the Arab world that its name is almost synonyms with France itself!

I walk down to the arc, get a ticket and struggle my way up the spiral stairs and make it to the top of the arc – after collapsing twice on the stone steps out of bad fitness – and there it was; Paris, the city of light, lies beneath.

. As a Cairian raised among a jungle of buildings that sprout from every corner like mushrooms, it seemed to me that some neat French architect, for whom everything must be “formidaaaable!”, has took it upon himself to arrange the city buildings in such a way that it looks like a single-leveled Lego city. In fact, the heights of buildings all over the city is so equalized, that there are only a handful of buildings that stick out into the free sky like candles in a cake. From the top of each of these “slightly higher” structures you can have a panoramic view of the whole city. The first is of course the arc where I’m standing now. The rest include the “Montparnasse” building, the “Eiffel tower”, the “Sacre Coeur” cathedral and finally the Ferris Wheel known as “La Grande Roue” standing at a height of 60 meters and a huge diameter of 100 meters in the “Jardin des Tuileries” in front of the Louvre. I remember taking a photo of the rooftops of the buildings and showing it to a friend. The only problem she could find with the landscape was “Don’t these people have satellite dishes?”

Stepping down the arc and heading to nearby metro station, I’m up to one of the most thrills of Paris: wading through the enormous network of the underground! The network has the complexity of a total of 18 lines, intertwining and intersecting in so many stations to the extent that the map, which I got from the hotel – and also available in newsstands, and even printed on souvenir shirts and mugs! – looks like a spaghetti plate! I go down the station in “Charles de Gaulle” to be faced by ticket vending-machines! I experience an uneasy nostalgic feeling towards the ever-annoyed guy in the ticket office at any Egyptian metro station, who throws the yellow ticket recklessly in your face while looking away in disgust, which I still consider a worthy human interaction that I’d rather have than the cold French machine instructions!

Arriving in “Bir Hakeim” station, I walk up to the near-by Eiffel tower only to find a 2 kilometers long queue zigzagging beneath it in front of the ticket office. I hesitate whether to queue along or visit another time when it’s less jammed – and it hardly ever is in such a high season! Speaking of queues, I actually fell in love with this human behavior that’s almost a national sport here! Everywhere in Paris you have to stand in a queue, in front of ticket machines, in supermarkets, in the bakery shop, and sometimes even in over-packed restaurants! However, the concept of queuing here is very different than what we have back in Egypt. That is, a queue here follows the actual definition of Webster dictionary which defines it as: “A line of people or vehicles waiting for something.” This of course is in contrast with the Egyptian understanding of theTour_Eiffel_Wikimedia_Commonsgeometrical difference between “line” and “mass”, for in Egypt, a queue is a “mass” of people gathered in front of a cashier or ticket office, and the service is based on “first hand stuck in the face of the employee, first serve”!

I fight the temptation of enjoying the glorious feeling of personal-zone respect in the “Tour Eiffel” queue line and decide to head to the “bateaux mouches” dock station right across the street instead. The later is a river bus that runs down the Seine and drops you off in front of various tourist landmarks in the heart of the city. Hopping off at “St. Michel” station, I’m stunned by this architectural beauty standing alone on the beautiful “Île de la Cité” island in front of the east bank; the Notre dame. Ever immortalized by Paris’s own celebrated author Victor Hugo in his novel “The hunchback of Notre dame”, the 760+ years old cathedral became a symbol for gothic architecture worldwide. Although a breath-taking structure to ponder upon during the day, it’s even much more bedazzling at night, when it’s all lit up by spotlights and its surroundings are vibrant with sketchers, painters and musicians performing their art all over the entrance garden. As for “St. Michel” itself, the main square of the Latin quarter on the east bank facing the cathedral, it’s famous for its fountain, where u can stand and feed pigeons during the day, the aging cafes that were once gathering points for the liberal, hippie and bohemian poets, philosophers and winos. The antiquity shops and “Gibert Jeune” bookstores intrigue the visitors with a taste of a brushed off culture. I for one, had a different taste in mind though; that of a delicious chocolate crepe from one of the many Parisian creperies/bakeries spread all over the city, pretty much in the same fashion we have a foul and falafel shop around every Cairian corner.

From “St. Michel” metro station, again I wade through the tunnels jungle to “Montmartre” station and out into the heart of night life in Paris. With the Piccadilly Street, the red-light district of Paris, forming the main artery of the neighborhood, and the infamous “Moulin Rouge” nightclub on the corner. It seemed weird to me, and dare I to say rathe  r un-holy, that you’d see one of the biggest cathedrals in the whole country, the “Sacré-Cœur”, paired with the “sin district” all in one place! It’s like merging Haram Street into Al Azhar neighborhood for God’s sake! But ah

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well, there it was anyways, on top of Montmartre hill, the highest naturally occurring point in Paris! You can do the ascent on the steep stairs up the hill, or, if you have a heart condition, special needs or simply an Egyptian that moves everywhere by car like myself you can ride the funicular, a special car that’d take you up in just 90 seconds! Then there it is: The magnificent basilica looks like a well polished white pearl sitting on a green velvet cushion of grass, thanks to the travertine stone used in its construction which exudes calcite ensuring that the basilica remains white despite the weather and the pollution.

Art lover or not, it was almost inevitable for me to leave Paris without getting at least a glimpse of the famous orignal Mona Lisa as she sits calmly in the italian painters section of the Louvre. The museum’s building is so vast with its U-shaped structure that runs over an area of 60,600 square metres that it’d probably take you at least 3 full days to be able to consume all the antiquities displayed there. But it’s definitely worth it!

By: Shereen Adel