Upper Egypt Trip - Part Six - Pickup Truck Tour of the Desert

It was our last day in Luxor. Our host, Mahmoud, offered to take us out to the desert villages in the back of a pickup truck. They’d prepared the truck bed with an assortment of chairs, carpets and colourful cushions. The final look was somewhere between a Maharaja’s palace and a redneck bush party. 

My mother (or her majesty queen of Luxor as she now likes to be called) sat on her “throne” with her hat and fan, waving graciously at the villagers. Most of the Egyptians we passed waved back and seemed delighted and amused by our strange parade. A few kids even hopped on the truck for a short ride. We were greeted with shouts of “welcome” and broad grins wherever we went, a far cry from the “death to infidels” nonsense peddled by the media. I was glad my parents got to experience the generous warmth of these people.

I had a great time observing and capturing little snippets of daily life on camera. Dad was snapping away as well. He seemed incredibly happy during the tour and said that despite the heat, he could have done it all day. I had a similar sentiment. It was one of my favourite experiences of the entire trip.

Dusty and windblown, we stopped for a quick tour and cold drink at El Moudira, a beautiful and tranquil hotel in the desert. We all tried to behave around the posh people. Then we were back on the road.

Our destination was St Tawdros (St Theodore's) Coptic Orthodox Christian Monastery, in the desert near Medinet Habu. We removed our shoes and stepped reverently in the quite, peaceful chapel. The walls contained both carvings of Coptic crosses and hieroglyphs from recycled stone originating in nearby temples.

Afterwards we visited the gift shop where a variety of goods could be found. It was a strange mix of religious items and cheap plastic toys. We bought some frankincense and locally made honey. One nun demonstrated plastic cross that came apart to show it was also a pen. She seemed to think it was the best thing ever, but sadly there were no takers.

That night, back at Nile Compound, we sat on the balcony, smoked shisha and played cinquante-huit (a french card game). I was slightly concerned about Aswan and my next budget hotel choice but I didn’t let it bother me. Que sera sera.

The road north is almost at an end.

After two years of supply teaching in the Yukon, Rich has finally been hired as a full-time teacher.

The job is in Egypt.

Giza, Egypt during our visit there in 2004. Photo by Christa Galloway.

I know, right? From one extreme to the other.

I haven't experiences temperatures above a high of 24°C in three years, and that was HOT. Alexandria, Egypt is nine time zones and almost 10,000 km away from Whitehorse. We will be going from north of 60° to a latitude of 31°N. 

Our flights are booked from London to Istanbul to Alexandria in August. Just staring at this sentence give me chills. (The good kind, in case you are wondering.)

When Rich and I got married we wrote our own vows. The part of our vows that has stuck with us the most over the years is the vow “to be a friend, comfort and companion for adventures big and small.” When we arrived in the Yukon we thought we’d found our place, our last adventure. It turns out the world isn’t done with us yet. Or maybe we are not done with the world yet.

Rich will be teaching Year 4 at the British School in Alexandria. As for me, I’m going back to my roots. More than 20 years ago I decided I wanted to be a photojournalist. I don’t think that has ever really changed although I’ve been through a gamut of careers. It’s time for me to really give it a go.

So, I know what you’re thinking… What about the blog title? “The road/mostly flight path south-east” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Any ideas?




Our month in a tent - day 24

I lie on my back and stare at the splotches of rain falling on the roof of the tent. I am snuggled in my sleeping bag, wearing long underwear under a sweatshirt and fleece pjs, with my still warm hot water bottle at my feet and a duvet over everything. Only my face is cold. I am loath to leave my cocoon, even to make a hot coffee which I am craving. My son is beside me, playing on the iPad, fully under the covers in a fleece sleeper, happy as a clam.
I watch the tent ceiling for so long that I get to witness the transition from cold to damn cold as the clear rain droplets falling on the roof change to darker splotches of snow. This development serves to justify my decision to stay in my sleeping bag. As curiosity takes precedence over comfort, I risk sticking an arm out to unzip the window. The fluffy white flakes falling outside are beautiful while at the same time slightly depressing. 

It is mid-September in Edmonton. My husband and I have moved from Whitehorse with our 4-year old son and our golden retriever so he can attend the university of Alberta for a month and complete a practicum in Red Deer from October until December. My husband, Richard, is a certified teacher in the UK but must re-certify in order to teach in Canada. We have meagre savings and will not have any income over the four months so we have forgone hotels in favour of campsites. So far, we have been camping for 24 days while we wait to move into the one pet-friendly, inexpensive, short term rental apartment we could find.

Richard is at university right now. As I think of him, warm and dry, perhaps finger painting in art class or contemplating scholarly things I can't help but feel a little envy. He has had his own struggles though, as the lone older man in a class of 20-somethings in their fourth year of university. Last month he even died his gorgeous silver hair darker so he would fit in more. After his last haircut he now has silver hair at his temples which only makes him look more distinguished. 

During Richard's studies we are staying at the Rainbow Valley campground beside a ski hill (yes, what must be the world’s smallest ski hill exists in Edmonton.) It a short trip public transport for him and I get to have the car, which is handy on cold days like today. To be honest, once I’m outside the tent and moving around, it doesn’t actually feel that cold, but the idea of cooking lunch and entertaining a four year old outside in the wet snow does not appeal. I'd gotten a few books at Chapters the other day and remembered they had a children's section so I decided to take Ozzie there after lunch.

Chapters was actually better than I thought it would be. There was a place for kids to draw, a train table, and some sample toys to play with. Other than hearing "mummy can I have this?" every few minutes it seemed like nice way to kill a few hours. 

Several children came and during the time we were there. I started chatting to a mother of two girls. She commented that it is a nice place to come during bad weather. She having some renovations done on her house. I agreed, mentioning that we were staying in a tent at a campground, so this was great. She looked at me sideways and gave her kids a two minute warning that they were leaving.

After Oscar and I did a puzzle that was missing a third of the pieces it became more difficult to ignore the stares of the saleswoman. I had the distinct impression that we'd stayed too long, and I didn't have an armful of expensive purchases to justify it. One time when Oscar asked why he couldn’t have something, I said "no" because it wasn't on sale. This prompted him is examine each item in the store yelling "is this on SALE mummy?" I eventually picked up a half price item for Ozzie and decided to look for another place to stay warm and dry. I opted to give the GPS a chance to find us a library.

I have a love/hate relationship with my GPS. I know I couldn't navigate the city without it, but at the same time I suspect she thinks I wronged it in a past life and it's getting revenge. The first day Richard was at university I tried to get to the grocery store. She led me right past it and to a one way street headed the other direction. On my way back to the campsite she gave me about 20 left turn instructions, one after the other. Yes, that's right, I drove in a circle 5 times. When I drove in another direction to break the cycle, parked, and redid the route, she led me right back to the never ending left hand turn nightmare again.

Since then we've reached a bit of a truce. Also, I’ve gotten to I know the area a bit better and occasionally ignore her instructions when I know they are wrong. But the library was in uncharted territory. I decided to risk it.

"What's the rule in the car when mummy's driving?" I asked Oscar once he was strapped in. He didn't answer. "Exactly," I said. Silence. This rule was created during the unending loop nightmare, made more difficult when my angel started throwing his boots at the back of my head and shouting "where are we going?"

I've learned to drive slow and not worry about impatient drivers behind me. I'm very happy for all the drivers in Edmonton who know exactly where they are going and want to get there as quickly as possible, but you are all just going to have to work around me. This time a police car tailed me for a few blocks and then drove beside me and behind me. There are distracted driving laws in Alberta, and I was driving slowly so I'm pretty sure they were checking if I was on my phone or drinking a coffee. What they would have seen is me, hunched over the wheel, a sceptical look on my face, a child in the back and Yukon plates navigating a right turn over a bike lane while checking my blind spot four times. They drove off and left me alone.

The sceptical look was because the GPS was saying "you’re destination is on the right,” and of course there was no library in sight. I decided to find a parking lot and calmly try not to throw my GPS on the floor and smash her to a million pieces. Since my GPS is also my phone, this would not have been good. I maneuvered my car to a spot in a nearby shopping plaza and let out a heavy sigh. I briefly contemplated banging my head on the steering wheel like they do in the movies but thought better of it. I looked up. EPL, the sign in front of me said. Edmonton Public Library.

The EPL was great. They had some toys and learning computer games for kids. I read and Oscar played, Oscar and I played together, we were warm and dry.

Tonight will be an early night, with new cold-avoidance adventures for tomorrow. Tonight, I dream of a roof over my head, a shower that doesn’t need loonies, wifi and Netflix, printing documents without paying 25 cents a sheet and being able to drink liquids in the evening because if I have to pee in the night it's no big deal. Oh, the luxury.


Gypsy living

I'm typing this outside my tent at Lions Campground in Red Deer. The symphony of traffic sounds from the highway across from my campsite is joined by the peaceful tweeting of birds the the not so peaceful yelling of my tent neighbours at their five screaming children. Oscar has learned a whole new vocabulary in our three days here from our neighbours, the other day he sweetly said "f**k off."

We tried to book another site but the long week-end is almost upon us and everything is completely booked up. I'm trying to make the best of our next five days here. There are showers. This is a luxury after the 8 previous days without running water. Laundry as well. So far both have cost us a small fortune in loonies.

This campground has a strange dynamic. In the middle there are the full service sites. I call it the "RV city." There are rows and rows of huge RVs lined up and plugged in. I rarely see anyone outside other than at the park. Once I saw bags of groceries on a picnic table outside one, but no sign of people. On the outskirts of these full service sites are what I like to call the "gyspsy towns." It's a treed area full of tarps and tents, traffic noise and screaming children. It looks like most people have set up here permanently, or at least until the park closes at the end of September. 
I'm getting in the rhythm here. Twice a day the "dad" next-door comes home and honks his horn. This results in the children screaming. This results in the "mom" screaming at her children to stop screaming. 

Every once and a while I venture out to RV city, to get to the showers, washrooms, the trail, or once to catch my dog. Of course, the time my dog escaped was the one time I actually saw someone in RV city. 

"Is that your big dog?" the lady asked, "It scared me." 

For heaven's sake, she's a small goofy golden retriever.

RV City folk are self-contained in their mammoth vehicles and don't need to venture out to shower, eat or play. They go from their RV to their truck and their truck to their RV. They are separate from us and each other. They have pasty white skin and their clothes are clean and pressed. Us gypsies try to conserve our loonies. We're a little more rugged looking. Our whites are more of an ivory. We spend our days outside.  We pretend the thin fabric of our tent separates us, but the truth is we know all about each others business whether we want to or not. I know about our neighbours struggle to find work, and I'm sure they've heard our conversations about not getting a loan or being turned down for an apartment.

The park is the exception. Gypsy kids and city kids mingle, share, fight and explore together. They dig holes in the sand, play with sticks, climb and slide. They laugh together.

If only the world could be a park and we could all be children.