Monday, April 21, 2014

Cairo Spring Break

We were slightly sad about missing Easter in Rome, what with the huge audience and blessings and fanfare.  But as soon as we landed in Egypt, we learned that Easter is a huge national holiday here, too,  It's called Sham el Nessim, and though it is not about Jesus' ressurection, it does herald spring, involve mackerel, and give people time off work.

Our host family in Cairo was using this time off to head to the beach on the North Coast of Egypt, and they invited us along.  We were initially reluctant, since it did not fit our idea of an Egypt trip, and we had not seen the museum or pyramids.  Plus, this is what Lonely Planet said about the North Coast:

"This is where well-to-do Cairenes and the top brass of Egypt’s military establishment now come to escape the oppressive city heat of the summer. It’s so busy here that when driving past, the only glimpses you’re likely to get of the ocean are through the skeletal structures of unfinished holiday villages."

Unless you come in April.

We stayed two days on the beach in El-Hamam city, about 50 km west of Alexandria.  There are no fake pyramid decorations or hieroglyphics or King Tut masks anywhere.  Just families and friend groups hanging out near the water.  For us, it was a great opportunity to relax in a gorgeous scenery while seeing how Egyptians take their holiday.

They ate breakfast at noon, lunch at six pm, and dinner at midnight.  We had Bedouin food with lots of tahini and tomato and fenugreek and eggplant.  There was fish and baklava and fûl and olives and cheese and lots of warm, hearty flatbread.  They slept in close quarters and stayed up laughing and joking around.  Josh taught them the card game Egyptian Rat.  They tried to teach is a game they called Estimation, but it was really hard and then we realized it was Bridge.  We all ran into the cold water together during a day with an extreme riptide and felt so alive, pushing against the current and the temperature and running back to our towels with brain freezes at the end.  I tried asking the men patrolling the beach with uniforms and guns to take a picture with me, but they must have been confused why an "Arab" was asking for this.  The sand was not tiny square grains like the beaches I am used to. It was white and fine and each grain was spherical, making it really pleasant to grasp and knead.  And of course, it was awesome to see old women wearing flow robes and head scarves sitting on beach chairs while their sons brought buckets of ocean water for them to put their feet in.

The whole time in Turkey and Italy, we had not visited any of the Mediterranean beaches for which they were famous.  I think that Egypt's beaches may be even better.  The only hard part is driving there, across the desert road (speed bumps sneak up on you!) and checkpoints without falling asleep at the wheel.  (Kudos to Josh for driving all the way back to Cairo and not losing his mind with all the aggressive drivers and pedestrians swirling about.)  We still have not done the pyramids yet, but I doubt they will be this idyllic.

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