Well, my last day in Cairo is slowly coming to a close. I rose early this morning to go to Giza to do a bit of riding - and to see the Pyramids, which I have so far failed to do! I walked out the dorms to get a bit of extra cash, but the ATM at the supermarket was closed. Then I walked to the next corner, where there's normally another machine - and it was gone. Simply vanished. Bizarre. So I walked to the post office, but that one wasn't accepting my card. On to the Faisal Islamic Bank's machine, but it was out of order. 25 minutes and 4 machines later, I finally managed to withdraw from the Egypt National Bank on 26 July.
I headed back to MG Stables where Thalia and I rode last time - if any of you are in Cairo, I heartily recommend it, it's a good, respectable place and everybody knows it. Ask for Mohammed Ghoneim, the owner, and Nasser, the guide. Nasser took me out and gave me a bit of tutorial riding in the desert, trying to smooth out my trot and keep the horse under control in a gallop, then we infiltrated the pyramids. We rode out to a section of wall with a little Bedouin hut next to it, and bribed the Bedouin to open up the fence and let us in. Then we rode through the dunes surrounding the Pyramids, around 8 in the morning, and got to see them up close, in all their glory, without a single tourist around. It was really amazing, to be there with nothing but a few stray Bedouin hanging around, instead of massive tour groups. The light wasn't great, but hey...what can you do?
There was a desert boy there with a camel, and I rode that just for kicks. Camels officially suck, they're the dumbest animals I've ever seen. Mine walked about 10 metres, came back, and then made a sound like a diesel engine trying to start with severe flatulence and refused to sit down so I could get off. It took Nasser and the boy to drag the stupid thing down. I hate camels. Horses are much better.
We returned, I said my farewells, then walked back to the main street where, not wanting to pay a further 30LE to get to Zamalek, I took a baffling series of buses and minbuses until I got to the train station, then the Metro back to Zamalek. Of course, the train drops you at the far end of the island from the University dorms, so I got to walk most of the length of it, shooting pictures as I went. It was a nice morning, so it was all good, and I got back at 10:30 or 11 - just as Joe was getting up!
It was really cool to get out there in the desert, with no one around, no one at the Pyramids, just me and the sky and the desert. I love riding, and riding in the desert - total freedom, total emptiness, and a real touching loneliness. I feel compelled to come back to Egypt, a country full of contradictions and bizarre sights. The cabdrivers try to rob you blind, but when I was trying to figure out the bus system, on three occasions different men flagged down the buses for me and explained to the drivers where I was going because I didn't understand the geography or which bus to take. It was a really kind gesture of them.
I'm going to miss a lot of things about this - the dirt and the irregular facilities not among them. But speaking Arabic everyday, the people, the crazy crowded rhythms, the surprises around every corner, cheap coffee, fancy restaurants. Even the slowly pulsing Nile, which I was so disappointed with at first, has grown on me and become a kind of constant navigational companion.
Tomorrow I have to get up a bit past dawn to get my flight. Tonight is my last night in Cairo. Half-sad, half-happy - I'm looking forward to going home. We'll see how I like it there.