We left Sudan and entered Egypt with little to no money. We had exactly enough Sudanese pounds to make it through the Sudanese/Egyptian border and no more. And when I say exactly enough I mean we were 8 USD short, which Matt happened to have in his wallet. We couldn't have planned it better. And for that matter we couldn't have spent any more time in Sudan considering the only way to obtain Sudanese Pounds is by exchanging US dollars, no matter what country you are from. On top of that, they have no ATM's on an international network so the money you bring in is the money you have.
By the time we arrived in Egypt we were pretty burned out from traveling so long in Africa, a sentiment that is commonly shared among other western travelers on the continent who have made it as far, or farther, as we had. It's exhausting. Borders, buses, trains, schedules, foreign languages, foreign currency people regularly trying to get money out of you. After four months, we were tired. Fortunately Egypt is well developed and offered us a touch of modernity that we needed at that point.
|Philae Temple south of Aswan|
We first arrived in Aswan, a city that kind of resembled what I imagine Las Vegas might look like. It had huge resorts on the Nile and large ships that served as floating hotels and restaurants. People would stroll by on the street in horse drawn carriages. They even had a McDonald's! I couldn't get Matt to go. I'm still bitter about it.
Egypt, clearly had a booming tourist industry before the Arab Spring. In fact, in the city Luxor at any given time there may be 300 tourists today. Before the revolution of 2011 there could be 10,000. Every time tourism starts to pick up, another violent event happens and it suffers a blow. There was a bombing in a temple in the past few years and just last year there was a plane full of over 200 people that had been shot down by terrorists associated with ISIS. With so many destinations in the world, it seems that Egypt has been pretty low on the list for westerners. As unfortunate as it is for the locals whose livelihoods are dependent on tourism, we found it refreshing to not have to share the sights and streets with 10,000 other tourists. To be honest it seems like a great time to travel is just after a catastrophe of some kind. A little food for thought for the future.
I found the sights and museums in Egypt to only be interesting the first round through. After that you basically look at the same temples, sarcophagi and tombs over and over and I'm just not a history buff. I wish I had more inspired things to say, but I was feeling burned out and it was hot. I also hadn't been feeling very well after mistakenly drinking Egyptian water. I should have known better. I did know better.
|Air Balloon over western Luxor|
In Luxor Matt and I took our first hot air balloon ride. It was pretty anticlimactic. The most impressive part was just seeing the balloons and the jets shooting fire to inflate them and control their altitude. The landing was the fun part. We were instructed by the pilot on how we should brace ourselves so we don't fall over. Once the basket tapped the ground we bounced and dragged across the sand until a crew of men jumped out of a truck and grabbed ropes attached to the basket and helped stop the balloon from dragging us further or toppling over.
From Luxor Matt and I went to Cairo. At last we made it to Africa's largest city and one of the largest in the world. With a population of over 25 million it has around the same number of people as Australia. We first went to the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities home to actual mummies and all sorts of artifacts and sarcophagi'. Of course we also saw the pyramids which were pretty impressive. It's amazing what slave labor can accomplish. They were heavily guarded so unfortunately climbing was out of the question. What you could do was ride a camel, which we didn't do, but oh how people asked. Oh how they asked.
After Cairo, we finally went to Alexandria, where we felt the journey officially ended. We made it from the southern most point of Africa where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet to the Mediterranean Sea. We haven't tallied up the mileage, but I'm guessing we covered somewhere around 8,000 to 10,000 miles. We celebrated with a couple local Egyptian beers, which of course gave both of us a headache. One can expect no less from Africa.
Final Thoughts on Africa.
Since I've been back I've been asked all too much the dreaded "How was Africa" question. It's a question I of course anticipated and yet still don't have a good reply. I usually say something dumb like, " it was really big." It's an impossibly simple question with an impossibly complicated answer. One that requires a lot of reflection, thought and effort. It's too exhausting to explain in detail to everyone who asks the question so some people inevitably get "It's big." I will take this time in this last post to explain how I feel about my travels in Africa.
It was really big. It was also very complex and each country we went through offered new people, different languages, currencies, and often times a change in culture. I really enjoyed my time in South Africa. It's one of the few countries I would like to return to. It's landscapes are as diverse as the people with mountains, deserts, farmland and a huge diverse coast. It even freezes sometimes in a part of South Africa. That I like. It also has cities like Cape Town which is an amazing city to visit, very cosmopolitan. It has great wine, and the coast resembles that of central and northern California.
Southern Africa, besides South Africa, was honestly not that great. There was a drought that ran through the whole southern part of the continent and you could feel the desperation when you passed through towns. They were dirty, the food was boring and the people didn't have much of a culture, at least that was easily experienced. I don't think their situation in life allows for it. We traveled quickly through this part of Africa and I have a feeling we didn't miss out on that much.
Once we reached Tanzania we got out of the desperate south and into a country that had a livelier culture and more bustling cities. It was also the first time I saw veiled women in Africa and heard the call to prayer and aside from opinions on things like veiled women, it was a nice change of culture.
I enjoyed my stay in Kenya and most of all riding motorcycles for a month there and then into Ethiopia. That was the highlight of the trip for me, even though I wrecked into a car. That's just another story at this point, a thing of the past, history. Northern Kenya transformed into the real African bush with tribesman wearing traditional clothes, yielding spears, and herding goats and camels. It was classic Africa and it housed hundreds of miles of a massive, expansive landscape It was also the most dangerous road we were ever on in Africa. Thankfully, we didn't break down and again it's all history now.
Ethiopia is another country I would potentially go back to. It's a mountainous country that deserves more exploration than we had time or money for. The food is good and the people are kind, the ones of course who aren't trying to get money out of you. It was nice change from east and southern Africa.
Once we reached the Arab north and left Sub-Saharan Africa (often referred to as black Africa) it was, as Matt mentioned, a breath of fresh air. The people of Sudan are kind, welcoming and were not constantly trying to take the white man's money. The ruins way out in the Sahara were really awesome to see, much better than the tourist trap that is Egypt. But, with that being said it's the Sahara desert and it's really hot and empty. Once I've been in the desert for a week, I'm ready to go. I'm not sure I care to go back. Maybe later in life.
Religion plays a large part in the lives of Africans and I think it is important to express my take on religion in Africa briefly. I find that traveling through heavily religious countries reaffirms my disdain for religion. I think it's amazing how all of southern Africa has adopted the white colonizing religion, Christianity, so wholeheartedly. Colonization robbed them of their way of life and called them savages and Christianity, a tool by the colonizer has proved to hold it's ground well after decolonization. I think Sub-Saharn Africa, with all the millions of desperate people is the perfect breeding ground for religion. It gives reason for suffering and hope that something better is coming if they follow a certain set of rules. It also takes donations from people who have almost nothing and there are massive evangelical churches where people get "healed" and have the demons cast out of their bodies.
As for Muslims in the Arab north. I found them to be a bit more modern and their cities and countries far cleaner. They seem to have a better standard of living than Sub Saharan Africa. I also found the Muslim people I talked to to be open about talking their views and open to my lack of belief. Actually that was common throughout Africa. I believe, though that Islam mistreats it's women. Under Sharia Law a women isn't to leave her home unveiled so that she not tempt other men. A women should only show herself to her husband. She also must not leave the home without being accompanied by a man. They seem to be treated more as children or servants to man's needs rather than independent, intelligent human beings who have every right to live how they please as any man. I should note that I only observed from a distance and this comes from my own research and not necessarily from first hand accounts. I must also note that this is under Sharia Law and many Muslims are more progressive than this. Women walk the streets unveiled and as I mentioned before even some drink with men openly in places like Cairo. But they are still far from equal. But that can also be said about women in every religion including Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. So Islam is not unique in it's unequal treatment of women.
Overall I think the trip was a success and an amazing opportunity. I am happy to have my stories and experiences and I'm happy to be back in the United States. It's hard to say what I learned the most as I really just got back and I think the lessons you learn from traveling unveil themselves over time. They aren't always obvious. Maybe I will take less things for granted, but let's be honest. How long does that really last?
Yesterday I had a beer in one of my favorite bars that plays stoner metal, hung out with good friends and didn't pay for a band that was half decent. It was great. The Midwest is an awesome place to return to. The trees are budding and the weather is cool. The thunderstorms should be coming soon, Inshallah.