Cairo, Egypt, September 2017
“Have you ever ridden a camel?” The pyramid guide asked as he led us through the stables and towards the camel we would be riding.
“Yes, actually, many times.” I answered confidently.
I climbed onto the camel, leaned as far back as I could while the large animal dipped forward as it moved its body from kneeling to standing. They handed me Matteo who was a little nervous because we were so high up.
“It’s okay,” I assured him. “You’ve been on a camel before, remember Jerusalem?”
His chubby fists gripped me tight as I wrapped one arm around him and held on with the other to the horn. The camel, led by foot by a teenage boy and a guide on horseback, began walking down the old, dirty street towards the pyramid entrance. We passed by fruit vendors with their carts piled high with colorful fruits and bread carts filled with freshly baked pita bread that you could smell all the way down the street.
It wasn’t the smoothest of rides but our guide assured us that once we were on the sand the movement would feel more fluid rather than jerky.
He was right, once the sand met the camel’s hooves it was like he was exactly where he belonged. We rode up sand dunes and out into the desert until the Giza neighborhood was far off into the distance and it truly felt like we were on the cusp of discovery. In front of us passed a large caravan of camels and I imagined a time in history where camels were used in every day life and not just as a tourist attraction. In the distance the pyramids rose from the sand like powerful stone guardians and looked even more majestic as they stood against a desert backdrop.
I tried asking my guide a few things about the pyramid’s history and quickly discovered that I knew more than he did, thanks to my obsession with National Geographic and the Discovery channel as a kid.
As we rode through the desert I couldn’t help but notice how empty of tourists it was.
“We’re the only ones out here. Is this normal?” I asked to my guide.
“Yes, since the revolution in 2011 tourism has been really down.”
“It’s because every one thinks that Egypt is dangerous and on the brink of civil war.” I said. “The media does a good job at portraying things in a negative light.”
“Yes, it’s really sad. Because actually, Egypt is very safe.” He assured me.
“I agree, I haven’t once felt unsafe. It’s no different than any other country I have visited. Though I have to admit, I am quite enjoying having the desert and the pyramids to myself.”
“Yes, it’s nice for you, but for Egypt it’s not good. It’s really hard now. Before there was always good money to be made, but now, everyone is struggling.”
“It’s supposed to get busier next month, right? It’s the start of the high season.” I asked.
As the sun rose higher in the morning sky, we turned towards the pyramids and walked along side them. They were magnificent and overwhelming. These stones had witnessed over 4,500 years of history and though weathered, they did not appear weary. Refusing to crumble and bow to a new a empire, they held onto the remnants of their former glory and reminded all who gazed up their structure of a once and powerful civilization.
La Costa, Colombia, November 2016
“Do you even know how to ride a horse?” Andres asked skeptically as I attempted to mount the horse for a second time.
“Of course I do, I’ve ridden many times.” And by many times I meant once.
He gave me a doubtful look, “Okay.” As he mounted his horse and came along side me, “Let’s go.” He said.
We waved goodbye to Matteo who was on his Abuelos shoulders and already heading toward the stables.
“Have fun! Don’t worry about Matteo.” Andres’ mom shouted.
“Where do you want to go?” He asked as opened and closed the main gate to the ranch.
“Show me all your favorite places.” I said. “And the places we can’t get to with the truck.”
“Okay, then lets go this way.” He pointed towards the west gate that led to a hilly and uneven grassy plain. “Careful, there’s a bull in this field and he can be aggressive.”
We rode out into the grassy fields, occasionally sloshing through flooded grass, passing by cattle grazing under lone trees and water buffalo resting on the muddy shores of a watering hole. My birthday was the next day and this ride was his form of a birthday present.
He began talking about certain aspects of the ranch, from the lazy workers to the rundown conditions of certain parts -all things we talked about on a daily basis.
“You know what I want for my birthday?” I interrupted him mid-sentence.
“What?” he asked.
“I want to be the one talking.”
“Okay then, talk.” He acted slightly annoyed.
“What? You’re always talking –always telling a story, you never ask me anything about myself. So now I want to talk.”
I started to talk about the last time I rode a horse in Ukraine and he pretended to listen but was really busy looking off into the distance.
“You’re a terrible listener.” I said knowing full well he wasn’t paying attention.
His laughter gave it away that I was right.
“You’re a great storyteller but a terrible listener. Here I am not just listening, but actively listening to everything you say and you can’t give me five minutes of your attention so I can finish this story?!” I said in frustration as I kicked my heels into the horse’s sides and took off into a different direction. It was definitely the dramatic exit I was looking for, but now I was trying to figure out how to slow the horse down.
I pulled the reigns. Nothing… I pulled the reigns harder and shouted “Whoaaa, Whoaa,” like I had seen in the movies. Finally he settled into a slow trot. I turned at the sound of trotting and saw Andres coming behind me.
“You don’t know how to ride a horse.” He said.
“You might have figured that out earlier if you had listened to my story.” I quipped.
“Come on,” He said. “Let’s go over to woods.”
We turned our horses in the direction of a small wooded area that was overgrown like a jungle. There was a hat hanging from a bush that caught his attention.
“Whose hat is that?” I asked, following his gaze.
“I know don’t, probably someone who has been sneaking in here and cutting down trees. People have been stealing the wood to build their houses for years now.” He went into patrol mode and started looking around for signs of another person. He entered by a small path into the forest and shouted into the thick foliage. I followed closely behind trying to avoid being smacked in the face by the branches.
“What if they have a gun?” I asked nervously, after all this was the wild west of Colombia. “Should you be trying to smoke them out when we’re defenseless?”
“There’s no one here.” He concluded.
The woods dark and cool, was a welcome relief from the direct sun we had been riding in for over an hour now. A snake slithered by the horse’s feet and birds chirped in the tall trees. It was peaceful in there. We followed a path that led out to the side and emerged from the jungle.
“Do you smell that?” He asked as he guided his horse over near a tree.
“Smell what?” I asked following him.
“Really? You can’t smell it?” He questioned.
I sniffed long and hard, trying to identify the scent in which he was smelling but couldn’t smell anything.
“I really can’t smell anything.” I said, feeling somehow that my normally really good nose had failed me.
“Just keep trying.” He urged.
“WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO BE SMELLING?” I shouted in frustration.
“Fear.” He said simply as he pointed his chin in the direction above my head.
I looked up and there hanging above my head was a giant spiders nest.
I screamed, kicked my heels in and took off. I could hear his bellowing laughter even from a distance.
(To read more about Egypt and see our expense report click here.)