Sunset Camels & Tea

A tired but sated travel group was more than ready to return to the comforts of our 4-star hotel retreat after our first day of iconic Egyptian sightseeing.  But for 8 of us, there was one more adventure to be had.  The last few Imprint tours have produced a vanguard group of photographers; those for whom down time and sleep are easily sacrificed to get that perfect shot.  As we all share our best shots with everyone interested we’ve taken to calling ourselves the “compound eye”.  If one gets a great shot we all benefit.  It’s really fun.  Even before the tour began the idea of photographing the pyramids in sunrise or sunset light had gained quite a bit of traction among the CE group.  Once again our ace Hoda was there to grease the skids for us.  She had made arrangements for us to ride out into the desert on camelback in order to have a good dusk view of the pyramids, without the unfortunate backdrop of Cairo.  IMG_9639So we 8 mounted up our towering steeds.  I’m not sure if you know how high up you are on a camel – probably twice as high as on horseback.  And mounting is nothing as easy as it sounds.  The camels must collapse onto the ground sphinx-style.  The “collapse” is tricky as camels are huge animals on extremely tall but spindly legs.  The camel must lurch forward onto its front knees, then rock back onto its very flexible back legs.  Once in the 2-foot high saddle, the great beasts repeat the pendulum process in reverse.  If you’re not holding on and leaning in the right direction you can easily roll right off.  More than one yelp was heard as we rocked and reeled to walking position.  Once you are up and adjusted to the extreme height, off you go lumbering out toward the desert. IMG_0133The neighborhood south of the fenced pyramid enclosure can only be described as “horse central.”  We passed stable after stable.  I don’t believe we saw a single car on this perimeter road.  But we did see hundreds of people on horseback.  Turns out a very popular Friday night activity for young, well to do Cairenes is riding out into the desert at the end of the day.  We joined the stream of mounted escapees flowing out of the city.

It probably took us something on the order of an hour to get out to a good photographic vantage point in the Sahara.  I should mention, an hour on a camel “saddle” is about 40 minutes too long.  It is NOT comfortable.  But the experience was incomparable.  We arrived at the strategic hill top with about 20 minutes of sun remaining.  Unfortunately, a heavy haze this day prevented us the electric golden images we had hoped for.  But we all had a wonderful time nonetheless.

IMG_9666As It turns out, once beyond the confines of the city, the desert blossoms with makeshift “bars”.  The top of most hills boasts a ring of cinder blocks, some mechanism for blasting loud Egyptian disco music, and the means to make coffee and tea.  It was quite a scene.  Instead of returning to civilization after the sunset we opted to go for desert tea.  After all, when were any of us ever going to have this opportunity again?  The wind had picked up, our legs and bottoms were sore, and our hair was stiff with desert dust, but we beamed with pleasure when we were served hot, sweet tea in mismatched glasses.  We toasted our camel drivers and the camels themselves:  007, Charlie Brown, Michael Jackson, Howdy Dody, Denis the Menace, and Daisy. (I forget the last 2.)  After our refreshment we mounted up again and swayed and rocked back to the edge of Cairo.  The return ride was much shorter as taxis picked us up at the end of the sands and returned us to our oasis hotel.IMG_9690