Saturday, April 14, 2007
Sharing the Japanese Hill
Sometimes Christmas holidays are my busiest time, but this year everyone decided to come for Easter. Easter holidays in Egypt are especially fun because we have three of them usually within 10 days of each other, first the western Easter Sunday, then the Coptic Easter Sunday and the day after that, Sham el Nessim, the ancient pharoanic spring holiday that is celebrated also with coloured eggs and such. This Easter also brought me some old friends who wanted to share part of their experience of Egypt on horseback with some new travelers.
The day had started out most inauspiciously with a bang-up sandstorm and winds out of the southwest, the southern western desert. I'd gotten a phone call from a family from Cyprus who were visting for Easter. They'd been riding at the pyramids of Giza and had not been happy with the experience, so when someone recommended me, they thought they'd try again. Horseowners themselves, they weren't put off by the weather even when I warned them that it would be an experience somewhat like being sandblasted. We went out into the desert for about half an hour where we found a rather forsaken group of tourists on camels and horses who had obviously started out when the weather was good in the morning and were wearily making their way back in the dust. Once my Cypriot clients were safely headed back to the city, I worried over the weather for the afternoon ride, which included two young Belgian girls who were new to Egypt.
The ride was organised by my friend Nathalie and her daughter Pauline, whose friends were the novice riders. It was the girls' first trip to Egypt and they'd spent the week with friends of Pauline's learning first hand about the life of teenagers in Cairo. Annabel and Laura arrived at the farm with Nathalie and Pauline, tired from a busy social schedule but game for more experience. Fortunately by then the winds had dropped and we were not going to be blasted by blowing sand.
We put the girls on two of the trusty geldings, Aybek and Bunduq, gave two of the grooms lead lines to ensure safety, and set off for the desert about 4:30 pm. The shock of the transition from the green fields of the valley to the bare desert set the girls aback, much to the delight of Pauline who admitted that this was really the only way for anyone to really understand the contrast. Explanations simply don't do justice.
We rode out towards the new Czech excavations behind the Abu Sir pyramids and I showed them one of the old shaft tombs, happily surrounded by an old stone wall so that we could admire the hole without worries of falling in. Then we went on to the Japanese Hill, which has to have the best view of pyramids in the entire world. From the top of this little outcropping one can see, on a clear day which unfortunately this wasn't really, all the pyramids from Giza to the lake at Dahshur. This is one of the best ways of realising just how many pyramids Egypt has.
From the top of the hill, the descent to the desert below is a steep climb down a sandy slope, prompting tips to our novice riders to recall the hill scene from The Man From Snowy River...but they not being horse nuts hadn't seen the movie, so the tips were pretty worthless. At the bottom of the hill, Pauline, Nathalie and I sent the girls on a quiet direct route to our exit from the desert, while we roared off in another direction to have a gallop around the area before meeting them again in a couple of minutes. We cantered past a number of village football games in the sand at the edge of the desert and rejoined the group to amble back to the farm along canals and past water buffalo and weary farmers.
At one point in the ride, Pauline took my camera to immortalise some of the moments of the afternoon, taking in the process a series of fairly hysterical mugshots. Only Pauline would be riding across the desert while staring into the lens of a camera. Back at the farm, the girls clambered off the horses on stiff legs, but gave their mounts big hugs despite the promises of even more stiffness the next day. Both of them said that the experience was definitely worth any stiffness as now they could understand the stories that Pauline had been telling them all year about her riding weekends while living here in Cairo. Nothing like sharing experiences.
copyright 2007 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani