Day 7 – From the Desert to Lockdown
I open my eyes. Sunrise. The sun slowly emerges and the vast expanse of the desert wakes up for another day of adventure. The cool morning desert air sweeps before me, the bright stars of last night retiring into the sky once more. I stared one more time into the beautiful desert landscape, sparkling in the sunrise, before we blitzed through the desert once more on our jeeps and returned to the entrance.
It was here that I got to ride a camel. Riding across the desert for an hour on this wonderful creature, taking in the beautiful scenery, was stunning. However, as I started to get off the camel, one leg on the ground, the other slowly moving away from the saddle, the owner started to hit it…WOAH!! The camel moans and sharply rises, my right leg still hanging over its back. As the camel stands, my right leg rises with it, and I find myself hanging off the ground. To stop myself falling, I hang on to the saddle, legs split at a 45 degree angle. I never knew that I could do the splits until that moment. The camel rocks around, and I hold on tightly until it simmers, and, relieved, I let go and jump to the ground.
We set off from the desert and reached the port of Aqaba, where we said goodbye to Faisal, and after six incredible days, finally left the wonderful, proud Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Therefore, almost two years to the day since I arrived in Cairo, ready to begin an incredible Egyptian adventure, I was returning to the Land of the Pharaohs. It felt fitting that my adventures away from St Andrews should end where they began.
We travelled to Egypt by ferry, and it was exhausting, taking hours to even leave Aqaba port. After the exhilarating days of adventure, the fatigue started to kick in. I spent some time helping to translate for some Argentineans who needed to speak to the passport officials, in what was probably the most bizarre moment of the Arabian adventure. After finishing, another man approached me. ‘Parle italiano?’ No. Unfortunately not.
After hours and hours on the ferry, we finally arrived in Egypt. I was so excited to see this incredible country once more. I’d even planned to stay in Cairo for another day, but then I saw the tanks. Something wasn’t right.
“You need to come with us, quickly; I’ll explain everything when we get to the hotel.”
This was Mohamed, our Egyptian tour guide. And so we were led to the hotel, and I found myself in exactly the same situation as I was almost two years ago at the American University in Cairo – locked down in a compound, far away from all hell breaking loose in the Egyptian capital. Whilst there had been protests before this day, I never expected that it would escalate like this. I never expected such an intransigent action by the military and such a fierce, widespread response from the Muslim Brotherhood. I certainly didn’t expect us, by the Red Sea, to be in danger. Yet here I was, adding a very modern drama to this already eventful adventure.
Day 8 – Calm amongst the Storm
I woke up late, expecting to be locked down for the day. However, I was told that we were going to the Sawa beach camp that we were originally supposed to visit. Sawa was described as ‘paradise’, a beautiful location by the sea.
Quite a surreal place to be visiting in the middle of a crisis, but as I can’t really do anything else, it’s a great idea for a distraction. I call my parents, who tell me more about the situation. Between 500 and 1,000 people were killed as the military moved to clear the camp in Cairo which protested for the reinstatement of deposed President Morsi. BBC reports are graphic; international correspondent Jeremy Bowen describing ‘dozens of blood-soaked bodies’ around him. The US Government has advised all citizens to leave Egypt. And here I am, caught in the country, far away but still out of reach from my family, who are understandably worried. Communication is difficult. Every call drains the little phone credit I have. Maybe the most sensible option would be to get home as soon as possible. Even though I am not in immediate danger, the level of violence in Cairo, and the fact that it has spread to other parts of the country, makes me reluctant to stay.
Undeterred by recent events, we head out to Sawa beach camp. Although the curfew is enforced in evenings, military checkpoints can be seen every five minutes, adorned with soldiers and machine gun outposts. The minivan has little room; being the smallest, I have to perch in a small seat at the front, wedged between the driver and Mohamed – not the safest place to be, but at least I get a good view of the….burned tyres? Mohamed tells me that either protestors burned tyres in the road last night, or the police did it to deter travellers. Either way, the danger is much closer to us than we had previously thought.
The driver, who comes from a Bedouin community, is arguing fiercely with Mohamed about the recent political situation. The Bedouin appears to be against the revolution, citing the violence and division which has engulfed Egypt to argue against the removal of Hosni Mubarak in the January 25th Revolution; Mohamed contests this, noting that although there is violence, at least Egypt is free of a dictator. He mentions that seven churches were burned last night; the Bedouin driver uses this to support his argument. The driver asks Mohamed why Egyptians would overthrow a legitimately, democratically elected President in Mohammed Morsi. Our guide Mohamed explains that Morsi lost his legitimacy by his controversial actions, such as introducing a constitution which polarised the country and his attempts to increase his own power. This debate is a rudimentary summary of what caused the recent division in Egypt – it was a question of legitimacy.
As the argument continues, Mohamed tells me that many Bedouin Egyptians prefer to be separate from the rest of society, and some do not consider themselves to be subject to the same laws as other Egyptians. For example, the driver is annoyed at having to comply with the curfew, as opposed to freely travelling the land without restrictions. The journey is a fascinating insight into the different groups, cultures and attitudes that exist in Egypt. Mohamed finally notes that we need a Bedouin driver, as potential Bedouin groups, who may wish to abduct tourists, would not attack a Bedouin-driven vehicle. This, and other elements of the journey, reveal to me the severity of the situation, a situation which still seems too surreal to comprehend. I don’t feel endangered, but to be cut off from the news, and to have these restrictions in place, make me slightly uneasy.
Finally, we arrive at the beach camp – an idyllic beach, filled with huts, resting alongside the glittering Red Sea. We spend a few hours here, and I spend some time out in the water, resting, trying to grasp this bizarre situation. Here we are, resting in this small pocket of paradise amidst chaos. After spending the day in this wonderful resort, we head back to the hotel. I speak to my family again, who tell me of the continued violence – resistance, more deaths. I am cut off several times, and the lack of communication, combined with family and friends telling me to ‘stay safe’ and ‘get home soon’, make me eager and resolute to return home and escape this chaotic situation as soon as possible.