A Guest Post By Julia Hudson
I was in Cairo with a friend of mine last January, visiting a friend of hers. The three of us (plus one very opinionated and vaguely difficult New Yorker) set off with Ahmed, our taxi driver, for a day at St. Catherine’s monastery and Mt. Sinai. After a five hour drive, we climbed Sinai, felt very pleased with ourselves, and hopped back into the taxi for the return drive to the city.
We were in the middle of the desert and the day had been perfect, so when we saw electrical storms on the horizon, we figured it was just a very pretty scene over the dunes. I relaxed into a nap in the backseat.
I woke up just after sundown to find that our taxi stopped at a roadblock. There are lots of checkpoints on the Sinai Peninsula — passport checks to keep tabs on everyone going in and out — but this one wasn’t letting us through. Having just woken up, I didn’t understand until my friend explained that rain was flooding the road ahead of us.
We stopped at a nearby restaurant, figuring the rain would eventually let up and we could be on our way. The restaurant had lost electricity in the now-storm, and was staffed by a series of men, as well as some random friends of theirs. After they overcharged us for food, they insisted (a bit too strongly) that we should spend the night there. This gave me one of the strongest instances of ‘the creeps’ that I can rememberever having.
My friend and I politely declined, while New York didn’t entirely get the message, and kept saying she was single and they should take her out. We all got back in the cab and tried to drive back the way we came, away from the checkpoint. No luck — that checkpoint was now closed too. We were effectively stuck between two checkpoints in the middle of the desert, on the only road, with no idea how long we’d be there. Fast water was sweeping sand from the dunes downhill towards the sea, covering the road. (This was about when I coined the phrase, “Hold on to your passports, girls!”)
We ended up spending the night in a rest stop somewhere nearby, but I didn’t sleep a wink. Though the rest stop was full of people, not a single woman was out and walking around. In our taxi, the three of us crammed into the back and tried to sleep. Ahmed said our male friend should sit in front, so that it looked as though the men were in charge of our party. My friend and I were refusing to drink water so we wouldn’t have to get out of the car to pee.
Numerous times, we moved our car to higher ground as the water rose around us very fast. My friend and I took off our shoes and packed our purses in such a way that we could wade/swim away if we had to. I have never seen water move so fast.
The next morning, we still had no news. A local police officer came to our rest stop and began trying to separate foreigners from Egyptians (we later found out it was just to give us food and stuff, but still … why separate us? Sketchy). None of us liked the idea of being separated from Ahmed, but while my friend and I planned to quietly refuse, New York was causing a fuss and angering the officer. Meanwhile, the road opened up. A relief …
…except that it was nearly impassable.
The water on the road was opaque, and you could break an axle easily. Bedouins with tractors were working to clear the road, but when the car in front of us got stuck, my friend and I hopped out to push them free, inappropriate clothing and all (we’d been trapped in the hot car for SO LONG, that we were NOT dressed Muslim-country appropriate).
When we finally reached the Suez Canal, another friend told us some haunting news that he’d learned via text message while we’d been in the flooding. Rains had shifted the sand dunes so much that leftover land mines from the war were now lost, and likely strewn all over the roads.
So … about that whole rushing-out-onto-the-road-to-push-the-car thing …
I was so happy to see Cairo again, though I was quite sick from dehydration. I cried as I found out how many had died in the worst flooding in 18 years, especially because I learned our license plate had been tracked as a car carrying foreigners and apparently, no matter what, the authorities would have done their best to get us back safely.
But what about the Egyptians left behind?
To this day, I have not been able to find an estimate of the Egyptian dead and displaced.
“If we don’t end war, war will end us.” — H. G. Wells
Writer’s Bio: Julia Hudson, aka The Epic Adventurer has been working hard, figuring out how to keep travel in her life despite the economy, and pressures to become ‘mature’ and ‘settled.’ Her mottos are: travel light, always explore the narrow alleys, and eat what’s local. You can follow her on Twitter.