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Claudias Desert Adventure

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To see once the pyramids. That was my dream. Almost everyone whom I told about it looked at me unbelievingly. Most of the people took me for crazy. And, maybe they where right. But I followed my dream. In defiance of all difficulties.

 

 

 

The accounting of the flight was already nerve-racking. I traveled by air five times to Spain thus I didn’t bargain for any problems. Fortunately I frequented the same travel-office, which knows my electric wheelchair and me. I booked a flight with Air France from Hamburg to Cairo with a stopover in Paris.

 But we didn’t get the affirmative answer. My travel-office made a lot of requests. After two weeks Air France sent a form, which my doctor had to fill and sign. I said to myself: Ok, it‘s for my own security. (But I think it is strange that a passenger who uses a wheelchair has to answer so many detailed questions about his health. I didn’t want to be the pilot of this airplane.)

Two more weeks followed without a message from Air France. My travel-office was very anxious. At least the airline told us, that they couldn’t transport my wheelchair because the height would be too big. I wondered: why could I fly with the same wheelchair, without any problems on other airlines to Spain? We made again many calls and faxes. I told the airline that we can flap down the backrest of the wheelchair; then the height of it would be lower. Air France didn’t seem to understand that, and at least my girlfriend called the airline to make them understand. And really, now they wanted to take me and my chair with them.

In the meantime I contacted „Egypt for all“   I had heard that they are specialized in disabled traveling for Egypt. (After my trip I can say they are more than specialized!) With an e-mail I had booked a hotel room through Sherif. He answered patiently to all my questions and gave me the feeling that I needn’t have to worry about anything. Of course I worried because I got many bad surprises on my trips before. 

Sherif wrote some days before my trip-start that he couldn’t pick me up from the airport because he was with a disabled travel-group in Luxor. But Martin, the second man of  „Egypt for All“, would be there for us. So I really could start now? Not yet! Casually five days before my take-off I got the information that a passport is necessary to enter Egypt. I have to properly admit, (this is clear). But I hadn’t thought about that. And.I had no passport! I never possessed one.

Another girlfriend called the Civil Service of our town. With two passport photographs and money to pay the fees, I was able to pick up my temporary passport on the next morning. Now everything was ok. Or not? Two (!) days before our take-off my companion got sick. My nerves were all on the edge. I thought: That is the end of the trip. Because I can’t travel without any companion. I knew nothing anymore. My head was spinning around and empty, in order to find during one day someone who would fly 2 days after with me to Cairo?? That was Impossible. I sent some of my friend’s messages and told them about the situation. The reactions were all the same:  they didn’t want to believe it. But it was the fact. And in the same way nothing was impossible.

On that same afternoon I got a message from Britta that she was ready and wanted to come with me. Now it was me who looked disbelievingly. Britta is since summer 2002 my personal assistant. Indeed she is not ‚only‘ my assistant anymore, she is also my friend. I argued that she had go to school because she had an occupational retraining during that period. She had to write an exercise. Furthermore she has a family. But she said she could organize all that.

The next day I drove to the travel-office, gave them back one ticket and bought a new one for Britta. One day later, on 03.12.2002 we both flew to Cairo. I couldn’t believe all this.

At Cairo airport I was carried out of the airplane in a manner I never experienced before. Namely without any utilities. Normally the transport in and out of the plane is done with a very small chair. But here it seemed that they didn’t have anything like that. I worried about the two men who carried me because I’m not very light weighted. But then I saw a wheelchair in front of the plane. We all were relieved as I sat in this chair. Our way across the airport was very fast. Britta had to go over stairs while a man from the airport pushed me to an elevator. One floor down I saw Britta again for a few seconds. But a moment later I lost her because the airport’s executive walked so fast. I thought, ok, maybe you should had learned a little Arabic, not to have the feeling that I have now: to be committed. A few minutes later we arrived at the place where we should get our luggage. Then Britta came also with a young man about whom I thought he would be Martin. Funnily enough he couldn’t speak German. But it was not a problem, we talked in English. And so I found out that this man is Ahmed who helped Britta already with the visa-request and now was waiting with us for our luggage. Ahmed has a special permit for the airport and welcomes Martin’s and Sherif’s guests.

Our luggage and also my electric wheelchair where the latest to arrive on the luggage-line. My wheelchair lay on its back but it was ok (just the right armrest looked a little tilted). They carried the chair with three men down from the luggage-line after Britta attached the battery and I sat happy again in my wheelchair, we drove at least into the warm evening of Cairo. There was Martin already and welcomed us cordially. Outside a Mercedes minibus stood with its owner Nagi. Nagi is a native local guy from Cairo and if "Egypt for All" need him or his bus for the transport of wheelchairs and their passengers, then he is there for them. When Martin said, they want to lift me now in this minibus; I said for the first time, he must be crazy. However the wheelchair weights over 100 kg. And I should remain seated in it. Sherif had explained in his e-mails several times to me that with "Egypt for All" everything was possible.  I could only convince my self for the first time now! That this was true. Before I even could realize it, I stood with my Rolly, which Martin called the „Locomotive” in Nagi’s bus. We drove crosswise through Cairo. Me and Britta got the first impression of the third biggest city of the world. And it was actual a completely different world, which we experienced for one week. The hotel lied at the other end of the city, in the near vicinity of the Pyramids of Gizeh. Some time ago Gizeh still lay outside of Cairo. In the meantime Egypt’s capital expanded so far that the pyramids lie in the external area of Cairo. Our hotel was beautifully, put on and a maintained area of bungalows, and if we stepped out of our room door, we could see the pyramids. Martin regulated the check-in into the hotel for us, and wanted to know from me, what exactly I wanted to see of Cairo. Because of the whole excitement I hadn‘t thought about that before. Perhaps we can visit sometime the pyramids, I suggested. I remembered, in my travel guide I read about the 187 m high Cairo tower. To see Once Cairo from above, that would also be wonderful.

Since we were tired of the journey, we decided to drive on the day after to the pyramids. First we wanted to relax one day. In the early afternoon Martin came and invited us into his car. My „Locomotive“ did not come along, because into a Volkswagen Golf it does not fit. In addition, that was no problem, because Martin brought a wheelchair, which you can fold, and stowed it in its roof luggage carrier. And we started for an interesting city tour. The traffic is to be described with two terms: crazy and chaotic. That is not amazing, if you consider that to the 1,5 million cars, still bicycles, pedestrians, moppets and donkey trucks that come additionally, their numbers aren‘t appreciable. Nevertheless I had never the feeling to have had any fear. And in the 8 days, which we spent in Cairo and actually always on the way, we saw no accidents 

Martin stopped at the Cairo tower. He just wanted to check whether it was open and doable with me. When Martin returned, he began, to unpack the wheelchair. How now? What did he intend? A few minutes later we stood in front of 30 steps of stairs, which led to the entrance of the tower. It was the second time that I declared Martin as crazy. Regardless of it he began to pull me up these stairs. After the third or fourth stage suddenly two custodians of the tower came and took hold of the wheely also. Properly meant assistance, but Martin began to discuss with the two and didn’t want their help. He explained to me afterwards that he must have the correct balance to pull the wheely with a small angle and least off energy exerted as possible down- and upstairs. At the entrance the doors where opened for us and we drove with the elevator completely upward. When we stepped out, we were in a Café. Martin pushed me to the window, ordered something to drink, and after a short time the Café itself began to turn. Thus we sat on our place and could see in all directions over Cairo. When we had a round behind us, we drove again downward and then back into the hotel.

On the next day right after the breakfast we drove to the pyramids. Nagi came with his minibus, thereby I could take along my „Locomotive“. Martin had engaged for this day a specially woman who studied Egyptology. She explained to us very much about Egypt’s history and culture. First we saw the step-pyramid, the oldest in the history of Egypt. To get there was no problem, coz the ways are paved. We could look very fine over the Necropolis (old funeral place) of Sakkara. But for Martin that was not enough. I should see the monuments from near. And they in such a way, pulled, lifted, carried and pushed me, partly down- and upstairs, through the area. It was warm, the sun slammed from the sky, but for the two Martin & Nagi it was nothing too much. And I stopped counting the situations in which I declared Martin for crazy. On the way back we made a stop in a native restaurant „Ehse Sakkara“ and strengthened ourselves.

 Afterwards we continued our trip to the pyramids of Gizeh.

All around the three Pyramids of the pharaohs ran numerous camels with their leaders.

And Martin suggested I should try to ride on a camel. I was surprised no longer and said ‚ok‘. He discussed everything with one of these camel leaders (perhaps also with the camel, who knows...) and immediately there were five Egyptians, who helped us to lift me on the camel. Martin sat behind me („hey, held me on!“) And the camel stood up. It was a wiggly and highly experience. Afterwards I was allowed as reward to sit in my “Locomotive“, which I enjoyed extremely.

      

On the asphalted road we rolled down to the Sphinx. As we went/drove back again to Cairo-city, we had suddenly a group of people around us who were amazed of my „Locomotive“. Clearly, what for me is natural, it’s for them practically unknown. Nagi had driven behind us and we got again in his bus.Still On the program stood the papyrus museum. The impressions today were actually already enough for us. But the beautiful pictures on papyrus fascinated us nevertheless a lot. On the way back to the hotel we made still another break in the Mena House Oberoi Hotel. In its bar we had a great view of the pyramids, and a couple of bears!!

On the next day Martin fetched us in the afternoon from the hotel. He brought his wife and his small son Alex (3 years old) along, who has at least one thing from his father: the urge to push wheelchairs. We drove to the Nile bank, through the thickest traffic of Cairo.

There arrived, I was brought -after a short discussion with the captains of the boats- on a Felucca. Such a small boat has a sail and can over a narrow landing Barge be reached.

Because it was late afternoon, it was already dawn, and it was exactly the correct time, in order to observe the sunset.

Our captain turned on the lights and even some music on his boat, so that it could not be more romantic. At the entire bank promenade the lights in all colors were turned on and except the slaw water noise it was totally quiet. We were in the middle of Cairo and heard not one car horn that was very unusual. I believe we all enjoyed for one moment this silence. When we arrived back to the bank, immediately again three men stood there, who helped Martin to carry me and the wheely from board. We even turned in to the Meridian Hotel and tried once more the delicious meals of the Egyptian kitchen. The „minor details“, which Martin ordered, filled each time not only the whole table, but also our stomachs.

It was Saturday and we planned a route into the „dead city“. Thus the people from Cairo call it the cemeteries of the city, which are not anymore just burial places, but on those Burial Places people live, people who cannot afford or only don’t find a dwelling, because it gives simply too little. Daily 2 million humans move through Cairo, from north, south, east and west. Martin wanted to show us in the dead city a workshop in which people blows recycled glass. In order to survive, the people there arranged small crafts enterprises. But this glass-blow-house had unfortunately been closed like many other smaller stores. Because of the month of Ramadan and the feast.

Ramadan was straight to the end and all Muslims celebrated this. Martin looked at us and asked, what we wanted to do now. Britta and I did not have a suggestion. And so it was Martin’s idea to drive direction Suez channel. I had myself cured to wonder and so we were already soon on the arterial road towards northeast. It was impressing to see how abruptly the vegetation of the fruitful Nile valley stopped when the desert began. After approx. 2 hours we reached a bridge (El Salam Bridge),  which should lead us across the Suez channel. The Suez channel is considered as the most important and most dangerous waterway in the world. 13% of the world trade is transported through it. Only inaugurated four months ago we crossed the channel over this bridge, an impressive bridge. Arriving on the other side we where in the Sinai, a region of Egypt, which already belongs to Asia. So fast does a continent crossing go? Desert and mountains shape the Sinai; it offers a lot of coastal areas on the Red Sea, in addition to numerous holiday resorts. Back we drove with the ferry and tasted fresh fish in „George’s“ Restaurant in Ismailia, before we made ourselves on the way back to Cairo and into our hotel. There we met for the first time Sherif. He was back from Luxor and we sat with him and Martin for a long time comfortably in the hotel. 

After the breakfast on the next day Sherif and Nagi fetched us. The trip went directly into the heart from Cairo,i.e. to the alabaster mosque. It is a part of the citadel, a fortress from walls, towers and palaces, which was given in order in the year 1176 from Salah El Dean, the crusaders driver fright. The mosque is designed after a Turkish model and from the outside disguised with alabaster stones. ie We visited it also from the inside, where by now Sherif carried me in the wheely over all stages and obstacles. Besides he told us a lot about the Egyptian history, culture and the Islamic religion.

Subsequently we got again into Nagi's bus, which brought us to the Khan el-Khalili, the largest bazaar of Egypt. Here are crowds of people. The dealers offer their commodities; you can buy here everything that you can imagine. Because we already were all day long on the way, Sherif and Martin, who met us at the Khan el-Khalili, suggested, resting us in a Café. With a drink and a water whistle it was fine simply only observing people walk by. It was not my first Shisha (water whistle), but I had still quite to exert, in order to taste only a small little from the smoke. Britta was very much better and of course we didn‘t want to be inferior to Martin, Sherif and Nagi we did our best.

The next day should become then the highlight of our vacation. We started for a desert Safari trip. Martin’s brother Peter organizes desert Safaris of each kind and length. He had returned straight on the day before from a route of several days and was immediately ready to start a tour with us. As said, I had in the meantime forgotten to be surprised over something. The three fetched us on this day with a jeep. I sat high and dry on the passenger seat, and the wheely was carried on the roof. We drove in southwest direction toward Fayoum.On the distance we passed a „Check-point“ and, how forecast by Peter, when the police stations saw that Britta and I were two foreigners whom also sat in the car, they saw themselves forced to follow us. We had to wait again and again for them, because they had to discuss in some places with their colleagues and/or extend their crew. Because in the end actually six (!) persons sat in their car. Behind Fayoum we drove then off Road into the Sahara. And instantly at the beginning we saw a rather pulpy hole in the front. Peter accelerated and. in the middle of it we stuck. The inter-wirings in the engine had become wet. Peter, Martin and Sherif stepped out. Partly by the windows, so that they were not located kneel high in the water. Britta and I strained watched the three. Because Peter knows his car, a Toyota Land Cruiser, everything was quite fast correct again. The three got into the car again and our travel continued. In the rear view mirror we saw however that now our „persons-protection“ was fixed in the hole. With wild gestures all six policemen stood beside their car. We Stopped. Peter, Martin and Sherif got out of the car again. A long discussion began. The policemen wanted to persuade them to drive another way.  But Peter was stubborn, he knows the desert and had decided to take this way. After a few lean attempts to collect a few stones and throw it into the water hole, the police gave up. With a normal passenger car it was impossible to drive by this hole. In the same way it was impossible to follow us in the desert. Whereupon Peter, Martin and Sherif the whole time had advert them. The policemen had to see that now too. 

We all drew a deep breath and our desert route began. At first we made a stop at a large lake. The El Rayan Lake is so enormous that you cannot see the other bank. Its water is slightly salty, and because it was rather windy, I occurred to me like at the North Sea beach. Britta and I did not trust our eyes, when Sherif and Martin began to make breakfast (!) (Although... I had cured myself surprising...). The rear part of the jeep was fully loaded with food and everything that one needs for surviving. With a gas cooker water was made hot for coffee and tea. Bread, cheese, jam, honey, fruit, and raw food - everything was there. And everything was –like always- no problem. Before we got again into the car, I said carefully that I needed now perhaps such a thing like a toilet. . I wanted to holdback myself with drinking, but because it was very warm and Martin made sure again and again that we had to drink more than enough not to dehydrate, I trusted him. Thus he got now a camping toilet out of the car. And short time later I could make my „business“. Relieved I sat again in the jeep and our mood was simply super. We drove small and large dunes up and down (Dune surfing). Far and wide nothing like sand and blue sky. Sometimes we were in full speed broken of deep sand (Sabka). I learned, how a jeep works. We made again a stop on a hill. From there we had a beautiful view of an old monastery, which lies in the middle in the desert. Martin creped with a digital camera around us and made a big amount of pictures. And before I understood what happened, I was in adventurous situations. Nobody in the far Germany would believe me. But... the photos documented everything. After we had strengthened ourselves again with drinks, we explored further the Sahara.

It was already afternoon, as Peter again selected abeautiful place for the end of our route. Mats were spread, a wind protection was fixed on the jeep, all things, which were necessary for a Barbecue, were unloaded. We made barbecue in the desert (... I should be surprised?). The sunset down and it was an atmosphere as in the novel.  war eine Atmosphäre wie im Roman. The whole day was such an experience that my descriptions are not sufficient actually. The only thing, which made us little sad, when wereturned late in the evening to the hotel, was the fact that tomorrow was our last day in Egypt. We wanted to use this day, in order to relax again in our marvelous hotel to enjoy the fantastic culinary offer and to fill again our suitcases - unfortunately. Late in the evening Sherif and Martin picked us up and made a tour with us through the nocturnal Cairo.

Since our return flight should start on the next morning at 7 o'clock, it was not worth to go sleeping, and so we sat up till the early morning together. At 4 o'clock Nagi came with his bus and with heavy hearts we checked out of the hotel. Eight days Cairo had passed. Everything was so unbelievably, so experience-rich, so fantastic and first of all so problem-free. Britta and I agree: Such a thing we had not experienced yet. And – with „Egypt for all“ everything is possible J 

 

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