An Unexpectedly Extended Trip to the Red Sea

Hello once again, class! Thanks for your great questions, I look forward to hearing more. They gave me some good ideas for blog posts in the future!

First, a video!

A week and a half ago I went on a school field trip to the Red Sea on the east coast of Egypt, about 90 minutes from Cairo. You might know it as the sea that Moses parted in the Old Testament.

Map of Egypt with the Red Sea to the east and the Mediterranean Sea to the north.

It is also known for beautiful coral reefs and stark desert mountains surrounding it in the north. Breathing air that wasn’t heavy with smog felt really great, and the water was a perfect swimming temperature. There were no reefs in our area, but I hope to go back and do some snorkling in a different area of the coast.

Also planned during the trip was a visit to the Coptic Christian Monastery of St. Anthony, built in the 4th century. It is a beautiful place deep in the desert at the foot of some mountains. Within the walls it has some gardens and the place relies on an ancient spring bubbling up out of a cave for its water. Coptic Christianity is a fascinating part of Egypt, as about 10% of the population here is Christian, with the rest being Muslim. Egypt was a Christian country from the 4th to 6th century before Islam was founded and spread rapidly around the Middle East. So I will sometimes meet Christians in Cairo who refer to themselves as Egyptians, not Arabs. After all, the word Coptic just means “People of Egypt” in the Coptic language, which is directly related to the hieroglyphic language of the Ancient Egyptians. However, Coptics speak Arabic now, except during some Christian ceremonies. The question of the ethnicity of Egypt is an interesting one that I hope to learn more about and hopefully write a blog post on!

Hike up from the monastery to St. Anthony’s hermit cave.

The spring feeding the monastery.

We were supposed to be at the Red Sea for only one night, but a couple things happened that delayed us. The first was a truck carrying gasoline crashed about a mile down the road from us – our only road back to Cairo! This happened while most of us were at the Monastery, but a friend got this photo. Needless to say, we were stuck at the Red Sea for one more day. Another reminder that the most dangerous part of living in Cairo is just driving on the road.

But we may as well have stayed at the Red Sea all week! When we were on this trip, the students at my university were striking, which means they had stopped attending class because they wanted to protest how much the university costs. It has been a controversial protest, and the most controversial part was when the students physically locked the gates surrounding the university in order to shut down classes. The plan worked and classes were cancelled for about 10 days altogether. Late last night, however, it was announced that an agreement had been reached between the students and the university administration and classes will be starting again on Wednesday. However, since I’m in a small program that studies only Arabic, we were still able to meet in a different building and kept our classes going. Imagine going to all of your classes while all your friends hang out all day!

Okay, thanks for reading! People tell me it is fall in Portland, which is hard to imagine since it will be  90 degrees all week here. But fall is my favorite season, so enjoy it for me!

Seth

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29 thoughts on “An Unexpectedly Extended Trip to the Red Sea

  1. Ms Burgoine

    Hi Seth,
    Thanks so much for your post about your trip to the Red Sea and the video of Cairo! We really enjoyed it. We are all wishing to see more of your apartment and your neighborhood.
    Below are some more questions from the students.
    Thanks again, and have a great week!

    Reply
    1. scthomas90 Post author

      I’ve tried looking up the crash online a few times, and I haven’t been able to find anything…

      In sha allah! إن شاء الله God willing! (This phrase is used every other sentence in Cairo)

      Reply
    1. scthomas90 Post author

      On the last day we went swimming at sunrise and there were fish jumping out of the water all around us. I hope to see more fish and corals if I go back…

      Reply
    1. scthomas90 Post author

      Hard question. Traffic laws do exist, but people do not follow them. You’ll see speed limit signs but they do not mean anything. Stop lights are very rare except right downtown. In a four lane highway drivers will just create seven lanes. Part of the hope of the subway is that it would dramatically change the amount of cars on the road, but the majority of people in Cairo are still using vehicles.

      Reply
  2. Ms Burgoine

    Nile Group asks: What are some things that people sell in stores there that we don’t have in Portland?

    Reply
    1. scthomas90 Post author

      Different flavors of chips. There is a ketchup flavor (actually really good), shish kebab flavor, and so on. Also eggs and most milk are not sold in refrigerators.

      Reply
    1. scthomas90 Post author

      Most of the big candy companies are sold in stores here, but there is a really wide variety of Middle Eastern desserts that I will definitely talk about when I make a post about food. One surprising difference between my time here and my time in Jerusalem is that on almost every street in Jerusalem someone was selling buckets of cheap, delicious gummy candy. Not the case in Cairo.

      Reply
    1. scthomas90 Post author

      This has not happened to me. Some of the more expensive restaurants that are aimed at tourists will put their prices in dollars instead of in Egyptian pounds.

      Reply
    1. scthomas90 Post author

      Yes, there are. My only experience with them is occasionally seeing a police man directing traffic or walking by the police guards at the many embassies in Cairo. During our student orientation, the head of security at our university literally told us to do our best to keep out of trouble because calling the police in Cairo doesn’t necessarily mean someone will come to where you are or do anything. Related to my answer above about the traffic, I have never seen police pulling a car over or any of the things I associate police with in Portland.

      Reply
    1. scthomas90 Post author

      It varies depending on what neighborhood or economic class you are around. Everyone at my university speaks perfect english, and most well off Egyptians speak good English. In my neighborhood, the children selling post cards and such to tourists at the pyramids can speak bits of of 5 languages but can’t write their own name, and most microbus drivers I’ve ridden with don’t speak any English.

      Reply
    1. scthomas90 Post author

      I would like to learn more about this. My hunch is it is mostly from Cairo’s famous traffic and the millions of stalled cars around the city, but there might be other big reasons.

      Reply
    1. scthomas90 Post author

      Yes, but it fluctuates a lot. It’s a mix of car gas, street cooking, animal droppings, burning trash etc. Overall I wouldn’t call it the most pleasant smell, but I have gotten used to it. And thankfully, since I live outside of downtown and on the border with a desert, the air out here feels better to breathe than many other places.

      Reply
    1. scthomas90 Post author

      I went to this one restaurant almost every morning the first month I was in Egypt called El-Gizowey. Its name means someone from Giza, like Portlander. I usually get a falafel sandwich and one fouel sandwich, which is basically refried beans. However, I definitely over did it and have to take a break from falafel.

      Reply
    1. scthomas90 Post author

      For fun I like to explore Cairo. There is so much I still have to see. For instance, I just discovered last night that within two blocks from me is a video game arcade and a decent Chinese restaurant. The video game arcade is especially wild because it is totally dark inside and makes me think of a dangerous bar or night club, except it is just guys playing soccer on play station.

      Reply

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