Ethiopia Dreaming: Zilzil Alecha—Prime Beef in Green Pepper Sauce

Zilzil Alecha - Ethiopian Flavors Expressed Perfectly!

Though it’s been more than three years since I was cruising winding my way through Ethiopia and following the Nile River, exploring the ancient ruins of Lalibela and searching for the remains of Haile Selassie’s Lions and the tomb or memorial of Bob Marley.
Though the donkey dealer I whom I tried to purchase one of his finest specimens, strongly talked me out of it by reasoning that the Sudanese border and customs officers wouldn’t let me into their country with an Ethiopian donkey. To be sure, I wanted to try.
Though I never found out if I could’ve brought my new donkey into Sudan, I did have incredible experiences and discoveries while traveling through Ethiopia. As I’ve been deep into the production and writing of my new book, this evening I had the urge to cook Ethiopian food. So I pulled out my recipe of zizil alecha, a somewhat spicy dish (well, this is Ethiopian after all) of prime beef simmered in a green pepper sauce. So easy it is to prepare and so tasty it is on my palate, the only, and slightly, disappointment is that her in the USA we cannot, without great effort, grow injera, the almost spongy bread like meal accompaniment that the Ethiopians make from the grain “teff”. It’s ubiquitous in Ethiopia, yet so rare to find outside this part of Africa. I guess some combo of rice and flatbread will suffice as a poor substitute.
The flavors are complex, the spice tamed and the beef tender and rich. You need to try cooking this! Alas, while you can find recipes online, I’m confident, you should wait for the Tasting Adventure cookbook, as we’ve taken it up a notch and combined the recipe with more stories of donkeys and injera from Ethiopia and great photographs from my journey.
Meanwhile, enjoy a few snaps from my culinary crusade and adventure into Ethi0pia this evening.
core ingredients for zilzil alecha Ethiopia's best flavors

Fear.

Last week I was discussing an upcoming speaking engagement with a client when the topic transitioned to my presentation and how I could help my client with my speech to my real-life experiences on the road. The topic quickly folded into a subject that most people I speak with tend to share the same curiosity. They usually want to know if at any point during my travels if I felt that I was in danger or if I was afraid.

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People ask this question for many good reasons. But I think most feel that perhaps they would like to embark on some sort of adventure or travel, but they are afraid to take a chance; to risk their current state of being—their comfort zone. Understandably, their curiosity perhaps stems from wondering whether such fears are founded.

My usual response to these curious queries is, no I never felt in danger or fear for my life in my three years of solo travel on a motorcycle. But as my client probed further for insight into my travel adventures, he asked “What about dangerous roads or terrain, were you ever afraid in that way?”

I scratched my head, took a quick gander out the window and confided to him, that yes, I was afraid on a number of occasions.

To be sure, he knew that I crushed my leg on a muddy road in Bolivia during the trip. He knows that a bus roaring into my lane on a downhill turn on a dirt road in Ethiopia caused me to crash. And he certainly knows that a small taxi van pushed me off the road in Tanzania. But in each of these cases I wasn’t afraid. The crashes, for the most part, happened so fast that I had no time to think or react.

Then I started thinking. That’s when I recalled some scary episodes while riding at night, tense, white-knuckled and fearful that this night might be the last of my journey, that I might not make it to my destination before crashing—or worse. It’s never a good idea to ride at night anyway.

It’s funny, many of these episodes involved wet and rain conditions at night.

Like the time I was heading north toward Maceió in northern Brazil. I planned to arrive at this beautiful seaside city before sunset when the rain pelted me and slowed me down. Soaked and cold and with no visibility—no lines on the dark, wet and jet black tarmac. No street lights. And the headlight of my bike barely any use. The rain beaded on my visor and every 30 seconds I had to swipe the water off of it with my soppy wet glove.

As the minutes and hours clicked on, the rain made me wetter and wetter. My visibility so impaired that I had to strain, squint and slow to a crawl just to make sure I didn’t ride off the tarmac, because it was so dark and just blended into the landscape. Then I found myself winding through gentle rolling hills lined with sugar cane plantations.

On the road I had to be careful when rounding curves because trucks that carried harvested cane to ethanol processing plants would drop pieces of cane on the road. Like banana peels I’d often catch one— and my rear tire would slip and slide. My heart beat faster. I gripped the handlebars tighter.

These trucks would also appear out of nowhere. Sometimes a truck would seemingly magically appear out of the darkness of the tall sugar cane plants. Most of these trucks were carrying three trailers, each packed with cane. Most of the time only dim headlights shined on the road ahead. Barely visible I had to be careful because the could either hit me or because I couldn’t see them in the darkness, I might run into the back of them because the trucks were not fitted with reflectors or tail lights. That night was unforgettable and one of the most tiring rides of my entire three years. I was afraid and scared I might not make it.

Trying to make it to Iringa Tanzania from the border of Tanzania turned out to be another harrowing night. When tarmac becomes wet and the sun fades into night, the pavement fades again into the horizon and trying to see the difference between pavement and vast emptiness of desolate landscapes becomes the most important task of riding. The rain poured and even protected in the confines of my rain suit, I felt trapped and blind. The bright streams of lights from oncoming traffic would detract like a star filter through the drops of rain on my visor creating a massive blind-spot that would haunt me as I rode the twisty track. Drainage on African roads is nonexistent, so I would wade through two and three foot high flooded roads, once amazed at the thousands of frogs who sprayed off the wake of my front tire as I rode through. The sounds of the gurgling frogs actually drowned the noise of falling rain.

I was afraid then, too.

Because my memory was vivid from the time I crushed my leg in a slippery fall on muddy and slippery clay, the muddy dirt roads of South Africa, particularly near the Drakensburg scared me too. Like a slivering snake, to me there is nothing more frightening than lack of traction on wet clay. I can see no difference between it and ice—I think I would rather ride on ice. Mud? Please stay away.

At the beginning of my trip I was still haunted and spooked by the notion of bandits in Mexico. Caught in the dark and still 30 miles from the closest village. tense and stressed, and still unable to see through the dark forests of Michoacán, my heart beat fast every time a car came up from behind.

Even as fear tried to suffocate my spirit and crush my confidence in these incidences, I made it through. And with each incident I became a stronger foe to fear. And while fearlessness is unhealthy, balance and prudence is key; as is your attitude. The compromise you make with fear so that you don’t let it get the best of you and in turn, you don’t due anything stupid or intentional that could certainly upset your balance between strength and fear.

When it comes time for you to consider traveling, such as I did or to any of the places I traveled? There’s no reason to be afraid. There’s nothing to fear.

Darkcyd Racing South of the Border – From WRC Rally Mexico to The Baja 500

On the heels of its successful showing (2nd place in class) the Darkcyd Racing Team has been busy preparing a new vehicle for entry into the legendary SCORE Baja 500 – a brutal and grueling race down the roughest terrain on the Baja California Peninsula just south of San Diego.

With a lifelong dream to race in the even more legendary Paris to Dakar Rally,201105301302.jpg 201105301303.jpg which now takes place in South America and spans over three countries in 20 days, Darkcyd driver (piloto) Robb Rill has been looking for the best possible vehicle in order to compete and contend for finishing the Dakar in the future. As luck would have it, Rill found a vehicle that had been built, tested and fitted specifically for the 2007/2008 (the race takes place over New Yeaers). However, the Dakar Rally officials canceled the 2007/2008 race due to the brutal massacre of tourists in Mauritania in late 2007. Since then the Rally moved to South America.

The vehicle was shipped back to the United States (most Dakar vehicles are only available in Europe and abroad) and remained garaged into Rill found it and made the deal just after returning from WRC Rally Mexico in March.

Since March the Darkcyd team and technicians have been working on its own enhancements and modifications. Next week Darkcyd Racing Team heads to Baja California to compete and test the new vehicle as part of a pre-run for Dakar—ideally this December.

Darkcyd Racing Team Desert Warrior - Dakar or Bust

Darkcyd Racing Team’s new Desert Warrior – will tackle SCORE Baja 500 in June 2011 – and ultimately Dakar in Argentina later this year.

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The Baja 500 spans a couple days and races down the entire Baja Penninsua, 500 brutal miles. But the Dakar Rally? Think 3 weeks and 4,000 miles.
So as I’m writing these words, the Darkcyd Desert Warrior is en-route to Ensenada and the team of drivers, technicians and support personal will be in place for the exciting race later this week. Once again, I’ve been invited to be part of the team as photographer, translator and blogger. So stay tuned to these pages and the @WorldRider Twitter feed for updates on the preparation and race.

Getting Out: Nearly As Hard As Getting Into Egypt

At least I had a good meal last night at my hotel. For my last night in Egypt and on the Sinai Peninsula I stayed at the north end of Nuweiba at Casa del Mare a beautiful and cozy seaside hotel called where I was the only guest and perhaps the only hotel in Nuweiba with wireless internet access. The owner told me that since the bombings business has been extremely slow. Used to be Israelis coming to Nuweiba, but now its nearly dead save a couple months during high season.

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My goal was simply to get aboard The Princes for Aqaba by 2pm that afternoon. But it didn’t work out for me.

But the comfort of my evening faded quickly as I melded into more madness and prepared to get Doc cleared out of Egypt and aboard The Princess the fast ferry boat bound for Aqaba in Jordan.

Part I: Getting Out of Egypt By Ferry & Motorcycle – Almost stella2.jpg
First I visited the same unfriendly, pouty man wearing the same shirt as last night sitting behind the window and ignoring everyone pressed against it at the ferry ticket office. With a dozen people cramming the space in front of the window, there was not sense of order. No line. No courtesy. Just pu shing, rude interruptions and the whole crowd pushing papers and passports toward the window while grumpy man somehow managed to ignore the chaos while banging on his analog typewriter slowly one finger at a time. When he finally took my passport and carnet for my bike I was told to come back in an hour. That’s when I ran into a Portuguese man and his wife. He was wearing a BMW riding jacket so the story telling commenced. Seems his bike was stuck in customs here in Egypt since arriving yesterday. The Egyptian customs wouldn’t let him bring the bike into the country because he didn’t have a carnet. Seems there was no way around not having a carnet. He was buying another ticket to return back to Aqaba and look at alternatives for heading back to Portugal. Sad.

I paid $70 for passage to Jordan and for Doc it cost me another $40 — using only US currency and none with small heads. Then I through myself into the ring.

I’ll try to do my best to keep this short, but you should know that getting cleared out of Egypt took me ten hours from the time I entered the ticket office to the time I boarded the ferry.

About six uniformed police, most with weapons watch the gate at the entrance to the port. There are several boats that use this port, some commercial and the fast ferries. I checked in at the gate and my details were logged into a large ledger book while in a small cubicle of an office a plain clothes security type made some scribbles on the back of my carnet de passage, then he told me to head to another building and look for Ahmed who would help guide me through the process.

In his late fifties with a crisp white uniform, polished shoes, a friendly face with the texture of fine sandpaper, soft eyes set in deep dark cups and a mop of thick black hair that seemed to flare at 45 degrees from under the weight of his hat, he directed me to a hut on the other side of the port where I got photo copies of my passport and carnet and was instructed to buy a file folder — all for 15 Egyptian pounds. Then he hijacked the vehicle of two Jordanian travelers in a station wagon, held the door open and pushed me inside advising me to go with them. Neither spoke English but somehow we managed to navigate the maze of the Nuweiba port. If all the running around here had to be done entirely by walking it’d add an hour or more to the ordeal.

Passing lines of people with strapped boxes, corrugated bags, push carts full of stuff, a group of Arabs with a large screen TV and people with baskets of food, sacks of sugar and rice. Everyone had just debarked The Princess and were angling to get into Egypt through customs and immigration. We’d driven to the wrong building. No fear, at another building where outside cars and trucks lined up in the parking lot while pedestrians pushed carts of stuff all trying to to get cleared so they could board the 2pm ferry to Aqaba — the one I was anxiously looking to get on. I still had two hours before departure.

We climbed some stairs and into another room where men were smoking, drinking tea and huddled around an ink pad and old typewriter. I had no idea why I was here, but the guy asked me for 15 Egyptian pounds and then handed me another flimsy tab-less file folder with a bad imprint of some Arabic form. Back in the car we drive some 300 meters back to an office adjacent to the photo copy hut where two men sitting at old metal desks. One reviews my folders and scribble my name on one, initials some papers before shoving into one of my new folders and hands t to the other guy. He reviews the folders and contents, scribbles something on the papers and hands it all back to me.

Okay. So now I’ve got my folders with lots of initials and a few papers — yet nothing was rubber stamped. Amazing. What do I do now?

I’m guided by my crisp uniformed assigned tourist cop to the building not far from where I had purchased my file folder. This time I had to walk. All the while my motorcycle is sitting in front of the photocopy hut and I’m schlepping my folder in this hot jacket and barely comfortable motorcycle boots. How I wish I was wearing a t-shirt, shorts and my Keen sandals. At this new building I pay 21 Egyptian Pounds for two receipts and a piece of carbon paper. I’m then told to remove the license plates from my bike and return them to another office in another building. When I do I’m given a small strip of coated blank paper and asked to pay another 1.50 Egyptian Pounds.

My jolly uniformed tourist copy tells me to bring the motorcycle to the parking lot where I’d seen all the other cars and trucks parked earlier. I’m asked to wait while every one of the dozen or so cars parked are awaiting inspection by the police and verification of chassis numbers by the engineer. After about 30 minutes of waiting the engineer grabs the blank coated paper and searches for my chassis number. I’ve been through this a month before at the High Dam in Aswan where an imprint of my VIN# was made. The first impression failed, so he tried again. The numbers were hard to read but eventually it was cleared and initialed.

Then in the chaos of getting the imprint something happened to the plastic laminated card that I originally received in Aswan and is mandatory to return prior to leaving Nuweiba. I had handed it with all my documents to my uniformed tourist copy. When I returned to go to yet another office he couldn’t find it and insisted I had it. No way. We run to three of the offices I’d been to previous looking for this document. I think he dropped it in the parking lot while aiding in an inspection of a Mercedes while I the engineer was getting the imprint. It’s about business card sized and was in one of the folders he was holding. We spent 30 minutes looking for the card.

That’s when my cop told me I wouldn’t make the 2pm boat. What? I’ve been running around here, there and everywhere in this port and I can’t make the boat. “No. Everything close now,” he says while several buddies in like uniforms congregate around my bike. “We go to Mosque,” explaining it was prayer time and that all activity in the port ceases for about an hour, “we finish later.” I’m confused. There’s nothing I can do as I watch the boat pull out of the port while they strip the ties from their uniforms, remove hats and head toward the tall minaret towering high above the port.

I’m hot, hungry and frustrated. So I head toward the exit of the port where just across the street outside I’d seen a few kebab eateries. They’ll pray. I go to lunch. But it’s not that easy. The first gatekeeper won’t let me out of the port. “But my passport hasn’t been stamped, I’m still in Egypt,” I explain the truth and that immigration hadn’t put the important exit stamp in my passport. This didn’t matter. I escalate to another cop. Then to a plainclothes version. All reject my desire to exit the port. “Not possible.” While I relentlessly plea and try to reason, I recognize the cop I’d seen the night before when I rolled into town. He walks over and like old friends we shake hands, shoulder hug and talk about the motorcycle. After some talking and explaining I agree to jet across the street and be back in the port in 15 minutes. They let me go. Friends matter, I guess, it’s who you know!

Nobody seemed to be working in the kebab places. One with rotisserie chicken and a television playing a broadcast of the prayer session with cheesy superimpositions of the mosque, town streets and prayer leader as he sang from the Koran had a few people seated. I bought some chicken, flat bread, rice, veggies and headed back to the port while prayers blared from the speakers.

Part II: Getting Out of Egypt By Playing Document Roulette.
My cop returns and asks about my plastic ID card. “You have it,” I explain. Defensive and resistant he denies every taking possession. I don’t need tarot cards to see where this is going. Innocently I suggest we retrace his steps. The parking lot where inspections and chassis number verification are handled is empty save my lone motorcycle.

Despair and now showing a bit of sweat on his brow, my tourist cop seems agitated as we head to the Port Office. Here I’m told to write a statement about the missing card. The tourist police then translates this into Arabic. We both sign it. Another copy is handed a large black ledger book filled with tattered and dog-eared pages which we take with the signed letter to the entrance of the port where at the gate a police officer jots more info into the ledger. It’s then taken to a “Major” who reviews the letter and the ledger book and signs both.

The pace of the tourist cop’s gait has quickened as we head back to the Port Office where I’m offered a plate of food and tea and wait until the group in the 10×10 room finish lunch. Without a chair I decided to sit behind the vacated desk close to the door. As I start to get comfortable fingers are aggressively waived at me “no, no, no.” I guess that was a bad idea.

We must return to the Traffic Police office where I returned my license plates and spend 2.50 Egyptian Pounds and receive in lieu a couple postage like adhesive stamps which we take back to the Port Office and the scene of my no, no, no desk seating incident. The stamps are then affixed to yet another handwritten document which now must be photocopies. We must interrupt a meeting where men in similar white uniforms but with more bars and metals affixed and get two of these officers to sign the new document. As he’s signing the man with the salt and pepper hair, modern wire framed eyeglasses and an angular face looks up at me with a friendly smile and finishes signing. We take this letter back upstairs to the same room where I tried to hijack the desk and chair and get one more signature. This is definitely a case of document roulette and I’m wondering when someone is going to refuse to sign. Or is this why all these cops are there? It’s the signature battalion.

We return to the Traffic Police office for yet another signature before walking back to the entrance of the Port where the customs officials read the letter, handwritten document and my carnet which they finally initial and stamp. I must take the signed carnet and my ferry ticket and get these stamped and signed. It’s funny because all of this business at the Traffic Police is design inside the office behind windows where dozens of Egyptians are angling to get documents signed, stamped and who knows what else. I can’t imagine the stuff these people must deal with on a daily basis living in Egypt with all this bureaucracy.

With the bike cleared I’ve got one more task. Or so I think. I head to the immigration office where nearly 100 people are fighting and crowding three lines to get passport exit stamps. It’s madness as these people who seemingly and frankly, obviously, have no manners, courtesy or decorum blatantly cut in front of elderly female tourists, their own neighbors and make a made dash that would make an Olympic coach happy. As two cut in front of me, I commented that I was here first. This was shrugged off but one very tall man pulled me into the line where my face was pressed against his chest from the weight of everyone pushing behind me. Ahhhh. This is the Egypt I remember from the LAST ferry I debarked in Aswan nearly a month earlier.

It took nearly 40 minutes but I got stamped. While everyone in that line had to wait for a dilapidated transit bus to take them toward the loading area next to the ferry, I simply rode Doc to the base of the loading ramp of the boat until I was asked to move. Made sense. Because after the ramp was lowered the stream of loaded up vehicles and busses exited. I couldn’t believe how many cars fit into the belly of this ship. While waiting another uniformed man asked me if I had my ticket stamped. “Of course,” I told him, “I’ve got a whole collection of stamps!”

Well, I was wrong. I still needed one more stamp and signature. So I had to ride to a tiny phone booth sized office a scant 100 meters away from the boat where a man in a different color uniform reviewed my ticket and inked up his rubber stamp and firmly planted on the ticket. Thank god.

At just a few minutes before 7pm I rode Doc onto the Ferry and headed across the Gulf of Aqaba to Jordan.

My plight wasn’t over yet. A larger ferry was docked in the proper slip where The Princess could lower her ramp and unload the vehicles in her belly. Instead, we docked with the starboard side of the boat to the dock and all pedestrians were unloaded. All of us with vehicles would have to wait. Even after the other ship left we weren’t able to dock The Princess where her ramp could be lowered. Why? The wind and the current in the Gulf made it impossible.

Three hours later the sea calmed and I was able to unload doc and start the Jordanian customs and immigrations procedure.

Things go a lot smoother in Jordan than Egypt. But I was challenged with something I hadn’t prepared for: money. To get Doc cleared for passage on the roads of Jordan I had to buy insurance. Plus, I had to pay a nominal customs fee. I had enough to pay for the insurance, but was surprised that I still needed to pay customs. No worries, I could possibly change money or use and ATM? Not quite. It was well past midnight by the time I started my clearing process. And all of the money changers in the port were closed. I was told to wait for one to return, but after 45 minutes I abandoned this effort and searched for someone willing to change money in the port.

This plot was foiled as my collection of currency at this point was less than desirable. I pleaded with the guy I bought the insurance from and he agreed to change the small amount of money I needed — about eight dollars worth of Jordanian Dinar. In the end I was short about fifty cents and the customs officers wouldn’t let me slide. Once again my insurance buddy helped and paid the difference.

It was pushing 2am and I asked for directions into town. Insurance man offered to go with me if I’d wait until he closed up. Great. So my documents were reviewed at the gate of the Port of Aqaba and I was free and now in Jordan. Insurance man walked behind and I wondered where he parked his car. Oooops. Not quite. When he said he’d go with me he meant he wanted a ride with me.

I pulled my Camelback pack off the seat and onto his back and we rode into Aqaba. I found an ATM and hotel. Head on the pillow: 3:30am local time.

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It was too much food but as the only guest at Casa del Mare in Nuweiba, Egypt Sinai I was treated fantastically and fed well. Highly recommended and very reasonable.

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The Ferry Ticket Office before the chaos.

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I was assigned a Tourist Police Officer to help guide me through the red tape and file folder madness of customs procedures at the Port of Nuweiba.

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The Port was crammed with people coming and going with lots of stuff.

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Everyone seemed to be running somewhere. People looking to enter others hoping to leave. All in a day’s activity at the Port of Nuweiba.

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I visited the Traffic Police Office a half-dozen times including once to return my Egyptian License Plates. I always got to go in the back door and avoid the lines.

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This office was responsible for reviewing documents that another office signed to verify that ….

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The engineer made an etching or imprint of my VIN# which would need to be presented elsewhere for verification. Other vehicles had to be emptied and inspected. They used a mirror on wheels to look underneath the vehicles. I guess they’re looking for explosives as well as contraband.

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I had to present a paper that the engineer had etched my VIN# in order to verify the vehicle on the carnet was the same I was leaving Egypt with.

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I should’ve been on this boat.
Unfortunately with all the chaos and the case of a missing registration card, I missed the 2pm departure to Aqaba in Jordan.

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It was disappointing for me to see this backpacker showing a bit of disrespect. I was called by the Port Police before I could tell him that he had sewn our flag on his back-pack upside down. Couldn’t find him on the boat either.

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The ferry seemed to discharge an infinite number of passengers and vehicles while I waited to board.

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Some people are very creative in their loading techniques.

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Loading and Locking Doc onto The Princess. Phew…..

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This Ferry is quite the contrast form the one I took from Sudan.

Welcome to Jordan.

Conspicuous Display of Devotion, Nature’s Course, Or God’s Will?

Since taking the ferry into Egypt nearly a month ago I’ve been burdened with burning curiosity about many of the men I’ve met or seen here. Perhaps I was in a sleepless delusional state the first time I noticed it, or perhaps I shrugged it off as a fault of my aging eyes. But something about the foreheads of Egyptians from as far south as Aswan to the coffee shops of Cairo and over to the police checkpoints of the Sinai Peninsula is just odd to this westerner.

They all seem to be bruised, inflicted with a rare skin disease or there’s a serial birthmark that seems far from a coincidence. Sometimes it’s a halo shaped dark brown contrasting slightly with the skin color of the man. Other times it’s raised and appears like a small healing bump of a scar and other times it’s brick red oval or squatty circle.

While I consistently noticed this strange phenomena and in my efforts to reason and wane my curiosity I thought may it’s related to the shaving and personal hygiene habits of these men. And it’s not every man, either. But no, this couldn’t be it. But why did all these men have a big blemish or mark in the middle of their brows?

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Some work hard to make a debiba — a symbol of devotion.

Then it occurred to me. With my shoes neatly placed outside the door of the last mosque I visited, I watched several men go through their afternoon prayer ritual. One man isolated on a section of the carpet away from a crowded quadrant bowed down and planted his forehead onto the carpet with a feverous and almost aggressive motion. He remained planted with his forehead seeming to take the bulk of the weight and balance of his body. Other men did this too, but some just delicately touched the carpet with the tip of their forehead. Still others attacked the carpet fervently with brow.

Like anything that receives ongoing and untreated or lubricated friction, bruise or scar will eventually appear. The praying was causing the foreheads of these men to become brown, bruised and blemished. Did they not know this? Were they looking in the mirror in the morning? Was there not some enterprising company offering skin care product por homme to address the ultimate cause of the bruising of egyptian men’s foreheads? My curiosity branched out like a Buzan Mind Map, so I externalized my curiosity and started asking questions.

That’s when I learned all of this bruising and scarring is intentional.

A practicing Muslim’s forehead is supposed to touch the ground at least 34 times a day – in symbolic submission to God’s will. Over a lifetime this could amount to more than a million which could add up to more than a million contacts in a lifetime. But more and more the zebiba appears among young men as the veil does among young women. Why do some have one and others not? Perhaps not everyone wants one. But some who do, I learned, simply cannot. It could something to do with skin-composition or created forcibly or artificially, or come from particular kinds of carpets or mats. Yet some, I’m told, feel it is a gift from God. Accordingly, many young Egyptians believe a light shall emanate from this mark on their foreheads on the Day of Judgment, marking them out as truly devout.

Not every man displays one nor does every woman wear a veil. For more than fifty years, or perhaps longer, Egypt has been secular. As for the debiba? Some may say it’s ostentatious piety and the increased display of it, like the veil in women could segregate and discriminate against those without it as they might be perceived as less devout. This display and isolated acts of vigilantism might affect Egypt’s secular tradition.

Whatever it is, I found it hard not to notice. And that’s fine. To each his own. From M. Anwar my mechanic to some passengers on my ferry boat, to taxi drivers, guides and those toreador pedestrians in Cairo. Interesting.

Sharm Can Wait: Remembering The Sinai Terrorists Acts

It was time for me to leave Egypt. I contemplated my options. While it’s easy to extend a passport visa, getting an extension on the motorcycle temporary import would prove to be difficult, time consuming and taxing. I had two more days before Doc needed to be in Jordan, my next destination. I could ride a few hours to the Southern tip of Sinai or I could cross the peninsula toward the Gulf of Aqaba and the now quiet town of Nuweiba, The south Sinai destinations of Sharm el-Sheikh or Dahab. Israel would be a good option with the possibility of crossing the border at Taba, but an exit stamp of Taba would be a red flag to Syrian officials who refuse entry to anyone with an Israeli stamp in their passport. And yet while the Israelis are sensitive to this and might honor a request to refrain from stamping visitor passports, an exit stamp from Taba could mean only one thing — entrance into Israel. I would try another strategy after Jordan to make my way into Jerusalem, but for now I must go to Jordan.

Sharm just south of here is according to the Lonely Planet “Egypt’s version of Vegas”. And while the lure of Ras Mohammed National (marine) Park on the Red Sea, arguably one of the best diving locations in the world, and the endless pounding of house music with Eastern European prostitutes providing window dressing, Sharm would be a feast for my eyes. But it’s time to ride — not party. So I crossed mountains of red and yellow while Beduins grazed livestock and military bases warned against taking pictures until the turquoise blue waters of the Gulf of Aqaba unfolded before me. And resting on the shore the tiny hamlet of Aqaba which at one time was party town for vacationing Israelis and is the port for ferry boats to Aqaba in Jordan.

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Winding my way through the desert and mountains of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt.

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Wandering nomadic Beduin in Sinai — he on a camel me on Doc — wanderers.

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I could head to beaches of Sharm or cross into Israel at Taba – sites of tourist-targeted terrorist acts in 2004 & 2005 – but I’m heading to Jordan. These places must wait.

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The typical Egyptian police check points — oh I’ll miss the tea and the conversation.

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The Gulf of Aqaba and Nuweiba. From here to the right is Saudi Arabia, to the left is Jordan and out of the picture the far left Israel.

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Welcome to Nuweiba – I guess!

In July 2005, just a few weeks after I left on my journey, while I was riding through the great mountains of the Pacific Northwest I remember reading the news of the terrorist attack in Egypt where Islamic extremists set off a series of bombs in Sharm el-Sheikh that more than 100 dead and more than 200 more injured. The bombs were set in the early hours of the morning of 23 July 2005 – the date which about fifty years earlier the Egyptian monarchy was overthrown by Gamal Abdel Nasser. And just nine months earlier on 6 October 2004 a truck bomb set off in front of the Hilton Hotel in Taba, less than 150 miles from here at the Israel border killed more than 30 people and injuring a 100. This date was also not coincidental. October 6th represents the anniversary of Egypt’s 1973 “Yom Kippur” war with Israel.

These bombings all but destroyed the tourism industry for two of the hottest resorts in Egypt frequented by Israelis and also sucked the life out of the dozens of other locations on Sinai, including Nuweiba. Like the massacre at Luxor — huge blows to Egypt’s $6.6 billion tourism industry. After reading about the Sharm bombings back in July 2005 while still getting my feet wet on this WorldRider journey, I felt comfortable and happy in my decision to ride the western route through Africa.

Funny how things change, now nearly 3 years later and I’m less than 100 miles from the sites of these cruel acts of terrorism where innocent people were killed — just for being on vacation.

I stopped by the port first where the police told me that I needed a ticket to enter the port and that I could buy tickets for tomorrow’s ferry starting at 9pm at the ticket office just a couple blocks away. After checking in to a local hotel on the beach I later returned to the ferry ticket office where I was told by a very rude and angry old man that I could not buy tickets for the ferry until the morning, yet the line of people at his window seemed contrary. I pleaded and suggested it would be easier to do so now. It was not possible the stubborn man insisted.

I prepared myself for another round of Egypt’s now legendary bureaucracy and hoped my experience in these endeavors would prove valuable and therefore make it easier for me to flee to Jordan.

Let’s see.

The Suez Canal & Mount Sinai — Wars, Religion & The Red Sea

And here I was just a scant few miles from the Suez Canal. As that globe-fingering kid I always wondered about Canals. The Panama and the Suez. It was nearly three years ago when I rode this same motorcycle over the Panama Canal. Now today I’ll ride under the Suez. I didn’t even know there was a tunnel under this fascinating feat of human engineering. The Canal as we know it today, more or less, opened in 1869. The idea of linking the Red Sea with the Mediterranean is centuries old. Historians, archeologists and even Napoleon believed there was an ancient Canal that connected the Red Sea with the River Nile and therefore creating a link between the Red and Mediterranean Seas. Some say the great Ramses who’s temples near the Sudan border were erected to intimidate the Nubians so many years ago, possibly honchoed the construction of such an ancient Suez Canal.

Egyptian President Nasser in May 1967 booted the UN peacekeeping forces out of the Sinai Peninsula, including the region around the Suez Canal. Israel through a fit but couldn’t convince the UN to act otherwise so the peacekeepers were withdrawn and the Egyptian army took over and ended up on the Israeli border. They closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, though the canal itself had been closed to Israel since 1949.

It was this that forced Israel to launch a preemptive attack on Egypt in June of that year, which ultimately led to the capture of both the Sinai Peninsula and the Suez Canal.

After the Six Day 1967 Arab-Israeli war, the canal was closed by an Egyptian blockade until early June 1975. As a result, fourteen cargo ships (the Yellow Fleet) remained trapped in the canal for more than eight years. In 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, it was over this canal that the Egyptian army marched into Israeli-occupied Sinai and ultimately took back the land they lost some six years earlier.

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Egypt celebrates its 1973 victory in Sinai.

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Getting ready to go under the Suez Canal and to the Sinai Peninsula.

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It’s barren and home to thousands of nomadic Beduins.

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The Red Sea glistens and calls.

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Watch for military practicing maneuvers.

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The canal? It’s complicated. Syria convinced the USSR to veto a UN Security Council Mandate that would allow the UN to regain monitoring authority and maintain peace in the area. So an alternative multinational coalition was formed called the Multinational Force and Observers – MFO. The MFO’ s peacekeeping force supervises implementation of the security provisions of a Peace Treaty between the Governments of Egypt and Israel in the Sinai Desert and the Strait of Tiran and Gulf of Aqaba.

But as I rode by the memorial celebrating Egypt’s Sinai win, I couldn’t help think that this blotch of desert and the intersection of crucial waterways to Europe and the Middle East has long been a battleground of ideas, religion, trade, oil and freedom for nearly as long as man has walked this planet.

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I made my way under the canal and then south along the Red Sea toward Mount Sinai where, according to the Old Testa

ment Moses led the Hebrew escape from Egypt by parting this Red Sea and then as the Egyptian Army crossed allowed the water to fall thereby drowning them. He then rose to the top of Mount Sinai where God inscribed the Ten Commandments.

Glistening and the deepest navy blue with tinges of aqua toward the land’s edge, the Red Sea was calm and calling me seductively. The land to the east was dry, harsh and seemingly in hospitable. Resorts and homes are peppered on the shoreline but at this time of year the places seemed lifeless, like the desert that surrounds. I motored on passing through the ubiquitous Egypt police checkpoints until I came to the base of Mount Sinai and to St. Catherine’s Monastery and the 6th Century Church built on the site of The Burning Bush.

As I rode through the slick pavement and the arid and desolate landscape, I was startled when ahead of me I saw a dozen or more men in camoflage fatigues cross the roads carrying weapons, and high on a ridge above the canyon men on trucks with what looked like heavy artillery guns. Then as I dipped into the left decreasing radius turn, several more men in fatigues wearing berets waved me through as I jerked the bike as I braked wondering what’s going on. I assumed, hoped and since I was on Sinai, prayed that it was just the Egyptian army practicing its military maneuvers on this fine day.

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The bike parked before the walkway up to St. Catherine’s Monastery.

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Local police ensure that Doc is well taken care of as I trace Moses’ steps.

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Monk walking outside the massive walls of the Monastery.

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Back door entrance into The Monastery of St. Catherine. I arrived to late to get into the Monastery — it’s only open three hours a few days of week to visitors. I followed a monk to a through this door and while I was invited, felt like I was intruding. Note lower portion of the painting and that’s the Monastery. , Built by order of the Roman Emperor Justinian sometime between 527 and 565 AD, it is the oldest existing Christian Monastery and belongs today to the Greek Orthodox Church. Named after martyr Saint Katherine from the 3rd Century AD. It was built to protect and provide sanctuary for the monks and hermits living in this area.

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Ages old olive trees flank the gardens of St. Catherine’s at the foot of Mt. Sinai.

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No matter what they tell you. The riding a camel is uncomfortable – for men and for women – ouch. So I gave up after about 20 minutes and walked.

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Today you can use your cell phone on Mount Sinai, maybe even Google the Decalogue if you’ve forgotten them.

As the guards at the church parking lot directed me to safe and secure parking I had to wonder. If my bike weren’t safe at perhaps one of the holiest places on the planet, would it not be safe anywhere? The bike has been safe and never have I lost a thing — other than from my own fault of absent-mindedness — never to the evil hand of a petty thief. But I followed suit and proceeded up the Mountain, using a camel for part of my ascent. For this route is the ultimate pilgrimage for both Christian and Jews and certainly Muslims don’t deny Moses as a prophet, so this site is important for the three greatest monotheistic religions of the world. And yet I still wonder and wish, using the simple words of Rodney King, why we all can’t get along.

My holy land exploration begins to take form as I venture deeper into the Middle East.

The bike is running well, though the chain and sprocket are on their last legs. I only hope that they will hold up until I get to Turkey and Istanbul. We shall see.

Pyramids & Wars. Egyptian History.

Though it’s with a bit of sadness but for all the madness I must leave Cairo and its chaos and cacophony of visual and audible delights and disturbances.

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Cairo in a more peaceful state.

Today I got in trouble with the police at the Pyramids and Sphinx. Well, not really. I just put them in a position to gather a few seconds fame (their perception) and a chance to try to squeeze a bit of baksheesh out of this motorcycle adventure traveler. They don’t take kindly to motorcycles getting too close to the pyramids. This because the camel and donkey vendors don’t like the competition – it’s far too normal to see camels out by these ancient beautiful structures. But a motorcycle? Amazing to see the eyes of a tour bus glued to the windows with snap happy fingers pushing shutter releases of digital and other cameras to get a shot of this crazy guy out there.

Then there’s the flow of traffic. One way going out. But I wasn’t ready to go out, so I turned around. Waved down and told that it wasn’t a good idea, but then one of those blue police trucks comes pulling behind and full of waving policeman and their steely weapons suggest I just follow them. Back to more pyramids. I love Egypt. Not only for what you can do, but for you can’t yet can do. How’s that for a wacky sentence?

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You lookin’ at me?

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The step practice pyramid on the Giza Plateau.

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Poor old nose washed away with the sands of time.

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Wow! I can’t believe I made it and rode to the pyramids. Dark Side of the Moon and all that! A dream come true.

Last night I spent the final hours of my Cairo experience with M. Magdi and Jonathan. With my bike fully loaded for a early departure, I was hesitant to ride the bike into the madness for fear of my stuff and my safety. So I doubled up with Jonathan on back of his 1200GS and rode to a local café where cold beer and strong coffee kept the conversation exciting and interesting until it was time to say goodbye with the promises of a return to Cairo and the desert for more off-road riding in the future.

I woke up early the next morning with the hotel manager at the Windsor happy to find me a car I could follow so I didn’t lose an hour of time wandering my way out of the complicated city for the road toward the Suez Canal and the Sinai Peninsula where I could relive history and both the Six Day War of 1967 and the 1973 front headed by Anwar Sadat in the 1973 Yom Kippur/Ramadan War where Egypt took back the territory it lost in 1967. All of this as I plan to move deeper into the Arabic world while exploring the holy lands and hoping to cross into Israel and still have an opportunity to travel through Syria and into Turkey.

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Military memorial near Suez Canal looking over at Sinai Peninsula.

The Return of the Zambian Tire & Doc Rides Again

I wandered over to the tony or ritzy section of downtown Cairo looking for the DHL office. Smart trendy shops with elaborate window displays, wide sidewalks and still the crazy ebb and flow of auto and pedestrian traffic. The DHL office was air-conditioned to below zero, or so it felt. Waiting for more than 45 minutes, the previous customer finally mailed his 10 packages which took the entire time to complete. Then my package is confirmed to be in the warehouse and I’m asked to wait again. Another 45 minutes passes until my tire shows up in the lobby. They want about $12 US to cover the duty, and none of my best explanation nor negotiation nor story telling skills could get the fee waived. I was given a phone number to the customs office which I could visit, but I’d have to wait to get my package.

I shelled out the $12 and moved on.

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Tremendously thirsty whilst whiling my time away in Cairo, this character spoke no English yet sold me a cold drink and we had a completed conversation using our hands and facial expressions. I was so happy he let me take his photo!

M. Anwar found a matching front tire. I asked him to get me a replacement tube, because my previous tube was stored in the tank panniers which was breached by the fuel bottle that exploded. At first look M. Anwar thought there’s nothing wrong with this tube. I explained the fuel story and we watched in slow motion as the tube developed protruding bulbous growths. No, a new tube was in order.

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Mohamed Anwar, best motorcycle mechanic and source for parts in Cairo, Egypt
puts the finishing touches on Doc before I head to some famous Egyptian sites and Mount Sinai.
If you’re in Cairo, call him 002-010-145-48-49

The work that was ultimately performed included:

– new front tire (sourced in Cairo)
– new rear tire (DHL from Zambia via Nairobi and Addis Ababa)
– replaced one fork seal (my spare)
– oil & filter change (my spare)
– battery was bone dry (again)
– adjust valves
– coolant
– new fuse for PIAA lights
– loose motor mounts tightened (this was the vibration that felt like a bad bearing)
– crash bars/engine guard was also very loose and contributed to extra vibration
– tighten Adventure Pipe Exhaust
– new rear tire tube
– straighten Jesse brackets (again)

The tire and tube was expensive at about $170, I had paid $125/135? in Zambia each for front and rear. M. Anwar’s labor for everything was about $130 – very reasonable what he did.

With the bike finely tuned, vibration free and ready to roll, I began planning my next stop: Sinai Peninsula.

Oh. But before I can go to Sinai, I must stop and see the most famous of all Egyptian sites, shouldn’t I?

Capturing Cairo, The Old Way.

Behind the madness, traffic and pollution of Cairo there sits a seductive mistress of a city that sucks you in and bites you with a an addictive elixir making it very difficult to leave. Cairo is the capital of the Arab world, but here in the city where pedestrians battle with cars, trucks and busses for rights of passage across a maze of streets, canals and the wonderful River Nile there is no pretension, no expectation nor forced behavioral rituals other than respect. A medieval city until the mid 1800’s, Cairo is a living museum that rests in the shadows of the pyramids and Sphinx. It’s easy to get lost and one can slip into anonymity as easy as putting oneself as a tourist with a bulls-eye on your forehead.

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Egyptian Museum, Cairo.

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Ahmad Marei (mobile: 012-386-1056; fixed 02-298-1365) could possibly be the best guide in Cairo. Call him and negotiate a deal. He’s knowledgeable, degreed and fun. Plus, he’ll blow you away and make the Museum or any other Egypt sites much more enjoyable.

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Generations.

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You looking at me?

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A street vendor sends a quick text message before filling orders in the ubiquitous chai tea glasses. Alway sin glasses, never in cups.

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Street vendor selling beans, nuts and juices.

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Crazy Khan al-Khali in Cairo, Egypt.

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Street life, still life: Cairo. Interestingly note the guy’s t-shirt on the left. Caught after the photo was taken of course. (click to make larger)

With a few days to kill in Cairo and newly made friends, I made my way through the dissonant sounds of the city and to the Egyptian Museum. According to Lonely Planet if you were to spend one minute at each exhibit in this massive museum it would take you nine months to see everything. Then again, one minute at an exhibit would mean you really saw nothing at all. So it’s easy to spend a day here. But without credentials or studies in archaeology or Egyptology the Museum is a maze and confusion.

Upon entering the museum visitors are greeted with the Rosetta Stone, the most important discovery in Egypt as it provided the code to translating hieroglyphics and in turn the stories, history and lives of the endless dynasties of Pharaonic Egypt. After Napoleon’s armies successfully captured the Egyptian Nile Delta, in 1799 A French soldier working at a fort on the Rosetta branch of the Nile River found a black basalt stone slab carved with inscriptions that would ultimately open the world of Egypt’s history. Though the Rosetta Stone on display here in the Egyptian Museum is copy, the original somehow got relegated to the British Museum in London, and I’m sure the Egyptians are still scratching their heads about this one. Carved with an inscription in three different scripts: Egyptian hieroglyphs at the top, demotic script (a late cursive form of hieroglyphs) in the middle, and Greek at the bottom, the Rosetta Stone made sense of everything in this museum.

To be efficient and to try to understand more about Egyptology I hired a guide who told me that he was once a director of this museum and during the time that the King Tut exhibit made its world tour. Though some of my friends doubted his credentials, Ahmad Marei was perhaps the best guide I’d engaged in all of my travels. He knew the museum inside and out, spoke great English could handle my most bizarre questions and understood my somewhat sometimes sardonic yet tongue in cheek humor. If you happen to be in Cairo and want the best guide to walk you through this museum call

Perhaps the most amazing exhibit in the museum is the King Tut exhibit. Sadly, no photography is allowed in the museum and I had to check my camera outside before entering. The exhibit takes up three or four halls and yet what is only display represents only 60% of what was found in his tomb. And I was in the young Pharaoh’s tomb — it’s just not that big. They found 4,650 antiquities in his tomb. How did all this stuff fit in there? And the quality of the jewelry, the chariots, the coffins and sarcophagus? The intricate work done in such fine detail and symmetry. The thrones? Gilded gold and finely sculpted. Stone canisters with lids carved of animal or pharaohs heads contained the organs of the Pharaoh and placed in the tomb so he wouldn’t be without them.

Egyptologists feel that the origin of Angels came from Pharaonic times and evidence in sculptures of birds with the head of woman were first found here in Egypt. Egyptologists hold dearly the facts that they were the first to enjoy pastime by playing games. And all of these have been found in tombs or unearthed from the Nile Valley. For example, the first evidence of dice dates to 7,000 BC and chess to 5,000 BC. And the written word, rather pictures? Egyptians invented paper by using the papyrus plant. There was even a top that dated thousands of years BC. It’s widely known that Egyptians used sundials to mark time. But what about at night? Ahmad showed me what looked like a pail with several parallel rings of holes running around its circumference. At night they’d fill the pail with water and it would slowly drain through the holes. Put your hand in and count down to the water and you’ve got the time. These were placed in Tut’s tomb so he would know what time it was as the sun doesn’t shine inside the tomb.

While in museum mode I took a cruise over to Old Cairo, which was once known as Babylon and the site predates the coming of Islam and is the home to the Coptic Christian community. Among the fascinating antiquities in the Coptic Museum are the Nag Hammadi documents a group of writings from the 4th century that are codices for the gnostic gospels. The collection of thirteen ancient codices containing over fifty texts, was discovered in Al-Qasr Egypt in 1945 by a farmer cultivating soil. While the discovery of these codices in many ways reopened the history books on Christianity, but perhaps no one has had more fun and conspiracy theories than Dan Brown in his wildly popular book The Da Vinci Code. Though I’ve never read the book, I understand that the Nag Hammadi codices are essential to building the plot line of the book where his main characters deny the inspiration and authority of the biblical text and replace Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John with the Gnostic gospels found in the Nag Hammadi Library.

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Mohamed Ali Mosque – The Alabastar Mosque Commands the skyline of Cairo. But inside, the work is very interesting.

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Inside another Cairo Mosque copies of Koran prayer books bound in intricate leather available for all to read — that is, if you can read Arabic text.

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Caption under this painting in the Egyptian Military Museum reads verbatim:
“ON MARCH 26 TH, 1979, PRESIDENT ANWAR EL SADAT, MENAHEIN PEGAN THE PRIM – MINISTER OF ISRAIL AND AMERICAN PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER SIGNED THE EGYPTIAN ISRAILE PEACE TREATY IN THE GARDEN OF THE LIGHT HOUSE IN U.S.A.”

ff

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In the police museum I was elated to find hundreds of years old RUBBER STAMPS… glad to see that the use of these isn’t Egypt’s example of advancements in technology. Lots of rubber-stamping going on here. Has been for years, too!

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6th Century BC ruins of Fort Babylon, built by the Persians, moved to this location by the Romans and now at the entrance of the Coptic Museum adjacent to Greek Orthodox Church of St. George and the Hanging Church of Babylon.

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While Iraq may claim home to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, also here in Old Cairo I visited the Hanging Church of Babylon which serves as the center of Coptic Christian worship and also the Church of St. Sergius, supposedly a stopover for the Holy Family from their run from King Herod.

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Above interior, exterior and below entrance to the Hanging Church of Babylon, build around 690 AD during dynasty of Isaac.

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While Old Cairo provide insight into ancient history of Christianity, a journey through medieval Islamic Cairo provided insight and opened my eyes to the world of Islam, which unfortunately is wildly misunderstood by the West. Traveling through the Muslim world for quite a while, but for the last two months I’ve been nearly smack in the middle of it. So a journey through the old part of Cairo, where it’s Islamic origins lie, was an order.

There’s nothing like a walk through the ancient bazaar of the Khan al-Khali, the Al-Azhar Mosque and of course the Citadel with the towering signature mosque of Cairo built by Seladin, the Mohamed Ali Mosque, also known as the Alabaster Mosque with extensive use of this stone from the quarries of the Nile Valley. I checked out the police and military museums and wandered aimlessly getting energized from the exuberance of this mad city.

I could have spent days just wandering around Islamic Cairo getting lost in the bazaars or sitting and watching the children play, the men going to prayer or the constant barrage of tourists stumbling around confused yet amazed.

And the only annoying thing that happened in the couple days I wandered the city? My taxi driver. With my bike in pieces at M. Anwar’s shop, I hired a taxi one day to wander the city. At lunch he insisted on taking me to a “good ” restaurant. Turns out the restaurant is a place only tourists would go, evidenced by the mini-vans and busses in its secure parking lot. His reason? It’s safe and clean for you. When I asked him if he’d eat hear he said only with tourists. After my expensive and disappointing buffet I pulled him aside and tried to explain that I am not a tourist and if we go again I want to go where “YOU” eat — without tourists.