One of the tenets of the company that organized our trip, Overseas Adventure Travel, is to introduce its clients to local life. Hence the home-hosted dinners I described in earlier posts. Our first two days of sailing have involved more immersive experiences, with a couple more ancient temples sprinkled in. (It’s become something of a mild joke among people on the Egypt tours that OAT stands for, “Oh, another temple.” But we all love it. We’ll detail the temple visits in a separate post.)
Our itinerary started with a visit to a camel market in the town of Daraw, followed by a visit to the local street market. We reached those venues by stepping off of our riverboat home and piling into the backs of covered pickup trucks, which are for some reason a favored mode of transportation in this particular town.
Later we watched an artisan make crates from dried palm fronds, though that brief description of his work doesn’t do justice to the man’s skill and artistry. The next day involved a visit to a farm located on an island in the Nile, along with lunch. All of it was fascinating and really gave us a sense of what life is like in southern Egypt.
The camel market was essentially a livestock auction. There were buyers and sellers and haggling over prices. Many of the sellers were from Sudan. The animals are traded for a variety of reasons depending on their age and other factors. The market regulars knew we were just there to observe, but they were friendly and welcoming. We have been impressed with just how outgoing the Egyptian people are, the exception being vendors at many of the historic sites who can be aggressive at times. The warmth of the Egyptian people in general, however, seems genuine. Children, especially, like to shout hello and smile.
The street market was equally fun and, unlike the spice market in Aswan, very relaxed. It was for local people, not a tourist trap. There were produce stands, butcher shops (including notably a camel butcher — yes, they eat camel here), bakeries, food stalls, you name it. We got to enjoy freshly made bread and falafel straight out of the fryer. Egyptian falafel is different from the Greek version we commonly see in the U.S. The main ingredient is fava beans, not chickpeas, and has a green color. It’s also delicious.
Later that day we climbed aboard tuk-tuks (just like the ones common in Asia) to visit a basket maker in a small rural village called Fares. Mohamed was a very interesting man. He doesn’t have much in the way of formal education but displayed wisdom that many highly educated elites lack. He’s been primarily making baskets used during the mango harvest season for 50 years. He’s now 63. His baskets, he noted, are all natural, much better than plastic in his view. As I said, a wise man.
Somehow he has managed to raise six children on the pittance he earns per basket, which he sells for 20 Egyptian pounds apiece. The current exchange rate is roughly 30 EP to the U.S. dollar. His raw material cost is 17 to 18 EP per basket. He said he can make about 20 baskets per day, deftly wielding a machete to shape the individual components using his hands and feet in the process. The mango harvest season lasts for only two months. He taught his craft to his oldest son, but has encouraged all of his children to focus on education. Incredible.
Needless to say, doing demonstrations for tourists supplements his income, but our guide Mona noted that he is always enthusiastic doing them. He never just goes through the motions. And he can make things other than baskets, including the benches we sat on and the chair in the image below. I can see that chair on many a backyard patio in just about anywhere in the world. We wish we could have done a business plan for him 20 years ago!
The next day brought yet another fulfilling experience. We took a motor launch to an island called Besaw, home to just 350 people, where we were welcomed by Sayed and his cousin Abdul. They grow a variety of crops on the island, including zucchini, arugula, spinach and other vegetables, along with bananas and mangos. They also have cattle, water buffalo and other livestock.
We spent about four hours with Sayed, Abdul and their families. Our guide said OAT first started including this visit in 2018. At the time, Sayed spoke little English and guides had to translate. By this year, Sayed was able to handle about 85% of the tour on his own, with Mona only needing to step in from time to time. Considering COVID essentially killed travel in 2020, 2021 and part of 2022, his improvement was notable. He credited courses he found on You Tube and American movies.
The first “wow”moment was stopping in at Sayed’s house. His younger sister is getting married in February, and women in his extended family were busily cranking out baked goods for the event in his house. It turned into an impromptu dance party. The following video is worth a watch for a real taste of the local flavor. Our guide said this was totally unexpected, and a lot of fun.
Later we learned how to make “sun bread” in an outdoor oven, and then enjoyed another home-cooked meal served family style at a long table. The following photos are a mix of the many people we encountered that day.