But two of the strongest memories I have now, in addition to those iconic pyramids, are of the many horses and buggies that fill city streets, and the public call to prayer, or the "drone of proclaimed faith," as a Washington Post article called it, that occurs five times a day in Cairo, emanating from mosques' loudspeakers around the city.
When I first heard that drone one evening early in the trip, I was perplexed. Was someone playing the radio too loudly in the hotel room next door? I walked onto the balcony, overlooking the Nile, and eventually surmised the sound was coming from everywhere. All around the city. Still, I wasn't sure what it was. And I certainly couldn't understand the Arabic to figure it out.
Eventually I learned the meaning behind the chanting sound. The signal to Orthodox Sunni Muslims that it's time for prayer. You can tell the devout Muslims on the street by the prayer mark on their foreheads. From touching their heads to the ground so often. It's literally a scar.
I was always intrigued by the sound when I heard it. It would start up and I would wonder what that noise was. Then it would hit me. Oh right, it's time for prayer. If I were near a mosque, I'd see men walking from all directions towards its doors.
I wanted to record the sound but it took forever to finally do so. Since I couldn't predict when the calls would happen or know where I'd be, I seldom had a recording device at the ready. But finally, in Luxor, I managed to capture it.
Well, actually, I captured two sounds. The other is of a horse clopping. The horse that was pulling the carriage I was riding in with my new-found friend Ann. (We met at the airport on the first day of our organized trip and discovered both of us had arrived solo.) We'd taken a long walk into town and toured the Luxor Museum and decided to give our legs a rest on the way back.
Besides, we'd seen these horses and buggies everywhere and wanted, finally, to hop on board. (Little did I know how hard that seat would be, despite the cushion.)
The sight of the carriages was most intriguing at Edfu, where they came from all directions to greet the early arrival of Nile cruise ships about to unload. We could see from our ship as the carriages streamed in from every street possible.
Like New York taxi drivers, I'm sure the carriage drivers have to make their "nut" each day, not for gas in this case, but for feed for their horses. And upkeep of the buggies.
The funniest thing about our carriage ride was that our driver Mohamed, within a minute of picking us up, pulled over to a food cart to buy himself some sweets. Efficient service was not of the essence, apparently. Getting the fare was.
He was vaguely apologetic about it. Asked us if we wanted anything. It was charming in its way, after the initial "what the heck?" He was just a hungry, young guy who didn't want to take a break while going after customers. A young guy with a horse named
Photos and video: Ellen Perlman. The Sphinx. The main drag in Luxor. Street by the dock in Edfu.