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Pole to Pole

Day 53: Port Said to Cairo

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleFor a while we avoid the busy Ismailia highway, and take a side road that runs alongside the Canal. It's quiet and restful down here. There is a station through which no train seems to pass, and a narrow side canal called the Sweetwater where kingfishers swoop, butterflies flicker in the reeds and there is not much noise until the wind sets the bulrushes hissing and whispering. Even when the northbound convoy comes up the Canal these massive vessels, hundreds of thousands of tons in combined weight, pass by almost soundlessly.

As the day fades we drive south, passing through canalside villages, past small children guiding donkeys at tearaway speeds, makeshift ferries caked in Nile mud plying the waterways, orange-sellers at the side of the road. At Ismailia we turn west to run for seventy-five miles across the Eastern Desert to Cairo. Having extricated ourselves from Port Said morale is improved, and there is a further bonus in the shape of a breathtaking desert sunset. After the sun sets a rich peach afterglow remains, which as it dies seems to intensify to a raw golden red, like the embers of a dying fire.

Cairo seems more enormous and manic than I ever remember it. It's 9.30 in the evening but every road and side street teems with traffic, often blocked solid. The Egyptian theory of driving is simple - everyone else on the road is in your way. There is nothing else to do but call on whichever God you feel closest to and hold on tight.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 53
  • Country/sea: Egypt
  • Place: Cairo
  • Book page no: 117

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