The Road Less Travelled: Farm Livin’ Is the Life For Me

If you reside in Cairo for more than half a year you have to get out periodically if you want to stay sane. For travellers, visiting Egypt means that Cairo, Sharm el Sheikh, Aswan and Luxor are certain to be on your list of places to see though they shouldn’t be the only ones you consider. Sadly some very interesting and cool places are overlooked, which is a shame because there’s a whole other side to Egypt that gives more depth and context to this multifaceted, tumultuous and ebullient country. Whether it’s Marsa Alam, Siwa, Abu Simbel or Ras Sidr there’s sure to be a stretch of beach, sand or oasis that’s far off the beaten track, but so utterly worth the time and effort it takes to get there.

The pigeon coop flanked by date trees.

Rouqayah’s Ranch is one such place and it’s worth every honked horn, faulty GPS direction and reckless driver on the road. Located in – what seems like – the middle of nowhere (Borg al Arab al Qadeem, an hour west of the Mediterranean port of Alexandria) it’s a farm run by a British woman who goes by the name of Rouqayah and her Egyptian husband Alaa.

Rouqayah demonstrating how handling a horse is really done. Thanks to her my first time riding in years was a breeze.

The daughter of a British farmer, Rouqayah was a regular visitor to Egypt throughout her life until she decided to buy a plot of land three years ago and start a farm of her own. Using – what can only be described as – proverbial balls of steel, she integrated herself into the local community and built her ranch from the bottom up. Spending time growing organic fruits and vegetables, raising grass-fed livestock, and breaking/training horses, Rouqayah aims to prove nay-sayers wrong by establishing and maintaining a sustainable organic farm that also acts as a B&B for city dwellers, students of agriculture or anyone seeking solace in a natural environment.

The pool with fresh water from the well. No chemicals allowed.

Feeding time for the gaggle of geese, ducks and roosters that have run of the ranch.

Like an oasis in the desert, this ranch is a place you have to see to believe, because after maneuvering the banal Alex Desert Highway, passing through a sleepy Bedouin town that is falling apart at the seams and wrinkling your nose at the smoke rising from the stacks of the cement factory on the horizon, you’re not quite sure what you’re getting into. It’s only when you step onto the grounds of the farm that you pat yourself on the back for getting off the grid and trying something completely different.

It’s a day’s work – more even – tending to the animals.

Grazing time for the ladies. 

Though modest in size, everything you need is within a few acres radius. There’s 3 guest rooms in the main house, a cottage that sleeps four, a small pool, a barn, a horse paddock and an expansive veranda where you can while away the days and nights reading, writing, yoga-ing, debating, or getting lost in a heated match of Monopoly until the early hours of the morning.

People’s true colours emerged during a heated match. Monopoly is wicked I tell you.

Guests are able to saunter around the ranch as they please and engage in a variety of activities that calm the mind and also contribute to life on the farm: milking the cows, exercising the horses, tilling soil (if you like to get down and dirty), plucking chicken feathers, collecting goose eggs hidden under bushes or plucking figs from branches that are bursting forth with savory fruit. Much of the produce and livestock is for sale, which means you can pack your cooler with fresh cheese, milk, and vegetables along with grass fed animals that once lead happy and healthy lives.

So goddamned cute.

This little guy was wildly curious.

Starting the tour among the fig trees, where we were able to taste along the way.

What is it with baby animals? Their cuteness is so painful it hurts.

A 7 am wake up call because it’s milking time. We’re on Jessica’s (the cow) schedule here.

For the un-Intolerants: when was the last time you had milk? I mean real milk.

The air was fresh, the sky was blue and it even rained! A proper 10 minute downpour. Masha’Allah! Instead of plugging into something, the weekend was spent chatting to one another, taking dips in the pool, lending a hand on the farm and disconnecting from the information superhighway. No media. No Facebook. No Twitterverse. We got quiet and stayed quiet for freakishly long periods of time. We ate food that was so wholesome and full of flavour we were silent during meals (and if you knew my friends it takes a lot to shut them up). Rouqayah takes into account all allergies when preparing meals so this Intolerant dug into plenty of fresh salad, roasted vegetables, delicious chicken and rabbit for dinner along with and savory ta’meyya (falafel) and fool for breakfast. I left the baladi bread, yogurt, cheese and milk to the un-Intolerant eaters who ate with abandon, licking the dishes and flatware clean.

Clearly, a feast fit for urban hipsters.

I promised myself I would try whatever was on the table (save gluten and dairy) and that included wild game like rabbit and oddities like duck eggs.  I have to say the duck eggs were fantastic; better than the chicken eggs though I can’t quite figure out why. As for the rabbit – oh please forgive me furry little friends – it was mouthwatering. Lightly seasoned and perfectly cooked. I had so much more respect for the food on my plate after seeing where it lived, how it lived and the humane way in which they were slaughtered.

Roosters being prepped for consumption.

Plucking the chickens: more time consuming work.

I understand that we often don’t want to contemplate the life our dinner had before we consume it; however, if we choose to eat meat there’s a responsibility that comes along with that choice. Sadly society’s understanding of food these days is so skewed that we have no idea what we’re eating and it’s killing us. Many people don’t know what a real chicken/cow/pig/duck looks like if it’s not pumped up with hormones, stuffed with corn or tainted with chemical compounds. It’s also easy for us to forget the source of our food when it comes out of a box/can/frozen package. In this regard the weekend stay at the farm was eye opening on various levels. The relationship Rouqayah and the farmhands had with the animals and the dignified manner in which they treated them changed the way I saw my food. It’s also impacted how I’ll eat in the future.

Overall, it was good fun and the only bone I had to pick was with myself because I wish I had driven up a day earlier. An extra night that would have allowed me to spend the whole weekend in relative obscurity and in order to reflect on the natural things and the simple things. The beautiful things.

Happy Thanksgiving all!

Picked by my own hand, which makes them taste THAT much better.

A room is 250 per person/per night including breakfast (extra for dinner and lunch at 50LE and 25LE respectively). The cost of homemade jams and yogurt/produce/meat is per kilo or liter and horse riding lessons are calculated on the skill of the rider and length of the session. Rouqayah also organizes airport transfers from both Alexandria and Cairo, as well as day trips to Alex and the pyramids.

11 comments

  1. Enjoyable reading. Imaging the Pollonais’ on that desert h’way to the farm.

    Those are great prices, £25 pppn!

    Respect of animal food is also interesting. Agree, agree. Thinking how other animals don’t seem to pratise this veneration and we do. Dolphins with their encirling technique can seem macabre, Komodo Dragons (you don’t want to know…), chimps hunting other primates, yada, yada, yada, all of nature is red in tooth and claw.

    What role do you think the “sacrementality” plays for us as “top of chain” animals?

    1. The prices are amazing and worth every penny. The family should think about a trip for sure!

      Regarding eating meat: there doesn’t seem to be a lot of “sacramentality” or respect for the animals we consume, and as time goes by I find this to be more true in western countries than developing ones. I say that because in many African or Asian states it’s more about getting food on the table and that often won’t involve a lot of meat because people can’t afford it. For those who can afford it the relationship they have with animals is different somehow, whether it’s grass fed goats in Rwanda or halal beef in Egypt (though not always thanks to the rise, and insidiousness, of fast food). I’m blown away each time I go home and enter a supermarket in Canada: the choices are overwhelming as is the packaging, the labeling and the whole notion of “bigger is better.” I mean, 25kg turkeys? Shrimp that’s the size of my face? Something about that doesn’t ring true. At the farm this weekend it was the first time I saw a cooked chicken that looked quite meager (read: didn’t have breasts that weigh 150g each), but still provided enough meat for 4 adults. This got me thinking about a lot of what is sold today and how there’s a disconnect between the source of our food and the final product. Ultimately this lack of respect (and also a twisted desire to play God/Buddha/Allah/insert other deity here along the way) leads us force these animals into tightly confined spaces, maim them, sometimes torture them and feed them crap we wouldn’t eat ourselves.

      However, at the end of the day we do end up eating that crap when we bite into a factory farm chicken for fuel and nourishment. There’s a karmic cycle in there somewhere.

      1. I will show this to Lila and insha’allah we’d get there. Not in our control…

        Europe has it stipulations on what is a proper fruit in terms of size, shape and shine. in Poland in ’02 the apples for me looked like discarded barrel stock but tasted like amazing. Now they too have taken up the perfection bug.

        I will like to see the words convenience and food forever separated, The nutrition process/cycle possibly has no beginning and no end. Growth, acquisition, consumption, excretion, growth… never ending. City life is about the 2nd and we don’t want to know about the rest.

        Enjoying the posts. Love the pix!

      2. THIS: “I would like to see the words convenience and food forever separated.” You said it all right there. It’s the same with health, medicine, money and a host of other things where we want it, want it now and don’t want to have to work at it. Always in search of a magic bullet and some entitlement (that we may or may not have earned) to go along with it.

  2. Masha’allah, nice post! 😉 I guess you’re right that I should soon plan a visit to Egypt / Cairo. I’ve been missing since June 2010. Shame on me… 😦

    1. Thanks! Well since you’re busy Euro/Atlantic hopping it’s understandable, but try to squeeze it in between now and April 2013 or Sept 2013 and April 2014. Anytime that isn’t May – mid-September. Unless you like heat…and melting. :-S

      1. flaneriefeminine · ·

        You’re right. September/October 2013 should be very doable, actually… 😉

  3. Susannah Ross · · Reply

    I haven’t had good experiences with Rouqayah’s Ranch- I was very excited to try them when I moved here, however, in the process of integrating into the local community, the farm seems to have also adopted the absymal standards of customer service that is the norm in Egypt. Or rather, simply lost the idea of customer service, as its just not a thing here.

    1. Thanks for your comment Susannah. Sorry to hear you had a bad experience at the ranch. I can understand the disappointment, esp when time and money is invested in something that doesn’t turn out/work out as planned. I don’t know when you last visited, but I have to say the service and treatment we received during the weekend (and in the lead up to our visit) was fantastic. So much so that I’d like to go back again. That, for me, doesn’t happen all that often in Egypt.

  4. Susannah Ross · · Reply

    Yeah, that’s what I’ve heard, and I’m sure the food is nice. Its so hard for me to take, being an American and used to companies actually responding to e-mails, that if anything its started to drive me crazier since moving here!

    1. I sympathize 100%. That’s why I find eating out in Cairo to be such a chore because the food/service industry seems to embody this a lot. It’s frustrating to go to a place where you have good food and service to only return a short few weeks/months later to be served s**t food by person with a crap attitude. It’s like there’s a disconnect between what people think building a business/having a job will bring them (security, entitlement, wealth, etc) and the reality of the daily ins and outs of it all. It also doesn’t seem strong business models are developed in a lot of places that have the elements of flexibility, longevity, sustainability, consistency and reach in mind. Sadly it affects all industries and elements of society. It’s why I bristle sometimes when I hear the word “Insha’allah” in certain contexts.

      That said, don’t let it get to you! I don’t know what industry your’e in, but if you’re here for the medium to long term dwelling on these difficulties will mar your good experiences. Trust me. Best to adopt a “I’m going to work my a** off like I know how and drop my expectations regarding others. No point losing sleep over what I can’t change” attitude. 😉

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