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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.