By Jorine Nelissen and Quinta Smit
“This is what Al Sorat is all about. A bunch of happy animals teaching young people how to get along with the rest of the creatures in this world.” (Maryanne Stroud Gabbani, March 9, 2014)
Sakkara is a well-known touristic site; with its famous staggered pyramids and its close proximity to Cairo it has been part of the must-do lists of many tourists. However, a visit to Sakkara is usually just that: an hour or two to walk around the pyramids and then back to the next part of the antiquities itinerary. While there is another way to explore the area that gives the opportunity to explore and enjoy the countryside and desert as no other way can; on horseback.
Al Sorat Farm combines organising trips on horseback for visitors with being a safe haven for animals and education, among other things. Run by Maryanne Stroud Gabbani, a strong woman who moved to Egypt over 25 years ago; the farm is also a wonderful spot for a Friday family picnic.
In 2004 Gabbani got tired of the busy city life and bought a piece of land on the edge of Cairo, where she founded Al Sorat Farm. By now it is home to 24 horses, 13 dogs, a buffalo and countless goats. Over the years she has discovered myriad trails in the surrounding area that take you past vast fields and small canals, through local villages and across the Sakkara desert. Travelling on horseback, these trails offer a glimpse of a side of Egypt that not many tourists get to experience and you feel miles away from the polluted and crowded streets of Cairo.
During our six-hour tour, two local guides guided us through parts of Sakkara and its surroundings. Comfortable seated on Baladi Arab horses the calm of the countryside allowed us to experience a more quiet and simple way of life. Halfway the trip lunch was served; an amazing homemade chicken salad with fresh pita bread. We sat quietly enjoying the food at a beautiful farm as we looked out over the desert and the pyramids of Sakkara.
After our break we left the greenery behind and rode into the desert we had admired during our meal. The open space seemed to call to the horses and they became bouncy and excited. We waited for the signal from Walid, our guide, and once that was given we were flying through the desert within seconds. Surrounded by sand and dunes and with the skyline of the outskirts of Cairo in the distance, the fast paced adventure through the desert was one of the highlights of the trip.
In addition to running the farm and the various activities that are available, Gabbani also set up a Rural Wellness Initiative, together with a local vet. Some of her grooms are trained and once a week they set out to other farms offering basic veterinary aid for free. In the majority of cases, these farms would not be able to afford the kind of veterinary care they need but through this initiative their animals are now receiving the needed treatment.
Al Sorat Farm is also a safe haven for animals that would have nowhere else to go. Gabbani explained that the wellbeing of both the animals and the people who work for her are her priorities. She pays her staff well, tries to educate them and their children and looks after all the animals under her care, simply because she believes that is how it should be.
Having enjoyed such a wonderful day we wanted to tip our guides before we left, but Al Sorat Farm does not accept tips and instead Gabbani asked us to donate our tips to the veterinary project.
Al Sorat Farm is a sanctuary of peace, joy and honesty. It is enjoyable for anyone with a love for animals and the outdoors, whether you are a tourist passing through, or a resident looking for an escape from Cairo. More information about Al Sorat can be found on their website http://www.alsorat.com