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Jack Bettridge

Travelling Through Egypt

Posted: Apr 17, 2007 1:50pm ET
Day Two: In a Cairo Smoking Lounge

Imagine an open air bar with tarps for ceilings (sort of like the ones they use for Connecticut shade tobacco). Divans are everywhere, with patrons lying out and smoking from hookahs. It’s sort of the same mental image you get from the phrase opium den, but everyone’s smoking tobacco—flavored tobacco, but tobacco nonetheless.

A waiter comes and gives you a pallet of different tastes, most of which are fruity—cherry, apricot, orange—with some vanilla and spice choices as well. There’s also something labeled with Arabic characters that the waiter pronounces as “ass” and another one called “ass Africa.” For obvious reasons, I pass on those. In my group we order a combination of the above flavors not prefaced with “ass” and the smokemaster arrives to light the pipes. He does this with a chunk of lit charcoal, removing the mouthpiece from the hose so he can fire up your tobacco and hand you it to start puffing.

The smoke is quite mild and easy to inhale due to the cooling effect of the water in the hookah. Mainly, the fruit flavor comes through, which is quite insipid, but I don’t mention this as I don’t want to seem the ugly American. Best shuffle off and enjoy a cigar elsewhere.

Day Three: Aswan

The answer to my earlier question about whether you could smoke in an ancient Egyptian temple is no, but you can come right up to the door with a cigar. Also, vendors selling everything from robes to hookahs to turbans and skull caps can hound you right up to the door of the temple.

Day Four: Edfu

The ceiling of the Temple of Horus is charred with smoke, and naturally I get blamed:

“No, I didn’t have a cigar, honey.”

“Then why is the ceiling all black?”

“How do I know? Maybe some kid went nuts with a Magic Marker.”

Basem, our knowledgeable guide, steps in to explain that it happened centuries ago when the local people decided to use the temple as shelter. They built their fires right on the floor to cook their meals.

Apparently the smoking laws then were even laxer in Egypt. The point is I get off the hook. I sure could go for a corona gorda, though.


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