We welcome you to Egypt through our eyes!

By Mark A. Rayner and Gwen C. Goodman

The beginning... Ternopil, Ukraine

All aboard!

21 December, 2000

This adventure all began two hours before we boarded the train from Ternopil, Ukraine to Budapest, Hungary.  For some unknown reason, we could only purchase tickets for this train two hours prior to its departure (saying a prayer there's still seats left never hurts either).  Our prayer obviously didn't work; the train was sold out to Budapest.  Luckily my Ukrainian friend "Tully" arrived to help us discover available  seats on the Ternopil - Chop train (a different train, but what the heck).  Chop is located on the border of Hungary and Ukraine; we could change trains there and continue to Budapest.

No problem… We arrive in Chop and after a bit of confusion as to what train we were supposed to transfer to, we wind up sitting in the corner of a fridged station café sipping hot tea.  Of course we discuss how we must have luck on our side after the Ternopil Vokzal (train station) near disaster.  After people-watching some pretty strange characters for an hour or so, our train arrives and we board the international car bound for Budapest.  The train ride was quite interesting and will never be forgotten by Gwen nor I.  Anyway, we arrived at Budapest in the afternoon; I don’t recollect the exact time. 

Don't stop reading now!  It's just getting good!  Believe me this luck can't hold forever.

Budapest, Hungary

Arrival In Budapest

22-December, 2000

First things first, we're fresh off the train and in dire need of somewhere to crash and bathe for the night. The Marco Polo Hostel was just down the street from the station. This "hostel" is a three star hotel in disguise!  It defiantly looked out of our price range.  At 7,900 forints each (about 30 bucks each) we said, no way.  The cool gal working the counter agreed to give us beds for 3,500 forints each since it was “of season”.  For very clean rooms and breakfast in the morning, we agreed and dumped our packs.  By now it was evening and the temperature was about 20F and falling as we ventured out to discover a Christmas festival. 

Christmas Festival

We headed into the shopping district just down the street from the hostel.   Being the night before Christmas, the street festivities had begun and we found ourselves watching a children’s Christmas play in the center.  This youthful entertainment only lasted until the whiff of hot cider and sausages could no longer be ignored. We don't get these kinds of good eats in Ukraine. It wasn't long 'til the temperature was nippin' at our noses and driving us back to our hostel though.  This sure was good for local business, considering we dove into every shop on the way home to suck up some warmth.  Travel tip: If you are looking for chocolate covered cherries without brandy, don't shop around Budapest. 

Out and about Budapest

In the morning we grabbed our “Budapest In Your Pocket” (a small city guide that many European cities now have) and hit the streets and sights of Budapest.  We visited the Budapest Citadella and purchased some postcards and old Hungarian and Polish coins.  The Citadella was constructed in 1854 and apparently was “the most despised structure in the city”.  Austrians constructed this great fortress atop of Gellert Hill, which overlooks the entire city, to keep and eye and thumb on the Hungarians.  Eventually the Hungarians overtook the fortress and broke down large sections of the wall to insure its vacancy.  From that time forth it's been under the control of Hungary.  Now it harbors a hotel, restaurant, several monuments to the Red Army, and even a disco… Way to go Hungary! 

From there we went on to stroll the corridors and streets of The Royal Palace and Market Square, where I purchased some world famous Hungarian paprika.  The original Royal Palace was destroyed.  Then it was rebuilt.  Then the Turks neglected it.  Then it was reconstructed.  But, now there’s no royalty left.  Nevertheless, it stands as a glorious reminder of Hungary's heritage and has since been turned it into several historical museums.

All and all, I found Budapest to be a beautiful city with warm friendly people and great food!  A definite “must see” for a tourist of the former soviet block.  I know I want to go back someday.  Poland used to be my favorite country, but Hungary sure makes it hard to hold to that.  Hungary has come a long way and will get its just reward through inclusion in the EU in 2004 along with Poland and Czech Republic.

The next day arrives… we knew that the plane to Cairo, Egypt left at 3:55pm according to my typed up schedule... actually, knowing this was a bit like knowing nothing at all!  Read about the "Budapest Airport Fiasco" below.

The Budapest Metro

Easy as goulash!  Although the ticket machines weren't exactly operable, finding the ticket counter and getting a ticket was easy and the system was clearly laid out.

Budapest Airport Fiasco

23 December, 2000

We arrived at the Airport at 3:00pm… and this is the true beginning to our adventure!

Ok, I was fussing with my backpack and Gwen enquired about our tickets at the check-in window, where supposedly they were awaiting our arrival.  The Tarom Airlines woman (whoever she was) said we would have to go to the Tarom office and get the tickets, as she continued to board people for our flight.

The office was closed, I went to back to the desk and she told me that it really doesn't matter, our flight was “closed”!  What was this "closed" thing she spoke of?  How could it be closed so soon?!  She told me, “Simple, the plane was on the airstrip and we were not on it!”  Thanks for the info (B!#<*!)!  Was there anything that could be done? I asked.  She said I could enjoy a great Hungarian Christmas.  I know humor when I hear it and this woman really was not funny at all!

The next 30 minutes we sat our sorry butts outside the Tarom office seeking divine guidance, or something close to a miracle (ok, neither of us really deserved any favor of the divine nature... we wondered if crying would help though).  Could someone actually turn the plane around?  Would it be possible to hijack a jeep, race after the plane, and board through the wheel compartment like Bruce Willis?  As person after person passed the office door we were loosing all hope of ever seeing  Egypt's monuments of splendor.  Finally a man comes and opens the door.  We pour out our story as he listens with the compassion of a prison guard on the Green Mile. We were pathetic…we were desperate…we were going to Egypt if we had to walk!

The man could not understand why the woman didn’t let us aboard since she had the tickets. WHAT, she had the tickets!  Apparently she forgot that she had the tickets all along.  Now Tarom thought a sorry would be good enough!?

So, we march (we’re marching) to the counter.  I proceed to take control of the conversation with the finesse of a crocodile at a buffalo crossing.  The check-in woman and her friends stated that she had never seen us before and had no idea what I was talking about.  After severely crippling her Hungarian feelings, it appears that I was chewing on the wrong butt.  She was not the first woman that Gwen talked to, and I was ripping into this poor woman for what appeared to be no reason.  But, it wasn’t all my fault!! Really!  Gwen talked to the first woman at 5 minutes after 3pm and I asked this woman if she was the woman that was here at that time and she said, “yes”.  Clearly the entire problem was that she was lying!  She was late for work and was lying about when she was there (or something).  If she was there at 5 after 3pm then she deserved to get yelled at for not giving us our tickets.  If she wasn’t there at that time, then I would say I was sorry.  But, she kept insisting that she was there at that time, when she clearly wasn’t, or she would know what I was talking about.  I stated, “You were here at 3pm sharp and yet somehow you are not the person we talked with… you are either brainless or just lying!”  She finally asked if I said that she was lying.  (By this time I was in rare form)  I grabbed my chin, tilted my head gently to the side, and said, “let me think for a minute… YES YOU ARE! She said that our conversation was over!  I agreed and left.

We went back to the Tarom office and in walks a woman (whom would soon become our savior…or so we thought)  We gave her a brief explanation of current events and she looks on the computer to discover a flight from Malta to Cairo first thing in the morning.  If that wasn’t enough, she calls someone at Vista Airtickets who agrees to refund our tickets and pay for the new ones.  We get the new tickets.  That night was spent in the Airport (I decided to stay up all night so we did not miss the new flight at 5am).  We wrote a thank you letter during the night and slipped it under Tarom’s door.

After we arrived in Egypt we e-mailed Vista Airtickets to confirm Tarom’s agreement.  Vista told us that they cold not honor this agreement.  Or, in other words Tarom’s agreement was BS!  We were taken for $300 bucks each for new tickets and there was nothing Vista was willing or able to do for us!  First and foremost we blame Vista Airtickets because, bottom line, we were at the airport to pick up the tickets in time to board the plane and they failed to put them in responsible hands to get them to us.  Secondly, we blame Tarom because they backed out on our agreement, and secondly because they are a Romanian airline and that country sucks (or so I hear from a reliable source).

Intro To Egypt

Population:

60 million

Berbers, Bedouins, Nubians, and some Egyptians... and two less Americans.

 

Welcome to Alaska!  

Cairo summers 100ºF to winters 68ºF-"Welcome to Alaska" 

Money exchange rate:

US$1 = Egyptian £3.70

    (and still fluctuating)

 

Geography:

Bordered by Libya, Sudan, Israel, Red and Mediterranean Seas.    

Perpetual President:

Mubarak - on his 3rd term, going on his 4th.

Religion:

90% Islam, 7% Christian

(see Ramadan)

Language:

Officially Arabic; although, Egyptian Arabic and English are common on the streets. 

Air Quality:

Like smoking a pack of cigarettes a day

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cairo, Upper Egypt

Arrival at Cairo Airport

24 December, 2000

Upon arrival in Cairo, let's just say, we witnessed for the first time the mass confusion and disorganization which feeds the fire that drives Egypt's seemingly haphazard efficiency.  Men greet every flight with machine guns politely funneling new arrivals down the correct crammed corridors.  We knew we had to buy visas here somewhere (apparently so did everyone else).  First you pass by several bank kiosks (rumored to have visas).  We stand in line at the first one and change some money and buy our visas (which appear to be nothing more than postage stamps) in one swoop.  By now the “passport check” line had backed up to us.  What a line it was!  People were holding passports from every corner of the globe chattering away like a UN conference.  Many sorry soles didn’t purchase visas and were turned back to the bank kiosks.  This helped greatly in the steady progression of the line.  We’re up next… with our entry stamp and a “Welcome to Egypt” (the first of thousands to follow) we had made it to Egypt!  Our baggage was waiting for us just down the hall and we exited the airport to witness the desertscape of Cairo firsthand.

Bound and determined not to be taken victim by the notorious stories of foreigners being steered from the airport toward unwanted experiences, we headed off to find a map.  While I was wandering aimlessly trying to locate a map (not easily found in Egypt) Gwen hooked us up with a driver who already had several gals from England and New Zealand under his enchantment.  As we sat on his minibus, the four of them seemed a bit more confident about their fate at the “hotel” this guy was carting us off to than either of us.

It was about a 20-minute ride to “the hotel”.  This place was located deep inside Egyptian culture.  Every major city has this kind of district; you know… the district which appears the city government forgot about decades ago.  That’s where our shanty “New Palace Hotel” was located.

The First Night and Hotel: The “New Palace Hotel”

24 December, 2000

The New Palace Hotel... Its name reminded me of a shopping center that went up near my home in California.  This connection may seem unusual but, the shopping center goes by the name of "Timber Hill"; however there is no timber or a hill once you get there.  This hotel was neither "new" nor had any loose resemblance to a "palace".  As we were escorted to the sixth floor, it was clearly apparent this is not where we wanted to be.  We were greeted at a dingy reception desk by a rag-tag staff of well-worn Egyptians all mesmerized by some Egyptian TV soap opera (Egyptians love their soaps!).  We asked to see the “rooms” and the facilities.  For the women, a scarcely operable shower with warm water and a toilet which flushed.  For the men… no warm water or operable shower, and the toilet did little more than make interesting noises.  Our room consisted of  beds (neither of us wanted to sleep in) and a dresser.  I was not good with this place!  Anyway, we were tired and it was late so we agreed to stay the night.

Now we had a hotel (and I use that word loosely), next it was off to meet the people.  We found it quite easy to make purchases on the streets.  However, finding something to eat that appeared both safe and appetizing is another story.   In our aimless wonderings of back street shops, bazaars, and food peddlers on donkey pulled carts, we discovered several things which every casual visitor to Egypt soon discovers:  

1)      Stoplights don’t work well, if at all.

2)      Drivers don’t really care if they work or not.

3)      Drivers don’t have time to worry about your life; actually, I believe they have special windshield glass in which the human form appears invisible.

4)      Headlights are optional.

5)      Traffic lanes don't exist (ever heard of three-way streets?).

6)      Watching foreigners cross Egyptian streets developed into the video game “Frogger”. 

 


Gwen's comments: What Mark doesn't want you to know is that his unfailing sense of direction failed miserably. We were lost and going in circles for hours while not minutes from our hotel. The streets were crazy. Every person in Cairo was out and about for Ramadan. I thought the Ukrainian bazaar on a weekend was crazy!

Mark's rebut: I wasn't lost, just a bit unfamiliar with the most direct route back.


Eventually we were able to find our hotel again and were offered a “welcome drink” on the roof by a well seasoned hotel manager (hibiscus tea is very common here).  I figured this is where they poisoned us and threw us off the roof for fun.  He was only trying to sell us some “package trip” that neither of us wanted.  At this time we both looked at each other and non-verbally agreed that we would pack-up and head out in search for sandier deserts first thing in the morning.

The First Hostel

25 December, 2000

In the morning we hit the streets fully loaded and not a clue as to where we were, but we knew where we wanted to be.  We used universal sign language to scrounge up some falafels while we planned our strategy.  I stopped this old man, or maybe he stopped me... I don't remember; anyway, we chatted for a bit.  Apparently he worked for some newspaper for 40 years and really couldn't give us directions.  He stopped some other guy who knew exactly where we wanted to go.  He wrote the directions in Egyptian on a piece of paper and told us to show this to a taxi driver.  I could only hope it didn't say, "take them for all they are worth and dump them in a river".  Ok, a bit harsh, but I didn't trust this culture yet.  Anyway, we showed it to a taxi driver and he took us straight there.  This was the first time we saw the Nile with our own eyes.  I remember hearing so much about it, but just like the pyramids, it just means so much more when you are there to see it in all its grandeur.

This was, relatively speaking, a beautiful part of town.  Now this was Cairo!  I finally felt like I was somewhere.  The Nile Valley is beautiful and lush.  Palm trees and sugarcane abound.  Our hostel the “HI Manial Youth Hostel” was in fact no “hostel” at all though.  They had no smiling college students behind the counter eager to answer our every question.  They had no recreation room. They couldn’t even give us a map of the area.  I don’t know what the minimum standards for hostels are, but I’ve stayed in my share and this is the worst by far, but it was overlooking the Nile and served breakfast (what did we expect?).  My room was ok.  Gwen's room came equipped with dead cockroaches in the shower...ok, so it wasn't the Hilton, but the sheets appeared clean and the toilets and hot water worked.  For two nights, it would work (of course Gwen's friends in the shower had to go).

The Nile River

Ever since a university course in Egyptian Art I wondered if I would ever have the opportunity to gaze upon the River Nile.  Now I'm here at the river solely responsible for nurturing one of the oldest and most noteworthy civilizations of all time.  The water was much clearer and inviting than the murky silted pictures in my head.  Of course I consulted Lonely Planet to discover the hot swimming spots.  Here is what I discovered:

Bilharzia!!!

"Schistosomiasis, more commonly known as bilharzia, is a frighteningly debilitating disease carried in fresh water by minute worms.  The worm enters through your skin and attaches itself to your intestines or bladder.  The first symptom may be a general feeling of being unwell, or a tingling and sometimes a light rash around the area where it entered.  Weeks later a high fever may develop.  Once the disease is established (great it's not even established yet!), abdominal pain and blood in the urine are other signs.  The infection often causes no symptoms until the disease is well established (several months to years after exposure) and damage to internal organs is irreversible.

It's prevalent in the Nile Delta area and in the Nile Valley.  To be on the safe side, do not drink, wash, paddle or even stand in water except swimming pools.  Above all do not swim in the Nile." 

Gwen's comment: This little piece of knowledge wasn't brought to either of our attentions til much later during a bored moment of flipping through our Lonely Planet book.  Meanwhile, as we went across the Nile on a river taxi, Mark thought it would be cool if we both got a bit of the water which was so important to the Egyptian civilization on our persons. Hmmmm .... thanks buddy. 

Great, nothing like worms boring through my skin and having a party in my abdomen for years before I even realize it! Lonely Planet has steered use the wrong direction more than once, but I think we'll take their word for it on this one.  We were left wondering about the water in the showers and the tea for that fact... this trip could be more interesting than we bargained for!     

The Egypt Museum & The Royal Mummies Hall

25 December, 2000

 The Egypt Museum is located in downtown Cairo in the shadow of the “Nile Hilton Hotel”.  You are allowed to see the artifacts in the yard free of charge.  Once inside the museum you can pay for a "tour guide" who's simply versed on several items and rushes you through so he can pick up another paying group of tourons (tourist + moron) or you can go at it on your own.  If you go at it on your own, you really are on your own!  There is no interpretation on any but a few objects.  When you find an interpretive placard it will say, "this is a small cat alongside a pharaoh."  Gee, I couldn't figure that out!  What does the cat symbolize?  Who is the pharaoh?  Who is the first grader that made this sign?  We were left wondering if many of the pieces had any significance at all.  Then we run into a couple of placards that actually read, "The hieroglyphics on this item are of no significance to the visitor."  What?  Why don't they translate it and let me decide that?  Personally I don't think they know what it says either.

There seems to be no actual guidebook to walk you through the museum in any organized fashion.  This place was actually a warehouse more than a museum. Apparently a great deal of the artifacts are arbitrarily placed about the museum.  I’m no expert on the subject; however, I know a bit about this from Art History class and there is no reason to display Roman stuff in a corridor of the “Old Kingdom”.  Greece didn’t even know of them for several more dynasties, let alone the Romans who came later.  The museum really needs some organization and TLC.  I almost went out and bought them a duster for the stuff and some window cleaner for the glass cases.

What about the big signs everywhere that read "No Flash" and "Do Not Touch"?  Everyone was using a flash and nobody but us seemed to care (Gwen verbally reminded many of them of this fact).  We watched one of the museum curators as he leaned on a statue and one of the workers was actually taking her nap in the lap of another.  Now that's setting a good example!

The Tut exhibit appears to be the crown jewel of the place.  It is well laid out and the signage actually provided us with useful information.  The collection is the most complete exhibit in the museum, except Tut himself seems to be alone in a museum somewhere in England.  Way to go Brits... let's bring it home, huh?

I am glad I got to see this place, but I wish a responsible organization would look after these treasures of the world.

 *Editorial comment: Somehow I wish that we didn't dig up everything we could make a buck on and place it in some museum.  This place could be called "cemetery on display".  People are strange!  What fascinates us about seeing dead people, I offer no answers.  I am willing to bet that thousands of people who visit this place are the same people that are tired of all the killing on movies today.  I wonder what's more morbid: paying to see real dead people or paying to see Hollywood's fake blood and death.  I also wonder how the visitors here would feel if one of the mummies were their great grandparents.  Yes, people are strange... and yes, I paid to see the dead people myself.

Gwen's comment: In fact, mister holier than thou, took pictures of these poor unfortunate dead souls. He was infinitely sneaky about it. Though I was happy he at least didn't use a flash or I'd have had to go postal on him like I did on some other museum goers. However, the pictures did turn out very well and grossed out my English class back in Ukraine. 

The Royal Mummies Hall

Unless you are really into dried up crusty faces, I suggest you skip spending the cash on this one!  They charge more to see this than the entire museum and all the mummies are covered up in sheets with no photos allowed...  something to do with respect for the dead.  If they really respected these bodies they would put the suckers back in their sarcophaguses and seal 'em up!  In my opinion they are just someone's dead relatives and should be put back where their families buried them!  It really is ironic how they talk about these pharos being preserved in a way that they could outlast time itself.  If the air conditioning in that room went down for several days they would be gone forever!  This "room" is not worth the price charged. 

Christmas Dinner: “Applebee’s”

25 December, 2000

Who would ever have thought there would be an actual “Applebee’s Restaurant” in Cairo.  To top it off… it’s a floating restaurant aboard a ship on the Nile.  I did promise Gwen a Christmas dinner and after two years away from western restraints like this, I couldn't think of anything more perfect!

Gwen's comment: Applebees is one of my favorite restaurants. It was an absolutely perfect Christmas dinner, topped off with New York cheese cake. I am slobbering over myself remembering it. By the way, no matter how many Ukrainians try to tell you that the dessert called a tort is the same as cake, they are sadly mistaken. I may have gotten a little side tracked there.


Out & About in Egypt Gwen Goodman's perspective 

TAXI or Indy 500?

By Gwen C. Goodman

I have been coerced into detailing our adventures while using Egyptian taxis.  On our second to last day in Egypt before catching our plane back to good ‘ole Ukraine we decided to go to this Western style grocery store we had passed on our way to the pyramids the first time we visited Cairo.  Mark and I have a love, one might even call it, a passion, for American junk-food cuisine.  We waded through the copious quantities of food we couldn’t identify to get to the hidden gems like Kraft Mac and cheese, Betty Crocker frosting, graham crackers, Cheese Its, etc.  Heaven can be found in an Egyptian shopping mall!   I didn’t mind the extra bag I had to purchase to hall all my goodies back to Poltava. However, Mark lives nearer to the West than I do.  I am practically in Russia.  At his bazaar today I noticed they had Tang, Cheerios, cream cheese, pepperjack cheese, and a very good HoHo imitation.  He doesn’t know how good he has it.  Anyway, you’re wondering where the taxi comes into this.

*Mark's remark: it really doesn't matter what country your are in... things are always the best in the West!

Well, on the way back we got into a taxi that was going to charge us a very reasonable price to get back to the center of Cairo. In my opinion our lives are worth much more than the 10 Egyptian pounds we paid, but who am I to say?  That man was a certified Indy racecar driver in disguise. As Mark put it, “imagine the five most terrifying roller coaster rides you’ve ever been on and then roll them all into one wild ride.” We huddled in the backseat trying not to wet ourselves and making stupid comments to each other to keep laughing rather than crying. We honestly thought we would never see Ukraine again, and at that moment, even if it was Ukraine, I really wanted to get back there safely. The racecar driver wove in and out of heavy traffic at breakneck speeds, using his breaks and turn signals in a very sparing manner. He was whistling to himself and seemingly enjoyed seeing the terror on our faces reflected back to him in his rearview mirror. He increased his speed and rate of cursing at other crazy drivers from his open window. When we, somehow, made it to our destination safe, if not mentally sound, I was ready to kiss the ground, cliché factor be damned. Driving is a privilege people, not a right. Remember that!

WE'RE EATING WHAT?

By Gwen C. Goodman

Street Food. If you were wondering, yes, camel is quite tasty. It isn’t just your desert beast of burden any more, it can also be served as a main course.  It’s called Kofta. It’s a kind of shish kabob thing. The meat is very tender and kind of melts in your mouth. Both Mark and I liked it and ordered it often knowing it may be the last time we would ever taste it. Eating off the street like an Egyptian didn’t prove to be as a scary as we had been led to believe. I only was in serious intestinal distress for half a day (See the trip Mark made to the Monastery in Aswan) and rested in the hotel. Apparently I didn’t miss much on that little excursion.  We ate falafel, which I am still unclear exactly what that means. My interpretation:  some weird green fried up paste stuff crammed into a pita pocket with some vegetables. It was much cheaper eating a 20-cent falafel for lunch than a special touron dinner which consisted of Western food prepared using mineral water not tap water. I admit I was worried about getting those much dreaded of all intestinal problems: Nile worms that grow to maturity in your gut and then burrow out through your stomach.  I think we are okay, but then again I don’t know the life cycle of that particular parasite. We may not be out of the woods yet. I suppose it would be a quick an easy diet for me, though! I could eat bigger portions of all my favorite deserts. Half for me and half for my worm friend. Eating in Egypt was an adventure in-and-of-itself.

NOW THAT'S "BAZAAR"

By Gwen C. Goodman

The Bazaar.  Okay, you may have read about the Ukrainian bazaar in Mark’s or my newsletters home.  Different, very different.  The bazaars in Egypt can be classified into two sections: the tourist  and the average Joe shopping extravaganza.  The average Egyptian’s shopping is what one would expect.  Wading through tons of everyday household stuff.  Nothing so unusual, except for the dirt factor.  Egypt, especially Cairo is unbelievably dirty. In fact, the banks of the Nile are shored up with garbage.  Hey, I guess that counts as a form of erosion control, right?  At one point we were literally wading in garbage up to our knees in the center of the bazaar.  The tourist bazaar is a bit cleaner.  Don’t want to scare away the rich, retirement age shoppers, do we?  Everything was a haggle.  Quite literally.  No prices on anything.  You have to decide what you think the object you would like to purchase is worth and what you would like to and are willing to spend on it.  Give the shop owner a price much lower than the one you are eventually ready to pay.  Then the fun begins.  The shop worker acts hurt that you would so lowball his quality merchandise.  Then, together, you work your way up to a more reasonable price.  If the price gets too high just start to walk away.  Say you’ll get it at another shop for the price you want to pay.  That usually tells the shop guy to give it to you for the price you’re asking.  After all, the stuff was probably made in a sweatshop for ¼ the price you paid.  He’s still making a good profit.           

I have been to Turkey, and so I was somewhat prepared for haggling, which didn’t make me like it anymore, but the helpless feeling was gone.  As Americans, most of us have lost the haggling gene.  I had to re-remember how the system works.  In Istanbul, the shop people are really rude.  I mean, it can be called sexual harassment there.  The Turkish shop guys will offer to take the price down for sexual favors.  They can get pretty graphic in their remarks.  I was very much relieved to find that Egyptian men, on the whole, are not like that.  One Egyptian shop owner tried a mild form of that and was severely reprimanded.  I was haggling for a book about Egypt.  Mark had a similar book and he paid the reasonable price of 25 pounds for it.  The man said that he would give the book to me if I gave him 20 pounds and a kiss.  The book was thrown and a fine show of storming out of  the shop was enacted.  He apologized profusely and said I reminded him of his little sister.  Ah ha.  He offered the book for 20 without a kiss, but it was the principle of the matter and I left.           

At one time we decided we wanted to try to get a more significant Egyptian souvenir than the stupid scarab beetle paperweight that I had already been conned into buying.  Solution?  Camelhair hand woven carpets.  Excellent. We went into a shop and I watched a New-Russian mafia-type guy finish up his haggling for a normal-sized carpet.  The Ruski proudly left with his rolled-up carpet under his arm after paying a mere 100 pounds.  The shop guy turned on me like a piranha that smells blood.  I told him I was just looking because I did not have a hundred pounds to spend like his last customer.  He promptly told me he could tell I was a student and didn’t have as much money as that rich Russian guy so he’d cut me a special deal.  I could have it for 30 pounds.  I haggled it down to 15.  What is this crap really worth anyway?

...end Gwen's section


The Train Station: Getting Tickets to Aswan

First things first, I guess this is a good time to introduce you to the thing called "BAKSHEESH".  Lonely Planet states baksheesh as:

 "Tipping in Egypt is called 'baksheesh', although it is more than just a reward for services rendered.... For travelers who are not used to continual tipping, demands for baksheesh for doing anything from opening doors to pointing out the obvious in museums can be quite irritating."

You bet it is!!  Baksheesh should not be encouraged in this travelers eyes.  It's merely a way of stealing your money without pick-pocketing.  If you enter a bathroom you have to pay baksheesh to some kid who turns on the water so you can wash your hands... I think I could have handled that.  If you are required to leave your camera at the front desk of a museum they ask for baksheesh when you pick it up... now I have to tip for mandatory service!  That is not a tip!  There will be plenty more examples of absurd baksheesh behavior throughout this work.  Let me state that unless you were given "genuine service" or will require help from this person in the future, simply say, "NO!" and walk off.  Baksheesh is not mandatory or enforceable.  In other words...if you are confused as to why you are paying or are annoyed by the person than don't pay anything!

I read about "baksheesh" in Lonely Planet, but somehow I really didn't think it was this bad.  We went to the train station two days in advance to get our tickets to Aswan.  I figured the easiest way to get tickets was to go to the "Tourist Information" office.  In a way it was a good thing, but a bit confusing to begin through end.  First a guy told us that there were no more seats and he said that he could get us on for 80 pounds each (interesting, after just stating that there were no more seats).  This was way over the price!  We were walking away and some "Tourist Police" guy walked up and said he would help us.  So he helps us get the tickets for 50 pounds and explains the ticket to us.  As we were happily walking away, he stops us and softly says "baksheesh".  Gwen was a bit confused, but I had read about this word.  Here was a policeman asking me for a tip!  So I went to give him a 1-pound tip and he says, "how about 10 pounds".  Egyptians really must have big...  I figured it was better to fall prey to this guy, rather than have all his police friends have a grudge against me, so I paid it.  Actually, the people in front of us at the ticket counter were foreigners making a go at it without any "help" and ended up paying 20 more pounds each for tickets, so we were still ahead after the baksheesh.

Day tripping to Giza and Saqqara

27 December, 2000

“Intro to Egyptian Taxi 101”…  Beware of the jester in a cab!  Words we should have thought about while trying to get to the Giza Pyramids and Saqqara.  After tiresomely haggling our way through several taxi guys (they tend to be in cahoots with each other when they're in a group) we decided to look elsewhere for a taxi.  We run into this “taxi driver” who offers to take us to Giza and Saqqara for 70pounds (30 less than everyone else, and there is a reason for this).  After listening to his stories of having to support his family (which we were showed pictures of) we were getting a bit tired of his speech and wished he would just shut-up and drive.

As we reached the Pyramids in Giza he pulls some crap about having to visit “his museum”.  We know he just wants to get commission for bringing us there and we flatly refuse.  This really doesn’t make him happy.  After about his 1000th plea that, “I just want you to understand me, I am not trying to take your money I am an honest man” we were ready to jump from the car in fear of an eternal headache.  At one point he offered to do this whole thing free if we were not “happy” with him.  (I would pay him double to shut-up and drive)  As we approached the gates of the Giza Pyramids he states, “ the road is closed right now, we should go to Saqqara first.”  Whatever… we're going to Saqqara first!  After about a 15 minute drive (and a thousand more pleas of “I just want you to understand me…”) we finally arrive at Saqqara and Zoser’s Step Pyramid.  I make it clear that we want him to wait and we will be back in about an hour so he can take us back to Giza Pyramids—he agrees.  (see the next section “Zoser Step Pyramid” for details of this stop)

Well, he was still there in the parking lot when we returned, so we reboarded his “taxi” bound for Giza.  At this point he informs us, "now it is too late, he will not be able to return us to Cairo at the end of the day."  What the hell was he pulling now!  This was unacceptable!  But, fact is fact, he was not going to take us back.  Time to renegotiate the price!  We demand that he takes 20pounds off the price we would pay him.  He said only 10pounds.  We argue to no avail and he dumps us out in the middle of some village a distance from the pyramids explaining that we had to simply follow the street to a back entrance to the pyramids. We ended up trekking through a village with a hundred kids asking for baksheesh to show us the way to the pyramids.

With no idea where the actual entrance to the pyramids was, we walked for about 20 minutes in the general direction of them.  We ended up walking up some hill to the back of the plateau.  Somehow we avoided paying the entrance fee, which made up for the screw job we just got by our friendly taxi driver. (see “The Giza Plateau: Sphinx and Pyramids” section for details on this stop)

Zoser Step Pyramid

27 December, 2000

Here we stood at the foot of the pyramid that started it all.  It was the first pyramid structure ever constructed and it still stands in all of its glory.  I can’t even imagine what was going through architect Imhotep’s mind when he thought about piling these massive stones up.  The entire pyramid concept was his idea; King Zoser's surely must have been proud.

 It’s all fun and games ‘til… that’s right! ‘Til Zoser's Step Pyramid is disassembled, fragment of ancient stone by fragment of ancient stone.  It appears as though Egypt’s forefathers' unprecedented and enduring pyramids are crumbling down in a childhood game of “throw stones off the pyramid”.  Build to outlast the forces of time itself; Imhotep skillfully designed this work of inspiring wonder, however he obviously underestimated the mischievous, unsupervised, and destructive forces of modern Egyptian children!  It actually, pissed me off that I couldn’t touch it because I was a foreigner, but somehow it was alright for local kids to climb all over it and toss stones off of it, all day, everyday!

The Giza Plateau: Sphinx and Pyramids

27 December, 2000

Sneakin’ in the back will save you a bundle!  After the screw job of our “taxi” driver (see “Tripping to Giza and Saqqara” for details), we stumbled into some back access road to the Plateau where the Pyramids and Sphinx are.  At first I thought it was strange that nobody was charging an entrance fee, but whatever… we’re here and it was free! 

Many books talk about the pyramids being on the Giza Plateau.  This simply means that they are built on the highest part of town.  It's a short and easy walk up to them from town.  And the rumor about a McDonalds being there is untrue.  However, after centuries of gazing over the open desert, one could only imagine what the Sphinx thinks about peering  into eyes of a two-story combo KFC and Pizza Hut now.

We walk around the pyramids for awhile (actually trying to find a bathroom which doesn’t exist). And head down the hill toward the Sphinx. 

As we approach the back of the Sphinx, I remember thinking, "is that it?"  This thing was not the colossal beast I imagined it to be.  Next to the pyramids it stood rather small.  I read about El Capitan in Yosemite Valley and when I first stood in its presence I was in awe.  When I stood in the presence of the Sphinx all I could think is that it really wasn't that big.  Although nobody really offers a factual meaning to the Sphinx's significance, and even though it really isn't that huge, it still is a very prominently impressive monument to ancient civilization.  Its beard was shot off by either Napoleon or the Turks and now rests in a British Museum (probably propped up against Tut).  Its nose was not so lucky and now rests as rubble in the desert sand.

The Great Pyramids, consisting of Cheops, Chephren, and Mycerinus, are truly wonders of the world.  Still today they hold there secret of exactly what they were built for and how they were built.  They obviously don’t hold much more since supposedly all of their contents have been stolen and the rest lay in museums around the world.  The outside polished limestones were all stripped off to build mosques up until sometime in the 1800’s. All that remains of the limestone is a small cap on the tip of Cheops.

These are truly incredible reminders of human ability, ingenuity, and religious conviction.  Even if they were built by slaves.   

Sphinx Sound and Light Show

27 December, 2000

We didn’t have to catch our train ‘til late so we decided to stick around and see what this Sound and Light thing was all about.  As dusk fell upon us we entered the arena of seating placed before the sphinx.  All was dark and only faint outlines of the pyramids and sphinx were recognizable, when all of a sudden... lights, lasers, and song fell upon the ancient structures!  Hollywood meets the Sphinx in this interpretive venture into the history of the pyramids told by the sphinx itself.  This was a laser light interpretive extravaganza both Tilden and Disney would be proud of!

Gwen's comment: Mark makes it sound much more interesting then it really was. I mean, after all, he slept through half of it. At least he doesn't snore. He's not particularly good at just sitting still. I found the show to be pretty overdone and cheesy. Big booming Shakespeareanesque voices filled the air and told us the history of the pyramids. Not many interesting or unusual facts were included that a child didn't learn in school. I had a much better time eating at Pizza Hut and watching the sunset over the pyramids earlier that day. Mark, the amateur photographer with his fancy looking but really crappy Ukrainian camera, took a beautiful picture of the sunset.

The Cairo Metro

This is a short story… I hear this is the only subway system in Africa.  If they are planning on tourists supporting it, this may be the last metro in Africa.  We entered a Metro station found no map or layout of the system.  We couldn’t figure out where to purchase the tickets.  With a quick “throwin’ in of the towel”… we gave up on this one and took a taxi.

Egyptian Train: 1st Class

27 December, 2000

A First Class car gets you a comfortable reclining seat in a surprisingly clean car.  If they help you find your seat or put your bags above you will be asked to pay baksheesh for something you could simply do yourself.

The meals are not included in the price of the ticket, no matter what Lonely Planet says.  For 10 pounds extra on the train you get a stale roll and fruit, defiantly not worth it.  It's a good thing we are used to Ukrainian travel and packed enough food for the travel.  In the morning you will be offered coffee, tea, or a roll.  They told me it was free (it was a bit naive on my part to believe that!).  A half hour later he came back to get the glass and collect 5pounds.  You could buy 5 kilograms of tea for 5 pounds!  

Follow us to Lower Egypt, where I will introduce you to Egypt's month long celebration!  Do you know what it is?

Aswan, Lower Egypt

“Hathor Hotel”

28 December, 2000

After Cairo's scanty accommodations we really wanted something better.  We moved up to a $10 a night place...oooooh!  It really was nice.  We were right on the Nile, the rooms were very clean, and everything worked!  The rooms also overlooked the Nile.  There was a roof terrace with lounge chairs and a swimming pool, the water was a bit too cold to enjoy though.  Breakfast was also included in the price of the room.

We decided it was time to get some laundry cleaned, I should say, the laundry was telling us it needed to be cleaned.  Anyway, for about $0.30 apiece we gladly paid.  The staff was very helpful and friendly.  They do sleep in the lobby, but I guess the place is always secure that way.  This place was great!  However, it did spoil us.

In the morning we asked if they could direct us to anyone that could arrange for us to fly down to Abu Simbel, where the Temple of Ramses II was.  They said they could arrange it door to door for $80 each, but that was a little more than we hoped for.  We ran over to Egypt Air’s office and they said it would cost $260 each. WOW!  We went back to the hotel and gladly paid the 80 bucks!  Read about this trip in the next section “Abu Simbel, Lower Egypt”.

A Ramadan Experience

I almost forgot to tell you about the celebration: "Ramadan"!  This is an Islamic celebration marking the time when the Quran   (the sacred book of Islam) was revealed to Mohammed (Arab prophet of Islam who converted Arabia and most of northern Africa to Islam).  Interestingly enough this man (Mohammed) was handed a book that states, “There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is His messenger.”  Every year it's celebrated during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar (it only has 9 months) this year it fell in December.  That's right about the time we arrived.    I’m no expert on this but if a man showed up today and said he had a book that said that everyone must do what he says because he gives orders from god, he would by locked away in a padded room for a while.  Whatever, who am I to judge?  Anyway, during this time everyone must fast during the daylight hours and apparently dash to the nearest food in an eating fest which makes feeding time at the hog farm look tame as soon as the sun goes down.

If you ask me, this is hardly hardship by any means.  What’s the big deal?  So, they have to miss lunch!  It would be really funny to see an Islamic person try to deal with living at the North Pole where there is no darkness for several weeks. Now that’s hardship!  It’s actually taken pretty lightheartedly.  The whole town prepares tables of food that line the streets, when they determine the sun is down everyone closes shop and heads for a table.  I don’t know who foot’s the bill, but they eat a lot.  On the last day the entire country parties, apparently because now they can eat lunch again… whatever!  It was pretty cool being there to see this all happen and to have it explained to us by taxi drivers.

Nile River Taxi

Cost to foreigners 1 pound… locals one quarter of that.  But, it is a great place to get coins!  Yes, Egypt has coins, but for some reason they won't give them to foreigners.  My guess is that there isn't many left.  We even tried at several banks... nothing!  But, the guys at the river taxi will gladly sell them off.

It was quite interesting taking the "locals" river transportation.  Most foreigners usually fork out the dough and get personal feluccas, not to mention many of them are probably scared to get on these things.  Actually, they're no worst than many Ukrainian buses… they’re better than some.  When we first boarded the boat we went to the front.  We were the only foreigners.  I received several weird looks, not to mention snickers.  At first I didn’t worry much since it was pretty normal, then… we noticed something interesting was happening.  There was a gender pattern becoming apparent.  All the women were in the front of the boat and all the men were in the back.  Great I was sitting with the women!  How come nobody tells me these things!  Gwen insisted that I stay up there with her, but there was no way this guy was going to make some kind of political statement.  Ok, so I have nothing against making a political statement, but I didn’t have a sign, megaphone, or frankly a reason to.  I moved to the back.  The boat filled up and we headed off across the Nile.

In a way, I’m glad tourists shy away from these; I would rather travel with the locals than snobby touron foreigners.  We used the river taxi frequently after this, especially now that I knew where to sit! 

Egyptian folklore states, “If you take a drink of the Nile’s waters, you’re guaranteed to return to Egypt!”  Well, I touched it, but… the new version to that myth is, “If you take a drink of the Nile’s waters you may never regret it or return home.”  Egypt’s infrastructure isn’t what it used to be!  

Elephantine Island: Nubian Village and Museum

29 December, 2000

Trash eatin' goats, mud huts, and baskets skillfully carried overhead.  I was looking for this Peace Corps experience!  However, this was but a mere vacation.   Nubian people are of a darker skin and different lifestyle.  I'm sure many of them have integrated into typical modern Egyptian lifestyles; however, these villages harbor true Nubian culture.  The Nubian people are Egypt's cultural link to lower Africa.  They ventured into Egypt from the area of Nubia, which was almost entirely flooded by the dam that created Lake Nasser. They relocated to this island and still today cling to their heritage and traditions.  Their homes are constructed, almost entirely, of blocks skillfully shaped from Nile mud.  Water is carried to the villages in traditional clay pots and there is no telling how sewage is dealt with.  The people seem almost oblivious to western invaders to their island village (of course they do realize that you carry money with you).

Gwen's comment: I really enjoyed this part of our trip. It was interesting seeing what a real Peace Corps experience would have been like. Mark was originally supposed to be assigned to Africa, and I had wanted to go to South America.  I, at least, think that Ukraine is not Peace Corps. Many of us refer to our experience as Posh Corps. Right now I don't know if I have what it takes to handle living and working in a village like the one we saw on the Nubian island.  

The Tombs Of The Nobles: “Aswan Princes’ Tombs”

30 December, 2000

On the high cliffs across the Nile overlooking the modern city of Aswan are the "Tombs Of The Nobles".  These tombs spread across the hillside in a honeycomb menagerie, which only a master in Egyptology could figure out. The area is pretty badly littered and the monuments wear the scars of the local children's mischief.  There isn't much to look at and if you don't have exact change to buy a ticket you may have to wait hours for the ticket guy to come back with your change.

Monastery Of Deir "Anba Sam’an" or "St Simeon"

30 December, 2000

After we visited the Tombs Of The Nobles it was planned that we would take the half-hour trek across the desert to visit the Monastery of Anba Sam'an; however, it was suddenly apparent that Gwen's body was rejecting breakfast.  We concluded that I would continue to push onward and Gwen would turn back to seek refuge in the hotel.  

Gwen's comment: Mark very nicely offered to take me back to the hotel and stay with me, but this was definitely something I needed to handle on my own. This was my first bought with dreaded food poisoning in Egypt, but not my last.  

As I first gazed upon the Monastery, in its dilapidated state,  I realized Gwen was not missing much here.  It dates from the 7th century and was used for 800 years.  It stood as a Christian stronghold for over 300 Christian crusaders that inflicted their beliefs throughout this region.  Sometime around 1200AD someone got smart and destroyed the thing!  Most of the roofing is gone now, along with pretty much everything else.  There truly isn’t much left of the 800 year old mud-brick structure.  The best part of this excursion was the trek across the desert.  One must really do some creative imagining to even pretend to see how grand this monument once was.

Aswan Antiquities Museum

31 December, 2000

The modern museum is well laid out but sparse.  As with the Cairo museum, the visitor is often left without explanation for the exhibits and their importance.  Go to the Nubia Museum on the other side of town... possibly the best in Egypt!

Gwen's comment: This is where my most favorite baksheesh story arises from. This man followed us and was kind enough to point out interesting exhibits in Egyptian and then say "baksheesh" Oh, thanks. Helpful. Occasionally he came up with the English word for things, like "mummy" and "beetle" and stoically pointed to these items one minute and then turned the pointing hand into a open palm asking for money for services rendered. I believe this is the point where my mind started slipping and my cool and polite Western manners began to go out the window. It became much easier after this point to tell people to get lost in new and creatively ill tempered ways. Telling people off is quite invigorating!  

HAPPY NEW YEARS! WHAT?

It just didn't seem like New Years.  I think everyone was so tired from Ramadan that they didn't have much energy for New Years.  Not to mention that Aswan is not exactly a party town and Egypt is a dry country.  Well, you can get some alcohol but it's not worth drinking.  And surely you can't drink it in a public place.  We did have an interesting Carriage Ride though!

The Carriage Ride

31 December, 2000

Walking around any major city long enough (10 seconds) and you will be endlessly badgered with the line “Carriage ride?… Yyyeees?”  There is no avoiding it.  There are too many of them and they come from all directions.  If you walk around any corner you're likely to run into ten of them on break.  It’s funny, but saying "NO" to one of them is not enough you must say no to all of them.  Like everything else in this country it’s like a game to them.  They will badger you until the easiest way to say no is to just admit defeat and board the carriage.  If you do board the carriage, be careful!

Ok, New Years Eve we finally concede defeat to this horse and carriage guy and… I said that I would pay for him to take us around for a half-hour.  Since it was New Years we figure that he must know somewhere in town to get beer or wine.  “Sure”, he says.  So he takes us to this back street and stops the carriage.  We follow him to the second floor of this building to a souvenir shop.  We go into the back room and he talks to his buddies.  I figure this is how it’s done.  Next, his friend says, “buy something from my shop.”  I figure he probably has some good alcohol, but we must buy some junk first to get it.  Whatever!  This was an awkward, if not straight-out weird, position we were in.  Neither of us felt comfortable with this… Then Gwen say’s, “I really don’t have any idea what we’re doing here!  Do you have alcohol or not!”   Beautifully put!  Apparently, he doesn’t.  We say our goodbyes and leave with the carriage guy.  We try to figure out why in the hell he took us there, but are offered no explanation.  Well, we still have 15 minutes.  He say’s that now he will take us to a place to buy some alcohol.  Of course we don’t believe a thing from his mouth by now, but whatever as long as it takes less than 15 minutes.  He actually did take us to a duty free shop.  When he dropped us off I tipped him for bringing us here (I shouldn’t have for the shop stunt).  Next, he actually asks for baksheesh for the horse!  WHAT!  This I did not pay.

What happened in the last story?  It’s the old Egyptian Commission trick.  You see, if we actually bought something from that shop the carriage guy would’ve received commission for bringing us there.  Don’t fall for it!  

Aswan Botanical Island "Kitchener Island"

01-01-2001

A peaceful getaway!  The island is a great place to get away from everything and have a picnic.  The many varieties of, succulents, fruits, and flowering plants combine with the canopy of numerous varieties of palms allowing you to spend the day in the tropics.  We went out on the boulders that meet the Nile for a picnic in peace.  Historically speaking the island got its name from an Englishman and Commander of the Egyptian army  (obviously Mr. Kitchener) back in the  1890’s.  He turned the entire island into his plant collection.  He collected plants from all over India and Africa.  There used to be a café, but from the looks of it they haven’t served-up a cup of joe in some time.  Lonely Planet talks about an “Ugly” part of the island with monkey cages, we couldn’t find anything that looked like a monkey.  However, now that I think about it there was a lot of banana peals here and there.

Nubia Museum

If you go to Abu Simbal or High Dam (we didn't make it to High Dam) you drive past this place.  On the way back from Abu Simbal you can just tell the taxi to drop you off at the Nubia Museum.  It's only a ten-minute walk from the center of town, so you could walk there also.  Now this is a museum!  UNESCO, to help preserve the objects and culture that would now lie under the waters of High Dam funded it.  The museum is well laid out and the exhibits are well cared for.  There is even a mock Nubian village constructed on the grounds of the museum.  You will find fairly good interpretation on the objects and the museum brochure.  There’s even a room devoted to pictures of the work which saved the colossal monuments at Abu Simbal.  

Abu Simbal, Lower Egypt

The Flight & Bus

31 December, 2000

As you already read, we purchased tickets at the hotel for 80 bucks.  This included a drive out to the Aswan airport, about 20 minutes from town.  I know what you're thinking... "Why did we spend the money to fly, couldn't we just take a bus?"  Apparently there is a perfectly good road to Abu Simbal, but tourists are not allowed on it.  I figure this is the area where they store their chemical weapons plant.  Gwen just figures that this is just a conspiracy between the city and the airline to collect bucks for airfare from tourons.  Actually, the conspiracy theory sounds more realistic.

Anyway, every tourist is hauled out to the airport and we all board a plane together.  It's the only flight out of here so it's real easy to find.  The flight takes about 1.5 hours and you land in Abu Simbal.  From the airport everyone is ushered to the busses (the bus trip is included in the price of the ticket) and driven out to the monuments.  There are tour guides in every major language and they are included in the price of the ticket.  Ours was very good.  You only have about 2 hours until you have to get back on the bus, or risk being stuck there for the night.    

“The Great and The Small” Ramses II 

What a story behind these monuments!

The Story:

For centuries the two rock-cut temples of Abu Simbel, lapped by the Nile River, represented an architectural challenge to time.  The same challenge was taken up two thousand years later by the engineers and technicians of the entire world when they attempted to save them from being completely underwater after the dam was built.  Many suggestions and projects for their preservation were made.  In June 1963 the Swiss project was approved.  It envisioned the complete removal of the mass of rock, cutting the temple into blocks and then recomposing them on higher ground.  First of all, 17,000 holes were bored in the rock and resin was injected to consolidate the stone.  Thirty-three tons of resin and just as many iron clamps were needed.  In the meantime, the waters of the Nile rose faster than calculated and the job of cutting and transporting became a frantic race against time.  The monuments were sawed, some by hand, into 1036 blocks weighing on the average of thirty tons each, with an additional 1112 from the surrounding rock.  The first block in the long series was raised on May 12, 1965, and marked as GA 1A01.  Sixty-four meters higher up the two temples were being rebuilt exactly as they had originally been.  But it was not simply a mater of setting them in a different site, for the weight of the artificial rock built above them would have crumbled them.  Two enormous domes in reinforced concrete were planned to support the pressure of the mountain and protect the temples, like an enormous bell.  The two domes would then have been covered with filling material, while sand and dust would gradually have closed the joints.  On September 22, 1968, the two great rock-cut ensemble was inaugurated for the second time in history, while the waters of the Nile freely and slowly flowed into the caverns where the temples had been.  And right on the dot, in February of 1969, the “miracle of the sun” was repeated when the sunbeams once more illuminated the gods seated inside the sanctuary.  Ramses II had also won this last battle against the centuries and his architectural masterpiece and testament, despite everything, continued to exist. 

Taken from: Aswan / Abu Simbel [English Edition]; Casa Editrice Bonechi, via Cairoli; Florence, Italy; 2000.

Luxor, Lower Egypt

Getting here By Train

01 January, 2001

Train 998 departed from Aswan at 8pm and arrived in Luxor around 11pm.  At 21 pounds it was a bargain.  We boarded early (it can be boarded 1.5 hours early).  Ask at the information booth for help.  If you ask anyone else you’re sure to pay out baksheesh.  Don’t even let the guys on the train “help you find your seat”—they’re just as lost as you are.  And if anyone  helps you put your bags above you will have to pay more baksheesh for something that you simply could do yourself.

*special note… don’t be alarmed if the guys sitting across from you consider a Mac 10 or other automatic rifle “carry-on luggage”.  

What ever happened to METAL DETECTORS!

Which Hotel This Time?

Venus Hotel to St. Mark Hotel

01 January, 2001

We arrived in town (Luxor) around 11pm.  We choose to stay in the Venus Hostel.  I figured we could walk.  We start walking and this guy comes up to us and asks if we need a room.  Right!  We'll find our own guy.  He obviously didn't like our attitude and tells us to FU.  Ok, this we hadn't experienced yet.  Most people were quite polite. I wondered what kind of a town we had come to anyway.  We got lost pretty quickly so we turned around to go back to the station and get a taxi and he comes for us again.  We tell him no again and... that's right, he gave the same response.  This was an all around nice guy!  So we get to Venus and... for the price...not worth it!  Gwen crashes out for the night and I hit the streets.  If we wanted to get a new place first thing in the morning I would scout out town tonight.  After wandering about for an hour or so, I came up with the St Mark Hotel.  The place was much better and they took the price down without much trouble.

This is Luxor

Built from the foundations of ancient Thebes, Luxor offers the visitor many attractions.  The city's many temples, museums, and monuments have been attracting thousands of visitors for hundreds of years; however, if your looking for peace and solitude I would not recommend this place.  It appears as though for every visitor, there are two or three locals trying to peddle some trinket, souvenir, or service.   The constant barrages of offers for carriage and felucca rides are more than enough to test the patience of a mummy.  If your having a hard time finding Luxor Temple just follow one of the hundreds of McDonalds signs.  Once inside the three story MickeyDee’s you only have to gaze out the window at the temple.  I wonder if Egyptians would’ve had the energy to construct these colossal temples eating at MickeyDee’s?  I guess it really doesn’t matter since the average Egyptian can’t afford to eat there anyway.

Where was I?  Luxor has a good bazaar if you’re looking to pick-up a souvenir.  You should remember that this stuff is mostly junk.  If you’re looking for a “real” basalt or granite miniature stature you’re not going to find it at the bazaar, period!  I wanted to find such an item and after browsing through the three-hundredth booth, I came to one conclusion… if I found the real thing at this point it would be much like finding something that wasn’t actually a good representation of what Egyptian bazaar’s were all about.  May I suggest that if you want a good statue, simply find one that suits you.  You’re not going to find a real one for under 100 bucks and if you pay 100 bucks for a statue in Egypt you’re crazy or you’re a serious collector.  I know my statue is not real basalt, but it is "real Egypt".

Luxor Temple

02 January, 2001

The pyramids did little to amaze me; however, when I saw this I knew I was standing before a shear act of incredible human engineering.  The massive columns of the courtyard stood at least 70 foot tall and 10 foot through, topped with slabs the size of busses.  I just stood there wondering, “how the hell did they do that?”  Well, that question is still running through my head.  The temple is a conglomeration of every ruler of the area.  If you visit the place try to find the room with all the naked Egyptian hieroglyphics and take a picture for me.  Some of the hieroglyphics were so bad I couldn’t even take a picture.  Nothing else of the unusual nature happened while we were here and you can read about the history of this place in many books, so we’ll move on.

Mummification Museum

02 January, 2001

Not worth it!  Since we saw everything in here back in Cairo it was hardly interesting.  With the name you would think that someone would construct a life size exhibit of the actual process.  As far as I see it, a mummification museum should educate the public on the process... this one completely failed to do that!  This place got two thumbs down by both of us.

Karnak Temple

03 January, 2001

Yes, this is another truly amazing object left by ancient Egyptians.  Who knows what this place would have looked like without all the renovation and reconstruction currently being undertaken.  Like most of the monuments in this area, at least half of what you are looking at is reconstruction.  I know there was a great earthquake that ripped through the area around 20 B.C. and most of this place was flattened.  Anyway, they appear to be doing a good job putting the thing back together. 

Valley Of The Queens & the "Bicycles"

    04 January, 2001

Well, Lonely Planet says to rent bicycles in town and ride them over to the Valleys of the Kings and Queens, but some things we left to fate for the sake of adventure (or one could just say we didn’t really plan this one well).  From Luxor you have to cross the Nile by river taxi.  Once you reach the other side the taxis will be waiting.

Gwen's comment: And boy were they waiting. En Mass. We picked a likely subject and haggled (though not very well) ourselves to the ticket booth for the Valley of the Kings and Queens. It was quite a ways. It turned out that it was also quite a ways to get to the different sights so we decided to rent "bicycles." I use this term lightly. It was the only place around, and beggars can't be choosers so we rented two bikes for 10 pounds a piece. Price could'a been worse, but the bikes sure couldn't have been! My bike was absolutely horrible. I admit I am out of shape and a hill was involved, but I was having a real problem. Mark was quite the gentleman and noticed my distress and offered to trade bikes with me. I took him up on the offer and his bike was better. For the rest of the trip he struggled with a bike with now completely flat tires! 

We got to the Valley of the Queens entrance. We needed to lock up our bikes. Too bad we had the locks, but no keys. Mark biked back down the hill to ask the rental guy for the keys. I waited at the entrance. Mark returned to say the rental guy was no where to be found, but a friendly tourist police guy told him not to worry the bikes would be safe. We decided he was probably right. No one in there right mind would steal these pieces of junk. We hooked our bikes together to make it look like they were locked. Then we showed our ticket at the entrance and went in. We went to the tomb of Amon-her- Khopeshef and Kha-Em-Wast, both princes, so I think they were lost, it being the Valley of the Queens that we were currently visiting. The tomb we really wanted to visit, Nefratari, had an entrance fee of 50 pounds for students. A bit too steep for us. 

We next biked our way to the monument of Queen Hatshepsut.  She was a very interesting lady. Her husband died and his nephew, Thutmosis III, was deemed too young to take over so she decided to be King. Literally. She wore men's clothes and one of those fake beards. After a prosperous 20 year run, her nephew smartened up and kicked her off the throne. It's still not sure if she died of natural causes or not. He proceeded to try to erase her memory from every monument. It was rather exciting going to this temple. In 1997 you may remember the story of some extremists who murdered a large group of tourists here. For this reason "security" is especially tight. Actually we were run through a metal detector and our bags were "searched." It was a big joke. The bored guards didn't even really look. There mere presence there was meant to calm the tourons. Now's the funny part. We had specifically told the ticket guy that we wanted  tickets to this monument. We bought them and entered only to find that the building was closed for remodeling. Perfect. I had to rant about that to Mark for awhile (OK a long while, by this time this country was REALLY getting to me).

We got back on our bikes and decided to head to the Valley of the Kings.

Valley Of The Kings by Pick-up Truck

 It was going to be quite a ride, though and it was getting pretty late in the day. Most monuments seemed to close around 2 or 3 so we decided to return the bikes and take a taxi. When we gave the bikes back a different rental man was there and he told us we needed to pay for the bikes. When we explained we had already done this he acted like he didn't believe us and I gave him a big #@!* after which Mark and I left to hail a cab. No taxis. Excellent. We decided to stop one of the locals' transport, a truck with seats in the bed. We asked the driver if he was going to the Valley of the Kings. He said yes and we got in the back with some Egyptians. At the turn off to the Valley the driver stopped and had the locals get out. His route didn't take him anywhere near the Valley, but he could get more money from us than the locals, so we had priority. I felt a twinge of guilt for that one. 

We went in through the entrance and were eager to see the three tombs we had deemed most interesting from our reading the previous night of the Lonely Planet. Too bad none of them were open. Again and again we were greeted by the sign "closed for renovation." I was boiling, hopping mad by then. We had decided not to see King Tut's tomb. It wasn't that interesting. Pretty much everything cool was taken out and put in museums and since he died so young his tomb was fairly rough and undecorated. Besides it cost 20 pounds for students. 

We decided, or were forced to see, the only three that were open: Ramses VII, Tawsert/Sethnakt, and Thutmosis III. The double tomb was interesting. As it turns out it happened a lot that tombs were reused or shared. After all, it takes a lot of work to build your own tomb. While inside this one a touron bus unloaded and pressed in, it was really crowded. The touron tour guide chick told us rudely to leave so there would be more room for her group. In response to which I freaked out. How dare she? We paid the same amount of money and had the same right to look as her rich, prissy group of retired people with too much time and money to know what to do with. Mark made me behave, though, so I only got out half of what I wanted to say. Just to spite her we stayed the entire time she did.  

Also of interest was the tomb of Thutmosis III. It was an interesting climb. It was well hidden disguised back in the hills. It was the first tomb to be built in the Valley. I guess good 'ole Thutmosis was the one who wised up and noticed that all the people who built these big Pyramids and such were getting their eternal resting places robbed. As we exited the very hot tomb, and very empty tomb (we were the only ones there), the ticket man asked if we enjoyed the tomb. We replied that yes, in fact, it was quite nice, to which he replied "baksheesh". What!? I went off on another tirade. It couldn't be helped. As Mark, apparently a lot more easy going than me, laughed and started to leave, I asked the man if he built the tomb. Did he draw those nice hieroglyphics?  What in the world did he want payment for. Letting us go in? Well, gee whiz thanks. I guess the over-priced ticket we bought wasn't payment enough? Ugh! 

Well, we came, we saw, we conquered. Time to hit the dusty trail and make our way back to the hotel. Too bad there was only one taxi. Most everyone who comes to Egypt is on some package deal. Not us, no siree Bob! We, the intrepid Peace Corps volunteers, go the touron route? Well, we had no fancy tourist bus to hop on after we got done seeing the sights. Hmmm. This is going to cost us an arm and a leg, right? Right. The guy quotes an outrageous price and we act like we'd rather sleep on the side of the road then take it. The taxi guy goes and tries to find some more desperate or stupid takers and we sit there acting careless. Eating part of our sack lunch (we cut down on our expenses by going to the local market and getting stuff for easy lunches on the move), we sit calmly. Lucky for us, everybody else leaving had tourist bus transportation and the taxi guy lowered his price and took us back to the dock. We caught a river taxi and made it back safely, with our wallets still relatively in tact, to our hotel.  

Luxor Museum and Cachette

05 January, 2001

While traveling throughout Egypt there are many hours spent wandering aimlessly.  On the way back to town from Karnak Temple, we needed a break from fending off carriage jockeys and slipped into one of Egypt's museums, or "safe havens".  Not much to say about this place.  It's one of Egypt's newer museums.  Although modern, well organized, and clean, it's sparseness is probably attributed to one of two factors: One, Egypt is simply running out of artifacts to place on display; Two, apparently Cairo would rather shove Luxor's history in crates in the basement than put them on display in a modern museum.         

From Luxor to Sharm el-Sheikh in 12, no... 17 hours!

05 January, 2001

We finally found the “Bus Station” in Luxor; one should remember that Egypt IS part of Africa.  The station was little more than a shack and not a "station" at all.  Our original plans of taking a bus to Hurgadda and jumping a barge to Sharm el-Sheikh were detoured by a sign in the window that read, “Sharm el-Sheikh 80 pounds”.  We consulted Lonely Planet and it spoke of a “nightmarish 24 hour bus” that went all the way through Cairo on the way.  We inquired about this bus.  They said that it only took 12 hours and did not go through Cairo.  So we abandoned our original plans and bought tickets on this baby.  However, I was still a bit unsure on the timeframe.  By my calculations the 12 hours was a gross miscalculation at best, but who knew how many camels he had under the hood or maybe he knew a shortcut through the desert.  Either way this route would save us a bundle of cash.

Apparently seats never “run out” on this bus.  Standing up and sleeping in the isle ARE considered seats, right?  On a side note: I now know one more of the hundreds of uses for the turbans they wear… it’s a bedroll!  I’m not kidding, really!  They just whip it off, shake it out, and lie it in the isle.  Pretty clever, but I wouldn’t put it back on my head.  Anyway, where was I…  Right, the trip.  About 10 minutes into the trip we are told to close the curtains in the windows.  As we pass through checkpoint after checkpoint of dozens of men clutching their machine guns.  Someone explains that if they knew that foreigners were on the bus someone would pay for it.  My window was shut!  These men had machine guns and the color of my skin made me an easy target.  Our first stop was Hurgadda.  Us foreigners counted on the usual five or ten minute stop.  Apparently the locals had something different in mind.  After about 15 minutes we see Egyptians from our bus being served a feast for a king at the café out the window.  A half-hour later we’re on the road again.  Now we are about 6 hours into the trip, there was no way this would take 12 hours!  The next stop was Suez just outside of Cairo at the top of the Gulf of Suez (most famous for the Suez Canal) .  This stop took only about a half-hour, but now it was 3 am and we had about 1 hour to reach Sharm el-Sheikh, which was about 6 hours away.  What the heck… we really weren’t in a hurry to do anything but get off this bus anyway.

Then it happened for no reason apparent to us, the driver starts blasting Egyptian music!  It’s 3am and he’s ready to disco the bus off the road Egyptian style!  Some gal, who was on the bus with us from the Netherlands, jumped up made her way to the front of the bus, undoubtedly crippling some Egyptians lying on the floor, and made him turn it down.  Way to go!  We clapped.

I would love to describe the stunning landscape and picturesque mountain ridges.  And what about the abundant wildlife and beautiful majestic desert plants, but… ok, I will try…  the ground lies undisturbed like a sand box in a town with no children, the hills look like giant sandcastles, the stones… the hell with it… they're sand also!  Everything is sand!  The animals are all camels… well, they may be sand as well!  And the only thing resembling plants were the plastic ones hanging in the window of the bus.  How was that for colorful writing!

Things were pretty uneventful for a while and we got some sleep.  When we arrived just outside Sharm el-Sheikh more men with machine guns boarded the bus and escorted many Egyptians off.  It seams that they didn’t have the correct paperwork to come here and had to go back.  Wow, that sucks!  

Let's go check out the town foreign presidents stay at when they have business in Egypt.  President Clinton was there just weeks before us!

Sharm el-Sheikh; Red Sea, Egypt

Storing The Luggage

06 January 2001

Well, here we are in "plastic land"... wait let me back up.  This town has nothing to do with Egypt!  It's simply a series of western shopping centers, condominiums, and $200 a night hotels.  Bill Clinton was here for a conference just a week before us.  I don't even think I saw an Egyptian that wasn't dressed up in a bellhop uniform.  I wanted to see the town anyway, but we needed to put our packs somewhere just for the day.  After being turned away from snobby hotel after snobby hotel we were a bit distressed.  Give me the filthy… you can keep the rich.  I just need to ditch a couple of bags for the day… people with money suck!  If there was one cheap hotel in this town they would help us!  Good idea Mark.  So, I looked for a “cheap looking” hotel (relatively, of course) and walla!  No problem, and no cost.  We checked out the town and were thrown off a “private beach” and decided it would be more fun hangin’ out at the bus station than this town.

Gwen's comment: More fun at the bus station and cheaper, too. Yikes. We just wanted to sit a minute and soak up some ambiance in town so we got tea. The price was about 15 pounds (5 dollars!) Okay, that may not sound like much, but compared to the rest of the prices throughout Egypt that was a wad-o-dough (the day before we had gotten two full meals with drinks for that price). Plus the ambiance was pretty tacky, lots of new Russians and their ilk, and loads of fake breasts. Not my cup-of-tea, so to speak. Maybe Mark felt more at home, coming from California, but I'm from the bible belt! 

Leaving For Dahab With "Bad" Tickets

06 January 2001

Beware of tickets that you can't read!  We arrived here around 9:10am and we figured we should just get tickets out this afternoon now.   I made it crystal clear that we wanted tickets at 5pm, he even repeated it to me as he handed me the tickets.  5pm rolls around and we board the bus.  Next thing you know the bus stops down the road and they ask to see tickets.  We give him the tickets and he gives them back and says, "bad".  What is this "bad" thing you speak of?  He repeats that the tickets are no good.  I say whatever! You sold them to me so it's your problem.  The next thing you know the bus turned around and we were escorted off at the station.  Well, I kind of got pissed off at the ticket guy... he got pissed off back... I demanded new tickets for this bus... he got pissed off back... I got more pissed off... he demanded new cash... in the end... we paid (under great protest).  Then I threw the old "bad" tickets in his face and we were off.   Anyway, the problem was that the b@$#@&) sold me tickets for the 9am bus.  It really didn't matter to him that it was already gone when we bought our tickets.  Buyer Beware!  

Did you know that Egypt has a desert paradise? Let's go check-out Dahab!

Dahab; Sinai Peninsula, Egypt

The Atmosphere and People

Before I continue it would be best if you play some Bob Marley for background music.  Some call it “Dahab” I call it “Rehab”.  

What Lonely Planet has to say:

“A village beach resort 85km north of Sharm el-Sheikh, Dahab is the wannabe Koh Samui of the Middle East.  Banana fritters and Bob Marley, stoned travelers in tie-dyes and shops with names like ‘Laughing Buddha’ offering tarot card readings – it’s all here.  Accommodations virtually on the beach can cost as little as $5 per night and common is the backpacker who pitches up here for a night or two and ends up staying for weeks, if not months.” 

Ahhh, that’s Dahab.  I have never actually visited a tropical beach oasis; such as, Tahiti or the beaches of Jamaica, but many of them are overridden with overpriced services these days anyway.  Dahab is truly where it’s at!  The atmosphere of a small town in a small town—laid out in a palm lined strip along about a half-mile of beautiful Red Sea Shoreline.  Its water’s are crystal clear blue.  Its beaches are spotlessly clean and strung out with shells the breaking waves gently carry in.  You can ride a camel, take a jeep trip into the mountains, rent a quad-runner, learn to scuba dive in the beautiful coral reefs of the Red Sea, and go Wind Surfing—all at prices anyone can afford!

I sure will miss the tranquil atmosphere and evenings kicking back on the beach being served dinner around a campfire while playing cards and backgammon (the most popular game in Egypt).  Strolling the dozens of craftwork shops along the palm lined beachfront walkway.  I could have called that place home for a while myself.  I do have one warning!  Visit this place at the end of your Egypt trip or you will really hate the rest of Egypt.  I highly recommend “The New Blue Moon” beach restaurant.  Don’t worry if you don’t see any chairs at the restaurant… just grab a comfortable pillow and kick-back next to the fire!  The people in town are all friendly and the pace is very laid-back, which makes for a perfect ending to an Egypt trip!  Ahhh, Dahab…

Gwen's comment: Yes, Mark's right. I second his motion. Check this place out. It was so lovely. So relaxing. So cheap. I got a lovely Henna tattoo (don't worry mom it's the kind that washes out in 2 weeks), some cool hippie pants, and a little girl braided this pretty string thing into my hair. 

 I am from Illinois and don't get to the beach that often. I loved the Red Sea. Sitting out by the fire every night chatting and eating heaping plates of excellent food while listening to the water underneath some really good music. Again "Ahhh, Dahab"

Finding The Right “Camp”

06 January, 2001

Hotels and hostel... We'd been there, done that!  Let's check-out one of these so-called "camps".  These places are clean and cheap.  What is a "camp", you ask.  Here in laid-back Dahab most visitors are of the adventurous outdoorsy type and choose to camp in huts.  Huts are cool!  For about $5 a night you get a hut (its actually your own 10x10 brick wall and grass covered roof hut).  You also have a communal bathroom with several private showers (with hot salt water from the sea) and private bathrooms (that flush).  The camp rents snorkeling equipment and arranges a variety of excursions to many places of interest in the area.  We stayed at “Bishbishi Camp”, but there are many to choose from.

The Camel Ride

10 January, 2001

Easy enough… Today we would mount the camel not just eat the camel!  We approached the camel men who had begged us with eager faces day after day.  They almost couldn’t believe us when we actually said, “OK, how much?”  15 camels and 8 jockeys, we only need 2 of each… in Egypt this is a problem!  The men’s piranha tactics were all but driving this prey to seek a new watering hole.  One guy was getting Gwen a camel and the odds changed.  I was left to be tugged apart by the rest.  One guy on each arm and one tugging my backpack while the rest were yelling at me to go with them was enough to push this customer over the edge.  I yelled at them to grow up and shut up!  These men clearly were not schooled in western business ethics… in fact they had much less manors than the desert beasts they claimed to have tamed.  If I remember correctly, I believe I ended up stating something like “Screw all you savages!  Gwen let’s go!”  And with that, we left.  Then a block away from the camel arena a man and a boy approach us.  Their offer was to meet us in an alley with their camels.  We agreed (there was no way we were going back to the camel pit).  Well satisfied and atop our steeds of the desert we rode off into the blazing dunes outside Dahab. 

Gwen's comment: Mark finally lost it. Yes! It seemed like it was always me getting upset and yelling. Ha ha, not this time. Since I am a girl, and with all the nasty chauvinistic crap that entails in a society that doesn't seem to treat its women as equals, the camel guys didn't tug on me. In fact, they all assumed that Mark was the one in charge, so I was totally left out of the bargaining on this one. I guess I should be grateful. It looked like he was going to be torn apart. I wondered if I was going to have to wade in their with my sleeves rolled up and save him!

Actually the average Egyptian guy's attitude to me was rather insulting. Sure they were polite, but I felt really unimportant. The shop guys usually looked to Mark. So, I suppose I got a little aggressive a few times and got them to pay attention to me, and realize that I can make decisions, too. They were much more Western in Dahab.

 After our desert trek I just had to laugh. Somehow it ended up that I got this roomy saddled camel and Mark got the child sized. It was quite a tight fit. He was rather uncomfortable for our hour ride, I imagine.

Red Sea Tide Pooling

10 January, 2001

It's our last day here and we just want to relax.  The tide is way out and the tide pools are displaying their array of sea creatures.  This made me homesick!  At this point I was ready to tell PC goodbye and head for the golden state!  One of my favorite things to do in good ol' Calif is to go tide pooling.  In case you were wondering... California's are far better than these.  Still, I never thought I would be doing this in Egypt.  You're not allowed to collect shells because nature’s busy recycling them (all of them have something living in them).  There were a lot of spiny urchins, brittle-stars, and crabs were everywhere.

While we hopped from hole to hole we were stopped in our tracks be three dogs fighting.  They were belly deep in the sea and fighting about something, as dogs do.  Then these two kids come by on camels and decide to try to intervene.  What a better picture than the “ships of the desert” sinking in the sea!

Mount Sinai, Egypt

Saint Katherine Monastery

08 January, 2001

Coming Soon...

Saint Katherine Protectorate: “Climbing Mount Sinai”

08 January, 2001

Coming Soon...

The Van Trip Back to Cairo

10 January, 2001

Gwen's comments: Oh this is a doozy of a story. The mini van picked us up at our camp. It was full with 14 or so people. Many of them were tourists such as ourselves. However, there were Egyptians, too. OK, this meant trouble. Even in Ukraine, people don't smoke on buses. It is highly rude, and highly toxic. I get a little car sick sometimes and carcinogenic smoke getting blown in my face doesn't help.  Needless to say when the guys lit up my loud mouth opened up. I told them what I thought of their rudeness and I was getting sick. They opened a window and instead we froze our butts off. The desert is chilly at 2 am.

I found that as an American I am spoiled. No smoking sections, or no smoking restaurants, no smoking at work stations, or in malls. Here everyone smokes. It's the same in Ukraine, but not in a bus where my helpless pink lungs can't escape! Many times the worst smokers and rudest ones were from European countries. 

This bus trip was the beginning of my second bought of sickness in Egypt. Was it the cold, smoke, lack of sleep? Who knows, all I know is I haven't been that ill in a long time. 

Cairo Airport

Gwen's comment: So it's time for us to leave. I feel like death warmed over and am ready to get the heck out of Dodge. We try to get a taxi to the airport. Our plane leaves early in the morning and it isn't even worth getting a hotel so we decide to go to the airport late at night and crash there. We sure don't want any more problems getting back to Ukraine. We can't afford another airline ticket fiasco!

We have a general idea how much the taxi should cost. Around 20 -25 pounds. The guy quotes us 50. I have absolutely no patience now, plus I am sick. I won't take any more from these people. I want to smack him in his kisser. I tell him what I think of his 50 pounds and I vaguely remember Mark telling me to calm down. No way, Jose. The taxi guy asks if I'm French. I say no. He says, "OOOOh, you must be American." What!? You betcha, if that means I won't take any crap. Another taxi guy comes up and offers to take us for 20 pounds. We gave him a big tip and he didn't even ask for baksheesh. I am more than willing to give tips for good service, as long as some sort of service is provided. No hand-outs, just because I am the "rich" American. 

We find a "comfy" set of chairs to sleep on. It's impossible to sleep on these. You know the kind that are designed to keep the bums, like us, from shacking up there. By now I have a raging temperature, the trots (a pound every time to use the facilities), and I puke a few times. I spent at least 20 pounds for bathrooms that night. I need to sleep so bad. I can't even think straight. Again, Mark is a dear and takes out his camel hair carpet and makes a little makeshift pallet for me to be miserable on. He stays awake all night because he is going to make absolutely sure we don't miss the plane. We still have a lot of Egyptian money to spend. He gets some English language magazines to read and a bunch of my favorite candy bars which we can't get in Ukraine, to take back with us. 

The airline, Luftansa my favorite, can't get us seats together. It is coming from another city on it's way to Frankfurt. They give apologies, and ask us if it is okay if they move us to Business class. Not is we have to pay more. No, compliments of the airline. Well, why didn't you say so! I have never ridden with the upper crust before. I bet the food would have been good if I wasn't too sick to eat and Mark hadn't fallen asleep after staying up all night. What a pair we were.   

Concluding Egypt

In American National Parks there is a saying that "Visitors are loving the parks to death."  In Egypt I found that tourists generally treat Egypt with more respect than Egyptians.  Egyptians appear to view these world monuments as a game of get the cash from the tourist.  They provide no trash facilities or restrooms.  They provide no signage to inform visitors of fragile surroundings.  They pester tourists into buying junk from their shops they claim is original.  They charge as much as 400% more for tourists to visit neglected and graffiti ridden monuments as they have to pay.  As you walk around monuments you have to kick around trash.  Just about every nook-and-cranny of the temples are stuffed with garbage.  Even if tourists create this garbage, Egypt obviously has no plan in place for disposal (other than stuffing it in tombs).  The Egyptian Museum is a national display of organizational embarrassment in my point of view.  Baksheesh is absurd and merely an alternative form of pick-pocketing in disguise.  Where is all the money going that tourists bring in?  Who is managing this place?  I feel confident stating that "Egyptians are loving Egypt to death!"

Egyptians really aren't that difficult to figure out.  The average street taxi, carriage, and boat guy surely doesn’t survive day by day on service at a set price.  They love to keep adding little things on that tally baksheesh.  If this doesn't work (even if it does) they steer you toward their "friends", who proceed to overcharge you and pass the commission back to the person who brought you there.  Tourism is Egypt's wheat and tourists turn it into bread and butter.  I bought a small statue that is "real carved basalt".  I guess it's ok to let the guy who sold it to me think I'm an idiot who doesn't know the difference between carved rock and a molded replica.  I really didn't want to pay the cash for a real one anyway.  I made him haggle below where he wanted to be.  The one I have carries no resale value; nevertheless, it will sit on my shelf for the rest of my life and take me back every time I gaze upon it... now that’s value.  The “real thing” in Egypt is a replica.  Find a cheap souvenir you want and make a story out of getting it—now it’s priceless!

Egypt will take a part of you and exhaust it… In the end, I took a part of Egypt that will never wear out.  If you go, have fun with the people who are having fun with you, don’t be afraid to give them hell if they deserve it—just keep it lighthearted and you’ll both laugh it off sooner or later.  Make every moment a memory.  They figure you are there to spend a fortune and there’s really no way to convince them otherwise. 

Never once did I feel threatened or in harms way (other than crossing streets).  Egypt is a quirky place, and I would like to return someday. I'm glad I witnessed Egypt today—I’m not sure what Egypt tomorrow will be like.   Who knows what the future holds for Egypt, but now it does as little as it can to provide a tourist friendly atmosphere.  If they cannot resolve serious management issues with their precious resources it will be a shame for the entire world.  Sometimes I was absolutely sickened to see the deplorable conditions that shroud many of these wonders of the world.  These monuments are bigger than Egypt!  They are wonders of the world left for us to decipher, contemplate, and misunderstand ‘til the end of eternity. 

Lastly, if things get too overwhelming—get your butt on the first bus to Dahab and relax a while!  I said it in the beginning and I’ll say it again—Egypt is full of memories!

 


All content by: Mark A. Rayner, with comments by Gwen C. Goodman  01/17/2001

Graphics, artwork, and design (inc. maps & icons) by: Mark A. Rayner 01/17/2001

Please do not steal my artwork!  Enroll in a computer graphics class or buy clipart!

 

 


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