Published: March 24th 2006March 23rd 2006
Ramses II statue
This pylon was raised in the 1200s BC and was in pristine condition
Egypt, not going to bore anyone with descriptions of places and artifacts we all grew up seeing, I'll bore you with something else.
For all the following mock complaining, the Pharaonic sights truely amaze, with a little luck its possible to visit around the crush of tours, be warned though, visiting Egypt while not on a packaged tour still feels like a packaged tour.
Cattle Car Tourism - Ah Egypt, home to package tourism, you don't see one pasty white tourist you see a thousand. Not one bus, fifty. On the bus, off the bus, into the museum, onto the boat, into the tomb, come on people we have schedule! Move it! Red hats, blue buttons and purple name tags. Turquoise jumpers and heavy lipstick, is this fun?
Still lingering from the terrorist attacks from 97, police convoys control the pace of tourism in Upper Egypt (southern Egypt geographically.) For instance, to visit the Great Temple of Ramses II, only seven miles from the border of Sudan, you must do it as a day trip from Aswan. Gentlemen start your engines, 3:30 am its a bus race of hundreds, pedal to the floor passing and being passed,
You cant get away
The touts at Giza are so smooth, most drivers know at least four languages in the pursuit of your pocketbook.
the sooner the tour operator gets there the sooner he can leave. 6:50 to 8:50 and not a second longer.
Two lazy days on the Nile in a felucca boat drinking Stella and looking at the stars is vital. In Luxor, Toby and I rented bicycles to see all the monuments and tombs on the west bank, a much needed escape from the brain numbing day trips.
Dealing with Baksheesh, Bribing and Scammers -
Luxor and Siem Reap, Cambodia. Both home to world famous historical monuments and number one and two in epic hassles for all the places I've visited over the past year. Both are full of relentless people and creative cons.
Happy birthday postcard, one of the best little scams I saw. A shop owner stopped Jackie as we were on our way to lunch asking her if she could write a letter to a friend in America because he cant write in English, sure you would help right? She does it and goes into his shop were the selling begins. But he has a bad memory because a day later he asks me, I laugh, and a day after, her again. This
time she writes a letter to him, she reads it aloud, 'Dear Sir, you are a terrible person, I'm going to tell the police that you con tourists... Still I thought it was pretty clever.
Not a scam just ridiculous, Egyptian men approaching you with nails on chalkboard Aussie and Cockney accents, it really does hurt the ears.
'Do you remember me?' This one is used in all countries, they stop you on the street ask you if you remember talking to them yesterday or the day before and most people say ya sure, and two minutes later they are being led by the elbow into a shop.
Baksheesh - Egyptians love the kickback, go to a historical site and guards start chasing you around for small money. Say no and they may shut off lights, lock the bathroom before you reach it or refuse to get luggage out of a car. If you want to pay for it, they will also break just about any rule designed to protect the monuments. Toby climbed the Great Pyramid, He and I bribed the guard into Tut and took some photos which weren't allowed, (not allowed because using the
For a little baksheesh I enjoyed a solitary tower with views as far as the smog would allow
flash damages paint and most people don't know how to use their cameras to turn them off.) I also got an International Student Card, a real UNESCO certified card just for kicking a few extra pounds to the manager. It filters down to everyday life too, getting phones turned on, utilities going, applications bumped up, its all standard here.
No surprise one meets an interesting array of travellers being out of the country for so long but I haven't met many Americans, further, the ones I've met are usually just like me, twenty something, just out of or back to school, etc. This crowd, all American and met within a 12 day period, were all unique and reminded me that we Yanks come from a large country that has all types - smart, strange, laid back, evangelical, bookish, hyper panicky, conniving, adventurous, hilarious and genuinely decent people.
Toby Cunningham - Pro surfer and winner of the 2003 Billabong XXL surf championship and self proclaimed dork who hasn't had a girlfriend in four years, I spent about five days with him and never heard him swear, not say something positive or show a hint of unhappiness. Doesn't
This would be Seti II, not supposed to snap photos inside but
drink a single thing besides water, ever, he has to be as All-American as you can get.
Jackie- An upstate New Yorker, five days with her revealed either the most unlucky and accident prone girl or a bit of a hypochondriac. Brain tumor, asthma, stomach disorder, compulsion for dialing 911 at shadows, I saw her cry four times and vomit three. Don't let that put you off because she had the most self-effacing humor and between crying she had us in stitches for days. She's been living in Israel for eight months, was granted citizenship even though she isn't Jewish and told them she hates Israel and if it weren't for her Chinchillas she wouldn't have made it.
Massoud - A forty-seven year old Iranian American mathematics professor from Berkley. The way the guy scammed hotels and entrance fees, (lost his wallet inside almost every temple,) you would have figured him the janitor not the professor. Just divorced his wife of 25 years and remarried a 24 year old Uzbekistan girl who returned to her village from CA to deliver his new child, he claims to have kissed an Egyptian in Alexandria and had a photo as proof.
He was the type of person you were afraid to ask questions to for fear of the uncomfortable and absurd that was sure to follow.
Cali Guy- Just off the plane from Kathmandu I met Dan, a forty something engineer from California on a bus into downtown. He saw me looking at a map and 30 minutes later I was in the Marriott executive lounge sipping coffee and eating dainty pastries enjoying a superb view of the Nile. He then insisted I stay at his home in trendy Cairo for two days where I found he is; converting to Islam to marry a 25 year old Egyptian, loves Cairo so much he is shipping his old Renault from CA for four times its worth, has an ex-wife who throws her clothes away after wearing them three times and an unfortunate habit of always being so excited when talking that he frequently loses his train of thought.
Gordon - A huge man from Virgina in Egypt for a month working after 10 years employed in Gulf countries. During his time there he had been shot at twice, felt a bomb blow up across the street and had his daughter
Mellow tobacco, I hope so because men will zone out with tea and sheesha for long periods of time. Most sheesha bars are narrow and lined with chairs and small tables in a solitary but crowded way.
tell him that he was a visitor and not a father and an African person tell him he is American not African-American. He told me he agreed with both, after being told he is a visitor by his daughter he demanded a transfer back to the states and only one month of travel per year and laughed when he had to admit he didn't know the first thing about Africa so how could he call himself anything other than American. I laughed and said I would never go to Ireland and call myself Irish American, good way to catch a butt kicking.
Sarah - An Iowa journalist I met in Islamic Cairo, she had been living in Afghanistan for two years working as an UN election observer and on her way to Damascus to study Arabic. Along with Zenen I enjoyed very interesting conversations in gorgeous coffee houses around Cairo.
Zenen - An evangelical Christian with enough ammo and intelligence to battle any sceptic he comes across. Just back from Afghanistan and also interested in studying Arabic, for the purpose of converting Muslims to Christianity, always a bold cause. Zenen seems to like a challenge, from working for
a Hungarian based company that delivered consumer goods to army bases in very high risk war zones to working for an Italian hostel for seven euros a day and treated like trash, I asked why he didn't leave and he said he didn't because he didn't want his boss to get the better of him.
There are more photos below