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Published: March 21st 2011
An iconic image.
It's New Year's Eve, 2010.
This time last year I was in Berlin. This year, I am on a coach driving through the Mountain Heights Plateau in Jordan, the mist so thick, we could barely see five metres ahead of us in our minivan. It was slightly scary, knowing that the chances of being involved in a road accident have significantly increased and that any swerve to avoid an accident could result in a tumble into a ravine.
Our passage to Aqaba from Petra was safe however and boarding the ferry back to Taba, I was a wreck.
Having had so little sleep and with a full-on schedule during the day - along with drinking at night - today I had finally hit the wall.
I slept for the entire duration of the ferry ride, but not of the long van-ride back to Dahab, which seemed to take forever.
On the way, Sags came up with the idea of making a huge bucket of New Year's Eve fruit punch. It proved to be a popular idea, so back in Dahab, we stopped by at a store to get supplies. The store only had limited stocks, so Yasser placed an order with
Me & The Pyramids Of Giza
Just to prove I was there.
a supermarket to deliver several bottles of vodka and rum and other ingredients to Happy Life Village.
The whole thing actually proved a lot more difficult than it perhaps should have been - Egyptians have never heard of ginger ale (Yasser had initially ordered actual ginger) and there were numerous other things lost in translation. But we eventually managed to get everything together to make the punch.
Our hotel room was the punch-making base - once we finally got a clean one.
Our first room was not even cleaned up - beds unmade, a strange smell in the bathroom, a dirty bathtub, and cigarette butts in the toilet. It was filthy. After an inspection by hotel staff we were then moved to another room. I wasn't really appreciating this considering my zombie state, and the fact I had to lug around my luggage and large amounts of alcohol and mixers all over Happy Life Village.
I was hoping to lie by the pool for the afternoon but the sun had set behind those goddamn mountains so it was too cold. Grrr.
In the meantime, I let Sags and Rebecca - another Kiwi woman in our tour group - to
The Great Pyramid
146.5m high, it was the tallest building in the world for 3800 years.
make up the punch while I semi-passed out on my bed.
By 5pm, we took the bucket down to the pool where the group gathered for some pre-dinner punch.
As we got started on the punch, some drums and Arabic music suddenly started up along the path right next to us, with horse-riders getting their steeds to dance to the music. It was pretty cool to watch until you got a bit closer to the horses - there was something seriously wrong with those horses' eyes. They looked terrified, possibly drugged. They certainly didn't look like they were enjoying their dance. Suspicions of maltreatment were immediately fostered within our group.
Anyway, the punch was great and we enjoyed some more laughs as we got merry - very merry as it turned out, since we had got through a bucket and half of punch. In another form of measurement, that would be half a bottle each of cheap, nasty, £3-a-bottle vodka before our New Year's "gala dinner" at the hotel restaurant.
With each table in the restaurant armed with whoopie balloons, plastic horns, party whistles and crackers, the whole place turned into a cacophony of noise once we had arrived,
much to the chagrin of the other diners present.
I thought the buffet dinner was fairly average, although others thought it was pretty good. The service was excellent for once.
It didn't really matter too much though - having got through another sneaked-in bottle of vodka between us during dinner, everyone at our table was smashed.
After dinner, Nat, Dan and Steph kindly offered up their hotel room for the group to enjoy a little more punch before we hit the road to town for a New Year's Eve par-tay!
The club we hit was Mojito Bar and we had some space reserved on the outdoor balcony that looked out at the waterfront. It was nice, as we all enjoyed the free drink our ticket got us, a fruity number similar to our punch.
We then also met up with John and Michaeleani, one of the couples who were on the felucca with us
. They only did the 8-day Egypt tour, but had come to Dahab on their own accord for some diving, as did some of the other people who were on the 8-day Egypt tour. It was nice to see some familiar faces, as we shared our experiences since we left Cairo.
The DJ was pretty decent,
Punch By The Pool
Enjoying our New Year's Eve fruit punch.
mixing up some good tunes. Bubbles were also released onto the dancefloor about every 15 minutes or so which always adds to the party atmosphere.
Just like almost every other night out recently, it was time for Jaeger bombs - except that the bar didn't actually have any Jaegermeifter. I point out the bottle that they have displayed behind the bar, only to find out that it is exactly that - a display bottle with no actual Jaegermeifter in it.
"We only have Egyptian alcohol", explains the barman.
Which means that it is either the law or that they were only stocking cheap, nasty Egyptian alcohol to maximise their profit margins. So I went for a Long Island Ice Tea instead, and to the barman's credit, he must've filled up my plastic cup with 80% alcohol and 20% mixer. It seems an Egyptian pour is even more than a Spanish one - and that takes some doing.
The music then suddenly stops, and the communal countdown begins - and then it's 2011. The DJ starts off the year by then playing a quite awesome techno remix of Auld Lang Syne.
We then find out that John had proposed to Michaeleani
There was something seriously wrong with these horses.
on the balcony outside just after New Year - she said yes.
Congratulatory hugs go all around and it's good times.
Most of our group are completely obliterated by this point - Steph is chugging back water in a brave attempt to be able to wake up in just seven hours for scuba-dive. Her attempt would sadly fail - it is New Year's Eve after all.
Meanwhile, days of sleep deprivation had finally caught up with me on tonight of all nights - I left the dancefloor for some fresh air on the balcony. The couches here were so comforta....
I am then woken up by the one of the South African girls in our group - she and her boyfriend were heading back to Happy Life Village and asked if I wanted to go with them. In my sleepy stupor, I realised that my night wasn't really going to last much longer, so I accepted their offer.
"I wasn't gonna leave you lying on that couch", she tells me.
Asleep in my hotel bed, I am woken up by Sags who stumbles into our room. He is trolleyed. Claire follows him in, having guided him home. Sags then decides
Bubbles released during the New Year's Eve party in Mojito Bar.
to bodyslam me several times, while professing his love for me. I love you too Sags. Just not right now.
Like every New Year's Day, it was a slow day, a hungover day.
We slept in two hours past check-out. I didn't care, I was feeling atrocious. It wasn't just the quantity of alcohol consumed - it was the poor quality of it. £3 vodka! Never again. That's what you always say.
We eventually made it over to one of the poolside cafes for lunch. My lamb schwarma was delicious, full of peppers. Just a pity it took forty-five minutes
to come out. Sags's meal took even longer. We were sat there for a good two hours. Not that we had anything else to do - it was too late to swim, what with the sun already behind those bloody cliffs.
During those two hours we found out that the previous night had yielded a shitload of scandal.
Three separate incidents - one involving Davies; a female member of our group who hooked up with Yes Sir (audio: "Yes Sir! Yes Sir! Yes Sir!"); and a quite amusing one involving Steph.
As this is a travel blog and not
From our spot on the balcony of Mojito Bar.
an online edition of OK! magazine, I'll spare them all the embarrassment of the details - you'll have to ask them yourself what went down.
We had one last dinner at The Kitchen in Dahab. With the choice of either Japanese, Indian or Chinese cuisine, I decided to go for a curry - which I regretted once other people's stir fries came out. It was a lovely dinner with a surprising amount of chat given how tired and hungover everyone must've been.
An interesting incident at the restaurant saw the owner punch a hole in the wall out the back, in full view of all the customers. He sure was pissed off about something. Stocky and bald - you wouldn't want to mess with him.
Then it was time for the dreaded overnight coach back to Cairo.
We had the big bus rather than mini-vans which was relief - a little bit more space for everyone to stretch out and sleep. You had to be quick to nab the back seat - I wasn't the lucky guy who got it unfortunately.
Others slept on the floor of the aisle, but everyone at least had two seats to themselves.
Step Pyramid Of Djoser
The oldest pyramid of them all.
Davies had a great idea - lying like a bridge across two sets of seats over the aisle. The aisle was narrow enough so that you wouldn't sink in the middle and could sleep quite comfortably.
It certainly did the trick - the journey of six hours just flew by and when I woke up, we were back at the Cataract Pyramids Resort.
This was now where the tour officially finished - but we weren't done with yet.
We had booked an extra night's accommodation so that we could spend a day just chilling out at the end of a long and tiring tour. And it was a good thing we did - because of snow
, a few of us missed out seeing the pyramids of Saqqara and Giza at the start of the tour - so today was our chance to see them. So there was no respite today as the hectic schedule continued - we had one more wonder of the world to witness.
Baggage x-rays to enter a hotel resort is a bit over the top - and they weren't really even doing them properly - but once through we got a couple of hours
Temple At Saqqara
Once used for funerals, now used as an entrance to the Saqqara necropolis.
sleep before Claire, Rebecca, Paul, Dave, Sags and I reassembled in the foyer at 9am for our final day of sightseeing. There were people smoking in the foyer - indoor smoking is still legal here and has been really annoying all trip.
We also managed to catch Sam, as he prepared to start a new tour, with a new group.
There was also a final reunion with John - he had also come back here from Dahab and having also missed the pyramids, agreed to join us for our expedition.
Osama, the bloke who looked after all arrangements for Travel Talk at Cataract, kindly arranged a taxi that would be ours for the day. He tells is that it would be 100EGP each for the day.
We agree that it is a bit expensive, so we ask him to get us a better deal. After walking outside, presumably to talk to the taxi driver, he comes back in and tells us 80EGP. We reluctantly agree - £9 each to hire a taxi for the day isn't that much - but in relation to prices for anything else here, it still felt like a rip-off.
After a fairly long journey
The complex stretches out for ten square kilometres.
and a stop at a roadside store (where I bought a collection of cakes, biscuits and chocolate bars for breakfast and couldn't believe it cost 60EGP all up - before realising I had misheard and that it only in fact cost 6EGP
) we arrived at the Imhotep Museum in Saqqara.
Named after the ancient Egyptian architect, the museum contained objects from the pyramid site and it's tombs, as well as exhibitions related to Imhotep's architecture and style, and a hall dedicated to the achievements of French Egyptologist Jean-Phillipe Lauer. No photos were allowed inside the museum.
We then saw our first pyramid - the Step Pyramid of Djoser. The oldest of all the pyramids, the Step Pyramid was built over 4000 years ago
. That is just staggering.
The Step Pyramid is the centrepiece of the Saqqara necropolis, a burial ground that covers 10 square kilometres
At one point, you can see foundations of ancient structures stretching out for miles, with the Giza pyramids in the distance. There are tombs and structures here that date back to most of the 32 dynasties that ruled Ancient Egypt.
Our taxi driver then drove us a short distance to the tombs of Ka-Gmni and
Entrance to the Tomb of Teti.
Teti. Under a pyramid that now resembles a large mound of dirt, the inside of Teti's pyramid was pretty cool. It was claustrophobic inside, with the tunnels barely a metre high and wide, but I tend to find such things a lot of fun. As well as the tunnels, the chambers containing sarcophagi and hieroglyphs made for some very interesting exploration.
We also explored the above-ground tomb of Ka-Gmni, which had cool chambers with hieroglyphs and altars.
Our trusty and patient taxi driver then drove us quite a long way to the main event - The Pyramids Of Giza.
It certainly looked quite a long way from Saqqara, and so it proved as it took about 30-40 minutes to get there.
Along the way we caught more glimpses of the relative poverty of rural life in Egypt. Traffic laws seem non-existent and traffic is indeed chaotic, but for some reason it just works. It's almost as if drivers are more careful because they know that there are no laws, that as a driver you have to expect the unexpected. The size and apparent weight of some of the baskets that the local women were balancing on their heads was
Inside the Tomb of Teti.
Caught up in a stressful traffic jam outside the entrance to the pyramids, I would definitely not want to drive here. Our driver has the same sentiments and drops us a short walk from the entrance telling us there was no point in driving any further.
With so many vehicles everywhere, we were worried that we might not be able to find our driver afterwards, but the taxi driver assures us that he would be here when we're finished and that we would be able to find him.
And with that, we go to grab some lunch - at Pizza Hut.
Talk about a prime location for a Pizza Hut.
An enthusiastic worker takes us up to the roof of the building from where we have an awesome and complete view of the Sphinx and the pyramids. It was another one of those "wow, I am actually seeing this" moments. From the top of a Pizza Hut. The young male worker who led us up here then asks for some money. I don't have any small change so I tell him I will need to pay for my meal first but he is angry that I don't
Some location for a Pizza Hut, huh.
give him anything. He offers to give me change but I don't trust him and he sulks off.
Back downstairs, there is also a perfect view of the Sphinx and pyramids, complete with a Pizza Hut logo on the glass of the windows. Talk about product placement.
We share a few pizzas and take some amusing pictures of us feeding the Sphinx before crossing the road for a closer look at the only remaining ancient wonder of the world.
As soon as you pass through the entrance, the hawkers are onto you. One offering camel rides is so persistent that he follows us for a good 200m, dropping his price further as we walk along - despite the fact that we are completely ignoring him. When he starts interfering with our photograph-taking, that's when I lose it.
"Can you leave us alone please?" I ask him, "we don't want your camel rides".
"OK, I won't touch you, I won't touch you - go", he replies in a snarky, sarcastic-sounding tone. Fuck you too.
Passing by the shopkeepers that have set up tables of trinkets on the path to the Sphinx, I don't even want to look at them, but
They're very persistent.
they pretty much leave you alone much to my surprise. I get hassled by another guy selling camel rides but I tell him that "I wouldn't want one even if it was free". He shoots me an angry look, as if he's been offended - and maybe he was, but I don't care at this point.
By the time the hawkers outside the entrance to the Sphinx start hassling us and asking us where we were from ("Japan? Arigato! Konninchi wa! Korea?") the group has dispersed a little. Once inside the Sphinx complex, John and I marvel at the size of the slabs put together to create the temple next to the Sphinx. The biggest block of granite weighs 16 tons apparently.
And then, there it is - one of the most iconic images in the world. Tourists are clambering over each other to get a photo of it. John tells me that the Egyptian army used to use the Sphinx for target practice.
It is not as big as I thought it would be but I am still wowed by it - again, like a lot of famous sights, it is perhaps the fame attached to the sight
It is slowly disintegrating - it is thousands of years old after all.
that wows you more than the actual sight itself. Parts of the statue is being restored or replaced, and the thing is definitely eroding. John complains about the fact that it is being touched at all - he believes that it should be left alone completely.
We walk past the Great Pyramid (Pyramid of Cheops) and I regret not going up to take a closer look at it - I'm not sure why we didn't.
The Great Pyramid is the biggest and oldest of the three pyramids on-site and for 100EGP, you could take a look inside.
Considering it was built over 4500 years ago
, it is an incredible feat of construction, and at 146.5 metres tall, was the tallest building in the world for 3800 years.
Although the Great Pyramid is the biggest, it doesn't look the biggest. Whether by angle or optical illusion, the Pyramid of Khafre actually looks the biggest, with it's casing stone still intact at the top of the pyramid - like a snowcap on the top of a mountain. At 136.4 metres tall, it's smaller, but not that
much smaller than the Great Pyramid.
We then walk around to the third of the
Pyramid Of Khafre
Posing in front of the second-tallest pyramid in Giza.
large pyramids on site, the Pyramid of Menkaure.
En route, we are all hassled by kids offering to take photos of us before demanding money for it. I don't trust the kids with my camera, so I politely (and impolitely) decline.
There is one guy who follows Paul and Rebecca around for ages
, telling her how beautiful she is, how lucky Paul is, and offering two million camels for her. I don't know what his endgame was - but it was creepy to say the least.
At the Pyramid of Menkaure (only 65.5 metres high) you can actually go inside it. However, knowing that we didn't have a lot of time left and the fact there was a huge queue outside, we decided not to go inside. As a consolation, Sags decides to jump the rope and clamber up a few steps of it around the back, for a photo. As he descends and walks away, he is suddenly chased by tourist police shouting at him. I was a bit behind them all, so I don't know what was said between them, but Sags looked to be playing dumb. I was sure he would get arrested.
Somehow, Sags manages to
Atop A Pyramid
John and Sags illegally scale one of the smaller pyramids with the help of a denim-clad local and his bribes.
talk himself out of it and they let him go.
We keep walking into the desert, for a panoramic view of all three pyramids and once we arrive on a small dune, we are not disappointed. Cue hammy Walk-Like-An-Egyptian poses that just have to be done.
Walking back towards the Pyramid of Menkaure, there are three "mini-pyramids" behind it, but were still quite tall, about four storeys high. As we walk past them, a denim-clad local comes out of nowhere and offers to takes us up to the pyramid for 10EGP each. So that's like a quid. He claimed to work here even though he wasn't wearing a uniform of any sort.
I decided to decline and respect the old site and to avoid getting in any sort of trouble, but John and Sags were keen and took him up on his offer. Once they had scrambled to the top, they raised their arms in truimph.
On their way down a man on horseback arrived - a tourist policeman. Uh-oh, here we go...
The denim-clad man remonstrates with the policeman - it appears he is in trouble - before he hands him some cash
and the policeman trots away!
Completing the trifecta of donkey, horse and camel.
There is a watchman too, that we hadn't noticed who had been watching everything unfold - the denim-clad man pays him off too, as he walks away. Unbelievable.
As we headed back towards the exit, there was one more thing that we needed to do - a camel ride. We had already done donkeys
, so we needed to complete the trifecta. We had done all our sightseeing and we actually wanted camel rides now (as opposed to having them forced upon us) so we set about trying to find some.
As the grounds were closing, it actually took some time to do so, but in Egypt you will always find someone, somewhere willing to do some business.
Claire, Sags and I decided to go for it and swapped our cameras around for the ride.
Camels always have this smug, arrogant look on their faces and their behaviour tends to be of the same nature as well - but our ones were fairly well-behaved and even had "tattoos" shaved onto the back of their heads. Camels are massive as well - we were up quite high.
They weren't the easiest thing to ride - all you have to
Claire, Sags & Me
Posing with our camels.
hold onto is a wooden knob (haha) in front of you on the saddle.
After a short twenty minute ride in the desert, our mission was complete and we were dropped off by the Sphinx. The sun was setting and we took the opportunity to take some great photographs of the sun behind the pyramids.
Back outside the pyramid grounds, we are once again immersed in the chaotic Egyptian traffic and manage to find our taxi driver not far from where he dropped us off.
There was yet one more thing we had to do before returning to the hotel.
The ancient Egyptians were among the first people in the world to use perfume on a large scale and one of the touristy things to do here is buy perfume oils.
We are taken into a shop ten minutes drive from the pyramids which is laid out with carpets, couches and coffee tables, with shelves full of small glass bottles along mirrored walls. We are introduced to a bald Egyptian man who talks very fast - and is the campest Egyptian guy I have ever met.
I had been told to expect to be sat down in one of
Perfume Oil Shop
Many of the oils that make up many commercial perfumes can be bought a lot cheaper here in Egypt - which makes me think that the margin on commerical perfumes must be pretty high.
these shops and offered some tea, but although we were sat down, no tea was forthcoming - just a camp salesman going through his routine, explaining how all of these perfume oils are the base scent for many commercial perfumes, dabbing the oils on your wrist.
"Do you like CK One? This oil is CK One. Do you like Hugo Boss? This is Hugo Boss. Dolce & Gabbana? Tommy Hilfiger? I have everything darling" he says. This guy was hilarious.
I have to say the CK One oil smelt almost exactly like CK One. I ask him if he has DKNY and he rubs another oil on my arm - it smells very similar.
And they are very cheap as well - 100mls for £10-£15 and they came with your choice of three different glass bottles as well. Perfume oils are very strong so you only need to use a small amount of it - 100mls would last you for years. Most perfumes contain less than 10% perfume oil. I take years to go through normal perfume so I was quite happy not buy any - unlike Claire and Sags who ended up with three bottles each.
Campest Egyptian Man Ever
"I've got them all darling".
way back to Cataract, we get talking to the taxi driver, asking him how much he would normally get for a whole day's work.
"300EGP to 400EGP", he told us, "like what you have paid me today".
Hang on, we paid him 80EGP each - that's 500EGP.
The bastard had pocketed 100EGP for himself as the middleman.
John wasn't actually staying at the Cataract so once we got out, we bade him farewell and the taxi driver kindly took him back to his hotel in central Cairo for no extra charge.
We decided to walk to a restaurant down the road for our final dinner in Egypt, and it was quite a good one. It was built like a castle and was quite big. Inside the decor was wooden and Moorish in style and we were sat at a long table with comfy armchairs. Barcelona were playing Levante on the big screen which made things slightly antisocial, but the food was good. I had spiced lamb served with fattoush - deep-fried pitta served inside a mound of rice with a tomato-y sauce.
We then got word that the 16-day crew had arrived back at Cataract and were on
I knew that each of the stones used to build the pyramids were big but these ones on the Pyramid Of Khafre aren't actually that big.
their way to the restaurant.
Once they arrived, it was awesome to catch up with them again, sharing our New Year's Eve experiences.
Back at Cataract, I looked up the shuttle timetable for my shuttle to the airport the next morning - I was the only one that needed a shuttle around 8am but there was no shuttle scheduled for that time. I then went to ask our dirty friend Osama what was up.
"You didn't tell me when your flight was flying out so I couldn't arrange anything. It's too late to organise anything now so you'll have to take a taxi" he tells me. Damn.
So I arrange a taxi with the hotel - and the guy who runs the service then quotes me 130EGP. I baulk at the price and hold off paying for it until I have investigated more options.
I was so tired, and so tired of having to fight for everything I pay for so that I don't get ripped off. The others tell me that a free shuttle was promised by Travel Talk, so they should give it to me even though I hadn't given them my flight details.
I hunt down
Sags & His Steed
Sags completes his trifecta.
With my frustration apparent, I tell Osama I should be getting a free shuttle, given that it was promised after all. Surprisingly, and unsurprisingly at the same time, he suddenly agrees with me and promises to organise a shuttle for me. The taxi man then comes over, invoice still in hand, looking angry that he is about to lose some business. I make no apologies - Osama was probably going to make something out of taxi fare anyway.
Osama then tells me that there will be a free shuttle for me at 7.30am.
After all that. Why didn't Osama just arrange something when I first approached him?
Before we all took off, we had one more reunion in Jo and Rene's hotel room, drinking whatever leftover liquor we all still had, reminiscing on our times together.
This was a really cool group and we'll have memories forever.
Sags was on a mission to finish the bottle of vodka we still had left, which became more and more difficult as people started to slowly leave to catch their planes.
Before we knew it, there was only Irene, Claire, Sags, Hannah, Jo and myself left - and with Jo wanting
The vast desert behind the Pyramids Of Giza.
some sleep before catching her plane, the party moved back to our hotel room.
It was a bit crazy really - we were doing a shot every couple of minutes.
I just had to get some sleep before catching my plane so I went to bed and left the others to finish off the bottle.
Apparently Hannah doesn't remember getting back to her room.
An appropriate way to sign off on an eventful two weeks.
Weaving through the crazy traffic along the highway to the airport the next morning, the scenes on the road really summed up my thoughts on Egyptian people and service.
Cars are driving all over the road, drivers are completely ignorant of lanes, and large potholes in the road are numerous.
The people here generally seem lazy, with an astonishingly lax attitude to safety and a blatant disregard for others.
Things are often completely disorganised and the workers are in many cases, incompetent - our dirty hotel room in Dahab is just one of many examples of this.
Food takes years to be brought out at restaurants and cafes here.
But the worse thing about Egypt is the corruption, which is rife and often
Riding away from the Pyramid Of Khafre.
in plain sight (e.g. the guy at the pyramids) - backhanders are flying all over the place.
You always get the feeling an Egyptian is trying to shaft you one way or another, so you never fully trust any of them and you're always suspicious of people's motives - which is quite sad, because there are a few Egyptians who are actually genuine and kind, but you just don't know when you first meet them.
I hate how everyone tries to make a quick buck either as an unnecessary middleman (Osama), or offering to do something generally considered friendly only to demand a small payment (the guy at Pizza Hut).
You have to be ruthless about what you pay and always on your toes looking out for scams. It's just so tiring.
The dishonesty in Egypt is appalling too - you just can't take anything
at face value.
Examples of this include what Osama did to us with the taxi, and what the barman did to John during the whole happy-hour fiasco one week ago
Even at the airport, Davies was pulled aside at immigration for allegedly having the wrong visa, and was made to pay for another one. He was on the same
Sunset Over The Sphinx
We got lucky with our timing at Giza.
visa as us, and none of us had to pay again. Guess where that money went?
I honestly don't think I will ever return to Egypt by choice.
In spite of all of that, we did some really cool things - Petra was a highlight, as was climbing Mt. Sinai and snorkelling in the Blue Hole in Dahab. All the ancient sights are really things that have to be seen too.
But for now, I was relieved to be going home, and to be able to get some sleep. This tour has been exhausting to say the least and this was compounded by my epic journey
just to get here.
I won't be doing any travelling for almost four months now - my next trip isn't until late April, when I will be in Andalucia and Morocco for two weeks. But if I go anywhere new before then, you will be sure to know.
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