modified from http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/cia00/egypt_sm00.jpg -- shukran!
The Route : Nuweiba - Cairo - Aswan - Abu Simbel - Edfu - Luxor - Alexandria - Siwa Oasis - White Desert - Bahariyya Oasis - Cairo
< Abu Simbel, chopped up into blocks and transported to another location because of the building of the High Dam. The pieces broken off were lain at the approximate positions in the original site. >
< Bustling Aswan souq >
The money changer sleazed on Jackie, the shoe-shine boy wanted to marry us, the old man sitting next to the bus-ticket office tried to be cheeky with me... Endless...
The girl whom I met in Amman, Jordan, Wendy, had asked me to look for an Ahmad in the Aswan souq (market). She used to work as a tour guide here in Egypt so she knew some of the locals well and had wanted me to pass a note. She gave me directions like "Go to the souq in front of Isis Hotel... I think there is a Sphinx Bazaar on the left side and ask around for Ahmad. Tell them Wendy sent you..."
2 Ahmads later, I believed I found the right one. He's alright, offered me shaay and I had a good chat with him.
Later, when I was with Jackie, we passed by the souq again but this time, seeing that there were 2 of us, they sent another guy over to slither up to Jackie. Ahmad was generally alright but this other guy, I could tell, was not. It didn't feel right after a while and Jackie was uncomfortable. I felt bad having 'dragged' her into this potential 'sleazemaroo' and we made some excuses and fled.
*trust no one*
< Selling spices >
Down by the souq another day, Jackie decided to have her hand henna-painted. We asked around and were brought to a dodgy shop with a fat pr*ck. He asked for E-120. WHAT!!!?!!!?????
We balked, rolled our eyeballs and got up to leave. He quickly asked us how much we were willing to pay then. "I don't know... E-10?" J suggested. "OK!"
*slap forehead* Gosh...
He went on to fondle her hand, clasp it and rest it on his lap.... He then made the most god-awful doodle on her hand. E-10 'well-spent'.
Leaving the souq to catch our departing cruise-liner, I heard yet another, "Hello...... where you from?" Alright, one more for the road, just to see the effects... "I'm Egyptian." I smiled. It was followed by hoots of laughter and yelps of joy as my fellow countrymen appraised me in delight. Several came round to shake my hand as congratulations - I finally got the RIGHT answer.
< Nubian Village in Elephantine Island >
< It was great meandering around this island, getting lost.... A much-needed escape from the harrassments in Aswan. >
< Laundry by the Nile >
< Business as usual even if tourists are out-of-reach. Money can be thrown down, goods can be flung up. >
Everyone had to go through this... My diarrhoea sentence was finally served on the cruise-liner. Well, if you have to have diarrhoea in Egypt, what better place than on a cruise down the Nile, in style?
You have a clean toilet to scurry into everytime you need to, there is a bed to lie down to sleep away your illness and you're confined to one place but yet you're 'on the move' to Luxor... and there is that 'doctor-on-call' thing, isn't there?
At 9am, I spoke to the reception about seeing the doctor and they told me my guide had already informed him about my condition and they would send down the doctor soon. "10 mins" Okie...
At 10am, I went back to the reception and inquired about the doctor. "The doctor coming... He knows. He's sleeping. 10 mins." The doctor was sleeping??
At 10.30am, he knocked on the door and dah-dee-dah... Instruction was to take the medicine 1/2 hour before meal-time. Lunch was at 1pm.
It was 12.35pm when I reached for the medicine. Hang on, it said 'JAN 2000'. That looked EXPIRED to me. I checked with the reception and they told me they would inform the doctor.
At 12.50pm, the doctor, after insisting that the 'JAN 2000' was the manufacture date, finally agreed to open another box. This box was printed with a future date so he clammed up. But he threw a last word in, "Miss! I told you to take medicine 1/2 hour before lunch. But it's now 10 mins to lunch!!"
Yeah, like it's MY fault??
< Ballooning over the West Bank >
You may read from other people's pages about Temple of Karnak, Valley of the Kings, etc... Don't get me wrong. They were wonderful in their own rights but I do not want to repeat them here.
I guess my enjoyment of the temples was heavily marred by the guide from the cruise-ship, Mohsen whats-his-face. I mean, of all the randomly gross Egyptian men (involved in tourism, if I may add), you would think you could at least try and trust your guide. Well, he tried to sleaze on Jackie too.
*Together now: H-U-R-L*
"You look tired but you still look beautiful when you're tired. Would you like to go lie down? Or you can come to my room to chat with me... My room is 212......"
It was always a case of "You have 20 mins at the [huge] Temple!" and he was always rushing us along.
I inquired about the strange jigsaw-puzzle shaped blocks on the slopes in the Temple of Hatshepsut... He glanced down impatiently, "Err... I don't know, I never notice."
Our ticket in the Valley of the Kings was good for 3 tombs. After visiting 2, he explained that they all looked the same and there was no need to see the third one. "Why don't we rest in the shade? Those who insist on seeing another one, the Ramses whatever tomb is down that way..."
Of course, when he brought us to a shop, we were told to "take your time, take your time..."
I hate organised tours.
< One of the shops making vases and souvenirs from alabaster or other materials that we 'took our time' at. >
< Road-tarring in the streets of Luxor. >
I intended to flee Luxor as soon as possible. I was sick of all touristy places and suffering from major Pharoah fatigue. But first, a quick walk-around...
Had no choice but to cross the roads with the wet tar and gosh, the amount of gunk I picked up - donkey's sh*t, horses' tail-hair, rubbish... all glued to the base of my boots.
< Down by my beach-camp >
Avoid the Habiba beach-camp. While staying in a beach-hut was not meant to be comfortable, I really hated the mozzies which were buzzing around my ears the whole night and had a field day with my arms.
I couldn't organise any trips around Sinai here in Nuweiba. It seemed I had to book the jeep myself, paying like US$100 or something. Checked with about 3 tour agencies (there were only about 3 I saw around town) and none organised anything for an individual. I asked Habiba beach-camp if they could check with other beach-camps whether there was anyone heading out to Mount Sinai or other places and didn't mind someone sharing the cost... After reminding them several times, in the end, they told me, no luck. *grumble* I doubted they checked for me.
Besides the sleazeball's slimey moves mentioned in my intro, he tried to fleece me of my money by charging me more than agreed. I disagreed with the 'new' price and he smoothly added, hoping to trick me about the 'extra charges', "With breakfast...". "I DIDN'T HAVE ANY BREAKFAST!!!" I hissed. Silenced, he reverted to the original price, still keeping that cunning smile.
As I was leaving at around 6am the next morning, I wanted to pay him then but he declined and told me I could pay him just before I left. I would be able to find him on the beach. He would be awake, waiting for me.
The next morning, he was snoring noisily on the beach and calling him from a distance couldn't wake him. I was too disgusted to go within 2m of him to wake him and simply stuck the money in the pad-lock of my hut and fled.
But not too far... The bus to Cairo was stipulated to come by the beach-camps at around 6+am to pick up any waiting tourists. A couple and I waited until 8:30am and still no bus. The lady had gone to her camp several times to check and the receptionist insisted the bus would come. Finally, the receptionist admitted that the bus was probably gone. Everyday, the bus would turn to this road, but maybe not today, he shrugged.
The next bus was at 10am. To be safe, for I really want to get out of this town, I headed right into town and checked with several other residents on where to wait.
The bus tried to entertain us with B-grade English movies & *actually, rather funny* Arabian flicks, blasting them at top volume. After 9, 10 hours of these, interspersed with repetitive shampoo & detergent commercials, a Zen master would find it a tad annoying too...
At a stop, the driver announced, "15 mins". The tourists scrambled off to quickly use the toilets but the Egyptians settled down for some slow-puffing of 'sheeshas' (water-pipes) & hot cups of 'shaay' (tea). The bus then disappeared with our loot. As the worried tourists stared earnestly outside, wondering if they would ever see their luggages again and contemplating contacting their travel insurance companies... the Egyptians continued to puff their sheeshas and sip their shaay nonchalantly.
The bus swung back into view after 1/2 hour's disappearance. Oh, he meant '15 EGYPTIAN minutes'...
< Luxor souq, a distant cousin of Aswan souq >
Meandering around Luxor, I happened upon the souq by accident. This was a delightful little local souq which sold veggies, fish, etc... and there was absolutely no tourist around except me.
Saw some 'fishes' on the ground-sheet for sale. They seemed to have some blackish colouring around them.
Ooooo.... Flies! Flies! Flies! W-A-Y too many flies buzzing around the cat-fishes!
Passed by some tourist shops and one guy started chatting with me, as usual on the pretense of learning more about my culture and the Chinese language (Rrrright!). He then asked me to help him with a letter. OK, I know about this stunt... they just want to lure you to their shop and hopefully, you will buy something. But, I was curious about the content of such a letter, if it really existed.
I agreed to follow him. He and his friend offered shaay, as usual, and even some pastries. They explained they could read type-written English but hand-writings were difficult. Fair enough, I felt the same way. I could just about make out the alphabets of type-written Arabic, but hand-written Arabic were chicken scratches.
And I read the letter for them... Something to the tune of "I can't wait to come visit you in June and feel your body against mine..."
< Sipping shaay by the Mediterranean >
I bought the 2nd-class train ticket out of Luxor to Cairo that night. My train car was already crowded with locals and everywhere was over-flowing with their sacks of luggages. Some even placed their babies on the floor-area right in front of the seats. On the floor!!! I thought I found my seat and sat down. A middle-aged Egyptian giant returned and was not amused. He barked, "You. Get out!!" I showed him my ticket and made humble inquiring noises and he pointed sharply to the next car.
I crossed into the next car. It was like stepping into another world. This compartment was filled with backpackers only. OK, no babies would be stepped on here tonight.
When I reached Cairo, I made an on-the-spot decision to go to Alexandria to escape from it all. I needed cool breeze!
Outside the train station, I heard a guy shouting "Iskandariyya!". Hmmm... that sounded like 'Alexandria' so I nodded to him and he bundled me into a van with 14 other Egyptians and off we went, naturally with throbbing Arab music.
*post-note : I've since acquired quite a taste for Arab music... ;-) "Habibi... Habibi [echo]... Habibi... Habibi [echo]... (Darling)"
Alex is a city of 8 million. I had no idea where exactly I would end up. And no one in the van could really speak English.
At some bustling traffic stop, 2 young guys in the van, who spoke miniscule English, told me that I should get off there. The van assistant took my backpack and bundled it and me into a 2nd van. Still no clue where I was heading... Oh, sorry, bus-fare? I just took out some E-pounds and a guy picked off a small amount and passed it to the driver who then, multi-tasked by driving recklessly and multiplying the estimated number of passengers in the van by the bus-fare and made more mental calculation to work out the change to pass back to us.
At another bustling market-area, they told me the route was finished. Get off here. Great, one question... where was I again? The only guy who spoke English, looked at my LP map, helped me with my bag, bundled me into a _THIRD_ van, paid for my fare and brought me to where I wanted to go (thereabouts). He refused my money.
My first thought was, "Oh-oh... He doesn't want my money. And he knows my hotel. That will mean he wants... *gulp*" But, he just said, "Do you know where you are? The corniche is over there. Welcome to Alexandria." and left.
Gosh, it was such a relief to meet someone in Egypt (so far) who didn't want money or s*x or a kiss after they helped you. I stood there, stunned. Egypt can be surprising.
Later, I stopped a police to ask for directions and he waved me away, "No English." A van (in quite heavy traffic) screeched to a halt. The guy at the passenger seat had seen me and actually, made the driver stop! He shouted from his seat, asking me if I needed help. And he pointed me to my hotel. This was unbelievable, esp after what I experienced in Nuweiba, Cairo, Aswan & Luxor.
< Poorer section of Alexandria - Anfushi >
In Alex, no one harrassed me. It was great! Some teens, seeing that I'm Chinese, did some kung-fu moves and yelped "Jackie Chan! Jackie Chan!" That was it. :)
But my problem was now, every restaurant menu was in pure Arabic. No transliteration for tourists' benefits, like kushari, etc... I stared at the boards showing the food items and I simply didn't know what to pick. Sadly, I had my dinner at McDonald's.
The next day, I kept a look-out for restaurants with non-Arabic menu. I was delighted to find a French restaurant. Well, 'Je ne parle pas français' but I know 'champignon' is 'mushroom', 'bonbons' are 'sweets' and 'blanc' is 'white'... So there!
< Curious boys in Alexandria >
Many men go swimming in their underwears by the beach. Normally, I supposed, this should be alright, except that the underwears are almost always white and had large gaping holes where the legs go through. Very gross...
I was sitting by the Corniche chatting with a teenage boy, Mohammed when these two boys came over to stare. They asked if I was Muslim, they invited me to join them in a swim in the ocean, they asked if they could drink my water - I handed over the bottle to them, they came right up to my face to examine my er... pores and then, they smilingly asked for a photo. Thought they'd never asked...
< Lovely Siwa oasis >
< Shali fortress >
In Siwa, I made some friends at the hotel who were planning on a 3D/2N traverse through the Western Desert to Bahariyya. They were 2 Danes (Raz, Ida), 2 Canadians (Kathleen, Patrice) & 1 American (Tom, travelling around the world). They had been at the hotel for 2 days honing their card skills & flies-swapping skills.
They were trying to form a group of 8 to share the cost. It would be quite an adventure, they promoted... I was a little worried about the heat, though. I was toasted in Aswan and it was 'only' 45C.
Raz teased me, "Are you chicken???" I'm in.
< Siwan shaay? Anyone? >
We passed by a Siwan house and this elderly man invited us in to take a look inside. He showed us his grind (to squash the olives), the various grades of olive oil and offered cups of Siwan shaay. The usual shaay we had in Egypt was sweet but Siwan shaay was really strong... with a bitter after-taste.
Gisela (from Sweden) and Marika (from Italy) had been studying Arabic in Alexandria for a few months. We were lunching together at Abdu's Restaurant when Marika complained that she was sick of doing double-translation : She had to read in Arabic, think in Italian and speak in English. She longed to be able to speak Italian again.
Then, Abdu (of the self-titled restaurant we were at) sauntered by and chatted with us. On learning Marika was Italian, he broke into what-appeared-to-be-fluent Italian... Hmmm... here in Siwa?
< Fatnas Spring >
Raz who was a Dane, jokingly complained that now he couldn't speak Danish, his secret language, with his girl-friend, as Gisela who was a Swede would be able to understand him.
I wondered aloud whom I could speak my secret language (Chinese, or Mandarin) to, here in the middle of an oasis??!?! The others looked up and said that they had seen a Taiwanese middle-aged guy lurking around our hotel the past few days. I would be able to speak to him in our secret language. He was this rich manager-sort who was staying at the E-150-a-night hotel. He seemed to be distributing an Egyptian pound here, another Egyptian pound there for the slightest service offered to him. Woah....
True enough, I ran into him the next day. The hotel he was staying at had one guest - him. So, he was bored stiff and frequently came by our hotel for social interaction. When he learnt our hotel cost a mere E-7.50 (20 times cheaper), he nearly pissed himself and checked in here pronto. We did attempt to speak in our secret language for a while but soon, I could not keep up. Mandarin was his first language and my second. He kindly resorted to his bad English for my sake. Hahaaa...
Then, later, it turned out the last character of his Chinese name was the same as the last character of my Chinese name!! This is beyond coincidence as this character was rare, complicated to write, and almost entirely used for girls. Hmmm... here in Siwa again!
"WESTERN DESERT - SIWA TO BAHARIYYA"
< One of the police posts along the Siwa-Bahariyya route in the Western Desert. >
The rest of the guys at the hotel managed to rope in French-Canadian couple David & Francoise and we were finally 8. Off we went on a questionable truck with a driver who spoke only Arabic.
1.5 HOURS into the trip, we got our 1st puncture!
Excellent. We had talked about this, "If we're stuck in the desert, there are probably only 4 or 5 vehicles passing by per day... hmmm..." and we paused to ponder our possible fate.
But when we got to a police post (they were there to check our permits and made sure we complete the journey), the policeman, half pulling up his pants, came running out and greeting us with elation, "Hello!! Welcome! I am SO HAPPY to see you. You're the FIRST car we see in 2 days..."
"Er... may I take a photo of you all?"
< Oh yeah.... >
At a natural spring, the guys started stripping down to their boxers and jumped right in. I was contemplating whether to jump in with my clothes on when Suleiman, our driver, shoved me in... money belt and all!!
Later, on the truck, I distributed my E-pounds, US$ notes, travellers' cheques, air-ticket around for everyone to clasp between their fingers and dry in the wind. "Money laundering..." Raz quipped.
We stopped to watch the sunset over the horizon. I cracked my brain trying to recall if I've personally ever seen that elsewhere before. Sunsets seemed to be always behind some mountains, or in Singapore's case, behind some buildings. Over the ocean, perhaps but I'm not sure if it would work there. You see, Tom asked us to watch out for the 'green flash'. It is supposed to happen right at the moment when the sun dips beyond the horizon.
Well, at that brief point, I saw a light, like a torch-light, shining anti-clockwise. "Did anyone see the green flash?" I queried. "Nope, not today..." Tom concluded. Puzzled, I kept this to myself until that night, over camp-fire, and I described what I saw to Tom. "Yep! That's the green flash!!"
"CAIRO - PYRAMIDS & MUSEUM"
< Sharing the roads of Cairo with donkey & horse carts >
< Sleeping at the top of the dunes. >
< We spotted sea-shells at the bottom of the dunes... Hmmm.... in the middle of the Western Desert, this must be from millions of years ago! >
< Had a nap in Abdul's house... necessary to sleep away the heat. >
Abdul on the left hosted lunch for us in Bahariyya. We took a dip in a small spring in Bahariyya. A few other locals also bathed in the same spring clad only in their usual white, loose, disgusting underwears and they brought the works here, shampoo & soap. So, it was really a public bath-tub for them.
Later, we took a nap in Abdul's house to sleep away the afternoon heat. Mohammed, the other guy, joined us for the rest of the trip to assist Suleiman.
< Crystal Mountain. Interesting arch, formed from crystallisation. >
< White Desert >
< Many interesting shapes found in the White Desert, all up to your imagination - a camel. >
This unplanned trip became my favourite bit in Egypt. We slept on the sand dunes on the first night, so soft and comfy... and in White Desert, near Farafra, the second night.
White Desert was magical... The white wind-eroded chalk structures in the moon-lit night were like ice-bergs floating in the ocean. :)
And Suleiman cooked the best meals I had in Egypt, all with those lovely Egyptian spices...
< Street vendors in Cairo >
Because of the recent terrorist attacks, there were metal-detectors at major shopping malls and hotels. The detectors were at the Entrances but not the Exits.
When we arrived in Cairo from Bahariyya, we headed to a mall for some internet access. All of us entered by the Exit by mistake and the security guard yelled at us to use the Entrance. OK, we walked over to the Entrance and entered again. This time, it was 'beep beep beep' for each of us. Yet, he ignored the beepings and let us through.
Wait... wasn't he interested in the assorted terrorist weapons we had in our bags?
< Traffic in Cairo, check out the guy transporting bread >
Walking to Islamic Cairo was a heart-stopping experience. On Sharia Al-Ashar, there were 2 roads + 2 highways up above. So, the honkings were like 4 times the possible volume & frequency. And, believe me, Egyptian motorists would max the volume and frequency. Of course, some joker had to be playing Arab music at full volume as well.
The pavement was very narrow, just enough for 1 person or so. Many times, there would be a sheesha-smoking old man sitting on a chair outside his shop, or some boy would be splashing water to keep the dust down, or a family would be out shopping for baby-strollers and stopping to examine every possible purchase or a man would be carrying a rolled-up carpet & marching right at you... you have no choice but to jump onto the road, side-stepping the rubbish, and walk. Then, an urgent blast of horn with your name on it would prompt you to jump right back on the pavement just in time.
The 2-lane road could, at times, miraculously fit 3 vehicles if some speeding taxi so chose to squeeze by. You sometimes wonder if this was THE vehicle that will snuff out your insignificant existence on earth.
< Juice-bars >
I'm positive these juice-bars saved my life in Cairo. After about 1.5h - 2h of walking, my throat would be really sore and dry, thanks to the pollution... and I would track down these juice bars to down some juices. I think I visited 6 or 7 one day.
< Habibi!! Muah... >
< What else... one of the Pyramids >
< Tourist trap: Khan al-Khalili bazaar >
It was my last few days in Egypt and at the Khan al-Khalili bazaar in Islamic Cairo, I was intent on buying those lovely little perfume bottles to give to my girl-friends. Every shop I went to, I was told, "I give you good price because you're my first customer today..."
At yet another shop, the guy made the same remark. I looked incredulous and muttered, "Right... It's 1pm already, you sure have poor business." He changed, "I give you good price because you're so nice." "Why wouldn't I be nice? I'm nice in every shop, I'm told. :-)" He looked at me sheepishly and I suggested he try something more imaginative next time. He agreed.
Despite this friendly sparring, he seemed less yucky than the others and when he suggested that his massage oil was good for relaxation, I agreed to let him massage my face & head for a trial to get rid of my pounding headache.
Boy, it was really good. A lot of gunk acquired from the Cairo traffic was removed clean from my face during the process and my skin glowed. I love this massage oil.
< Sufi-dancing in Islamic Cairo. >
As I travelled alone, I was always a little concerned about returning to my hotel late at night. As the Sufi-dancing show was to end at around 10pm, I originally thought the streets and the metro trains would be quiet and they might be dangerous. Who was I kidding? This was Cairo. The city that never sleeps. Walking back to the metro station, I was bombarded by the same hectic noises, insane crowd and throbbing traffic. In fact, this made me feel safe. I did take a wrong turn and ended up near some quiet dark alleys but what's wrong with stopping by yet another juice-bar down that road to drink some more OJ and chat with the bar-owner and ask for direction. At 11pm, in the train, I was eyeball-to-eye-ball, butt-to-butt with the locals all the way back. Cairo was alright...
"OUTSKIRTS OF CAIRO"
< Benha market >
One morning in Sun Hotel, I woke up late together with one of my roomies, Sue, who surprised me by telling me her story.
She was 56 and engaged to an Egyptian man who was 23. They met earlier in the year during the Millenium Party down by the Pyramids and fell in love.
She returned from the States in April and stayed with his sister in a little village near Cairo. But because she had been to Israel 3 times, the police were suspicious that she might be a spy. And this, in turn, might affect the promotion of her fiance's brother who was a police-man. It's all a bit complicated but basically, in the middle of one night, she was told to pack up and leave the village quickly. That's how she ended up in the bed next to mine.
Now, she had nothing to do all day, except wait until 6pm when her fiance was off work so that they could go out. But, here in Cairo, unless you're married, you cannot be caught holding hands, arms across shoulders, kissing, whatever. The tourist police everywhere were watching out for these as well.
When she learnt that I had nothing planned that day 'except to get more pollution on my face', she asked if I wanted to toss the guidebook and go check out the village she stayed at.
"Getting there is half the adventure." she said. She proceeded to draw a little map, with careful placement of the donkeys and the Nile and stuff.
Annette, another roomie, had nothing to do too and both of us decided to, why not, just go. At the end of the North Metro Station, we were supposed to shout 'Benha Benha' and someone would bundle us into the right van. Then, after about 30 mins, we would come to a market area and we were to just shove our way out of the van.
So far so good... we wandered around Benha for a while. The villagers were not quite used to seeing tourists around so we were quite a curiosity there. They were amused, friendly and polite.
Then, according to Sue's direction, we were supposed to go by the Nile where some vans were and shout "Teshera, Teshera". Now, no one understood us. Soon, I realised we were surrounded by a crowd of curious on-lookers 8-people deep!! Our little map was passed around and studied. We stood there sheepishly. Finally, a man fought his way through, claiming, "I can speak English! I can speak English!!"
And we were off again, finally to Sue's village. There was nothing here to see. Just the country-side & farms where the fellaheen famers lived. But the fellaheen children who had seen few tourists, swarmed around us and started following us and tugging our stuffs.
Annette told them she was from Hollanda and the kids went nuts, chanting "HOLLANDA! HOLLANDA!!" Annette whispered, "Oh my god... Why are they chanting like that? Have they been watching Dutch porns too?"
It became a tad unfriendly when they started fighting off a teenage boy Mohammed who could speak English to us, as they were jealous of him. Mohammed fought back with a stick!! In the end, Mohammed flagged down a passing vehicle and we jumped right in to flee those shoving kids.
< Birqash Camel Market >
< So disgusting I have to share this... >
Not for the faint-hearted. Thousands of camels had trekked for days to be sold here every Friday in Birqash. One of their legs was tied to prevent them from running off and those which did hobble away were beaten relentlessly.
I observed a hanging placenta from one of the camels. It was gross... It burst open and blood poured out. Then, it started flapping around the camel's legs. It was REALLY gross... One of the herders tied a rock to it. Argh, the poor camel! Soon, it fell out and just lay on the ground, bloody mess and all. Another passing guy picked it up with a stick and tossed it. It was EXTREMELY gross...
< Family picnics in the shade... >
It was Labour Day holiday when I visited the Pyramids. On top of the hundreds of tourists who came from all over the world to see this great ancient wonder, there were tonnes of Egyptians on family-outings as well. They picnicked in the shade of the Pyramids, played foot-balls, blasted their radios, etc... It was really busy.
A boy placed a bookmark in my hand. I thought he wanted me to buy it and I tried to return it. He smiled, "No money! It's for you to remember me..."
A teenage girl came up to me, professing, "Yabani!! Yabani!! (Japanese!!) I LOVE YABANI!!!" Oops, if only she knew...
A group of youths wanted to take a picture with me. After one snap, the photographer practically begged for another shot, taken by someone else of course, so that he could be in the picture this time round. Yes, they are sweet boys but still, I felt strange... In a country crawling with tourists, it seemed funny they found me a novelty.
< Some tourists arrange for camel-rides to the Pyramids. The prices are exorbitant and yet, some still fall for the traps. >
< Egyptology students mugging away in the Egyptian Museum... Exam was next week! >
It's interesting to see some university students kneeling in front of the displays in the Egyptian Museum and reading the hieroglyphs aloud (and arguing about it). Some were copying and painting the beautiful inscriptions on their sketch-books.
I had been on email contact with an Ozzie girl, Jackie, who was also travelling to Egypt alone during the same period as I. We decided to take the Nile Cruise trip together as it would obviously be cheaper to share a double-room. We didn't know how the other looked like. I just booked a room in Pension Roma for a particular night and we were to just show up. As she was in Cairo a week ago, she bought the train tickets to Aswan for us in advance.
My first night in Cairo was at the Sun Hotel, right in downtown. I checked out and made my way to Pension Roma by metro during the rush-hour. Had some difficulty locating the hotel and after climbing the 4 flights of spiral stairs, I found a message from her on arrival.
She had taken ill (vomitting and diarrhoea, of course) and was now checked into a 5-star hotel right in downtown. Yeah, right about where I came from... So, I had to make my way back to downtown, without my backpack, of course, to meet her.
Well, she had the Pharoah's curse early. She had been staying at a 3-star hotel opposite when she fell ill at around 3am last night. She picked up her bag, crossed the road and started crying at the 5-star hotel's reception until someone helped settle her into a sumptous room and contacted a doctor. She called her travel insurance company and bullied them into agreeing to pay for 90% of the hotel bills.
Oh-oh... warning bells rang in my ears. She sounded a tad pampered. Well, it's alright. I 'pride' myself at my level of tolerance and my ability to see the *good* in every human. Heh....
I paid her for my share of the train ticket and wished her a 'Get well soon'. It was decided that she would recuperate a couple more days in Cairo and take a plane out to Aswan to meet me later for the Nile Cruise.
On the way back to Pension Roma, I passed by Peking Restaurant. I stared at the Chinese words greedily. It was just a week and a half since I left home and I was already craving for Chinese food. While this might bring SHAME to the rest of the 'travellers-not-tourists', I was shameless and entered the restaurant shamelessly.
I soon found myself the only guest in the huge restaurant (decorated with Oriental red lanterns, no less) with 5 waiters standing by the bar-counter ever-ready to serve me. With such high hopes pinned on me, I might have disappointed them a little by choosing the cheaper selections.
From the corner of my eyes, I noticed a couple of them staring at me unwaveringly as I dipped the dumplings in the sauce and gobbled them up one by one ungraciously. Finally, one came up to me awkwardly and asked, "Hello. Where you from?... Is the food the same? Same from your home?"
I considered for a while and I have to admit, Chinese restaurants overseas are usually crap but for the dumplings and expensive fried rice I had just consumed, they were rather agreeable, "Yeah, the same."
"The SAME?!?? Really???" He was incredulous. It was as if he had made some sort of bet that the food served here was really not _Chinese_ at all!
Once done, I got up immediately and they were sorry to see me - the only company they had for a while - leave. They pleaded, "Oh, why you eat so fast and leave so fast? Stay a while..."
< Kids bathing in the Nile. They bathe in the Nile, they drink from the Nile, they toss rubbish into the Nile... >
Being such a small town, yet with such a HUGE number of tourists because of the hundreds of cruise-liners docked by the corniche, proportionately, A LOT OF locals were involved in the tourism industry. On a scale of 1-10 of harrassments, I would say, Aswan scored a 9.
I walked up and down the corniche so many times that I was soon recognised by the felucca captains... "HEY!! SANGAFURA!! (which is 'Singapore'... I had replied previously to their "Hello! Where you from??!") Remember me? I'm Abdullah. You promise me to take the felucca today [blahblah]"
A reply to their query : "HARLOWWW.... WHERE YOU FROM?" may warrant :
1) an innocent "Welcome" (rare);
2) "Do you want to be my girlfriend? / I want to marry you. (likely)";
3) "Just a moment. ExCOOSE me. Stop here one minute. Just look. No hassle. You looking for feluccaride-taxiride-camelride-carriageride-papyrus-spices-perfume-alabastar. Just lookie. No hassle. Look here, what's your NAM?" (very likely)
To be fair, after some exchanges of stories with Caucasian girls, I found that, as an Asian, I got the less disgusting stuffs. Once I'm with a buxomy blonde, I would be edged out while the men zeroed down to her breasts and spoke to the wobbly ones, "Hellooo.... where you from? / You want to come to my room? / Ooo... beeeaautiful! How many camels?"
If you say you're from 'Hollanda', they will have an uncle / brother / father in Amsterdam. With the link and familiarity established, they would offer to bring you to a place to pass you his name card. Of course, they naturally will be selling papyrus, perfumes, etc...
2 poor Dutch girls I met actually fell for this - twice in Cairo - and brought to the same shop too!
Same old trick, everywhere, everytime.
After a bikini-wax and a couple of days of cocktail-swilling by the roof-top pool of the Cairo 5-star hotel where she had been sun-bathing, sorry... recuperating (90% sponsored by her travel insurance company), Jackie had rejoined me in Aswan. And when we were asked that question AGAIN, instead of replying 'Australia' (which will mean their assorted male relative was in Sydney), we replied, "Iceland!"
*heh* *heh* *heh*
< Friendly locals >
I have to correct a point... Those involved in tourism were quite annoying to deal with. But the regular locals were so so so friendly.
I sat in the shade to rest and this little girl next to me immediately offered me her mashed banana in her hand. Such a sweet gesture...