Egypt - Country number 14

Trip Start Feb 20, 2002
Trip End Nov 18, 2002

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Tuesday, August 20, 2002

-- Egypt - Country numero 14

Logistics, the ultimate time killer, but sometimes a well needed break in a frantically busy traveling schedule. When I left Israel, back to the safety of Amman, Jordan, my to-do list had swollen to a plump stack of 13 chores. Iranian Visa, Syrian Visa, packages to send, things to buy, people to see, "should a holiday be this much work?" I thought, wiping the puddle of sweat that was building in the crease of my Chinese notebook while sitting in my lime green shoebox hotel room in downtown Amman looking over my map of the Middle East and plotting several routes zig zagging in a big loop across the page...

Being a notorious computer nerd, the first, and most enjoyable task on the list was email, contact with the outside world, and more importantly a quick check on the tense Israeli situation I'd just left behind.

-- Those left behind...

My new friends were still in Jerusalem when I had left and I was nursing a violent itch for an update on the situation, knowing that retaliatory attacks for the killing of one of the Hamas leaders in Gaza by the Israeli military were on their way.

"Bomb explodes in busy University cafe, 7 dead."

The attacks had already begun...

"Suicide bomber explodes next to Falafel stand in central Jerusalem."

"Central Jerusalem? Uhh ohh.. that's where our guest house was. The vaguely detailed headline on the BBC web page reporting a suicide bombing in "Central" Jerusalem was worrying. Less that 24 hours before, we'd been sitting at a falafel stand in Central Jerusalem, enjoying a juicy falafel and debating whether it was wise to stay in Israel." Could it be the same Falafel stand?" I wondered.

It looked as though I'd left just in time. I scoured the Internet for more information on the attack but came up with nothing. I exhaled a deep sigh, took a sip of my steaming hot Turkish coffee and fired off emails to my friends still in Israel. Days later I received confirmation that they were still in one piece and had each left the country in turn.

-- Amman... again... and again... and again.

Seeing as I'd been in Amman 3 times before and for over 10 days in total, making Amman the one city I'd spent the most time in since I'd started my trip 6 months before, I knew quite a few locals. Coming back to Amman was like coming home. To break up the slowly thinning to-do list, I hung out with Hanni, the owner of the Farah Hotel, as he took me and some new friends from the hostel around to the very few discos and pubs in Amman, most of which wouldn't let a single guy, unaccompanied by a date, through the doors, a strange ritual that I still failed to understand.

On the 4th day in Amman (Where does time go?), all of the to-dos firmly crossed off of the checklist, I woke up early for a long journey south, to Egypt, the 14th country to visit on my 9 month journey.

It was time for another blurry, jet-set day of travel, 5 hours on the bus to South Jordan, 2 hours on a ferry, passed Saudi Arabia on the left, Israel on the right and straight to Egypt. Finally, a 2 hour taxi to the beachy town of Dahab.

-- "Dahab isn't Egypt"

Ok, maybe it was true, but I didn't know it at the time. "Dahab isn't Egypt... don't be fooled". I'd been warned by a few people not to get too used to Dahab, the sandy, relaxed, beach side city on the Red Sea coast of Egypt, known for it's world class diving, snorkeling and raunchy nightlife. Apparently, the rest of Egypt was polluted with nasty touts and mean-faced salesmen waiting to rob you of every last Egyptian pound in your wallet. Some even made the bold statement that Egypt's touts were even worse than India's! Something I was reluctant to believe, or hopeful to disbelieve at least.

I checked into a beach side room at the Penguin Hotel ( were I was assaulted by a fleet of carnivorous bed bugs on my first night ) and signed up quickly for a PADI Scuba Diving Certification course. I'd been meaning to get certified for open water diving for years but never had the required 4 days to spare. Now was the time, and Dahab was the place.

I stuffed the quizzes, reading material and forms into my daypack and flopped down in one of the colorful pillow strewn sitting areas by the beach. Quizzes? Reading? Exams? Thinking? What had I gotten myself into? After 5 minutes of flipping pages randomly and staring blankly at what seemed to be "work", I was beginning to wonder why I'd decided to submit myself to school-like conditions while on my holiday. It was time to blow the cobwebs off of my mushy, pampered, lazy and long-since-used think tank. Uggg...

After only 10 minutes of reading, I slammed the book shut, took a sip of my banana lassi and slumped sideways over a mound of pillows as a Japanese man strolled by. Our eyes locked in a do-I-know-you stare. After 30 seconds of staring, the look contorted to a I-think-I-know-you-but-who-the-hell-are-you stare.

"Do I know you?" I asked
"Yeah, I think so..."

We were both still at a loss.

"Japanese, right?"
He nodded with a typically humble Japanese flick of the head.

"Did you go to Israel?" I prodded, wondering if he was the Japanese guy I'd received all of my Israeli information from in Petra, weeks ago.


"For how long?"

"3 months" ... aha! It WAS him.

"Ha! We shared a dorm room in Petra, 2 weeks ago, remember?"

"Ohhh, yeah! That's right... How are you?"

By complete coincidence, he'd been at the same dive center and was cramming for the advanced diving course.

We caught up quickly and Q showed me around town. He'd been in Dahab for 2 weeks and knew the best places to eat, the cheapest places to stay, and all of the general backpacker tid-bits that get passed around over time.

Q broke the traditional mold of the stereotypical Japanese male. At 33, still traveling for an undefined amount of years. He could afford the extra lengthy stay in each country/city he'd visit. A luxury I wished I'd had.

The PADI course slowly progressed as we watched videos, wrote quizzes and did underwater "skills" with our instructor. I was doing the PADI with a Canadian fellow backpacker from Fort Eerie and an Australian girl. The Aussie decided best to bail out of the course after a day, leaving only 2 first time Canadian divers.

On the second day, as I sat back on my lump of pillows and listened to the mellow tunes at the penguin as another familiar face strolled into the compound. We locked eyes again as he strutted by. It took a while before the stare finally reached the damn-I-DO-know-you stage but finally he turned around and walked over to flop down next to me.

"Israel right?" I asked
"Oui, tu vien du Canada, non?"
"Bien Oui!"

It was Francois, a funny, carefree, fellow intrepid traveler from Belgium. We'd spent a few days together in Jerusalem before he left for Tel Aviv a week before and I'd stayed behind in Jerusalem.

Jay, the Canadian, Q, Francois and I spent our lazy time between dives establishing a wonderfully hedonistic ritual of eating, chatting and relaxing until the PADI was finally over.

I passed the final exam with an easy 96% ( Not being cocky, the exam was easy enough for a drunken, high school drop-out with bad eye-sight to pass ) and prepared for our planned trek up to Mt. Sinai. Mt Sinai, were Moses was handed down the 10 commandments a few thousand of years ago, was a 2 hour hike. The usual trip was an 11pm ascent, a chilly 4 hour wait for the sun to rise at the top and a tired trek back down.

Jay, Francois and I climbed up, having just done our last dives to the top in the darkness on the night. The change of altitude from 18 meters underwater to several hundred meters above sea level was grueling, but worth it. We lugged up some beer and waited for the sunrise along with a hundred other eager travelers. When the sun finally rose, we drank our ceremonial pints and battled to stay awake, a battle which we lost for about a half hour before Jay shook us awake for the walk down.

Although the sunrise wasn't spectacular, the view and over-all experience was. When the sun slowly rose, the rocky landscape gracefully began to glow orange. When the sun finally began to splash it's warm blanket of heat over us, we headed back down.

The journey was over, it was time to sleep. I had switched from my heat-box claustrophobic room to an AC room the night before and was happy that I did. Reaching my bed, I collapsed and slept from noon to 6am the next day, nursing my puffy hands still swollen from the dramatic change of altitude the day before.

A quick 8 days had passed, I had reached my last day in Dahab. Well rested, I prepared to leave, off to Luxor in Southern Egypt. The pharoic valley of the kings.

-- Luxor - Tombs and Touts

The 17 hour, overnight, bus ride from Dahab to Luxor flew by. Partly because the bus was a cushy AC number and also because of the new friends I'd made on the ride. Paul, a stocky fellow Canadian with a clean shaven head on a 2 month trip in the middle east, Gerry and Kathy, Aussies who had been traveling the world for over a year on a post-engagement trip and 3 British girls on short trip to Egypt helped pass the time as we laughed at the horrible B movie featured along the way and fell into valium induced sleep.

When we reached Luxor in the early morning, we all agreed on a recommended hotel and headed off passed swarms of touts.

"Hello! Hello! Where you go?" The touts rushed in from all sides.

My well-rehearsed anti-tout gaze, mastered in India, was called back into action. I had heard of how bad the touts were in Egypt but until now, I hadn't seen any of the aggressiveness other backpackers had spoken of. After all, as everyone had preached to me since I had arrived in Egypt, "Dahab wasn't Egypt". Luxor was...

"Where you go? Which hotel! You come to my hotel, cheap!" they shouted as all 7 of us gathered our bags from the storage compartment of the bus.

"We have hotel." It was always best not to say too much. We pushed aside the increasingly aggressive touts and walked off. 4 of the 10 touts took chase following behind and taking turns barking at us.

"Which hotel you go?"

"We have hotel, hotel Nefertiti" we said in hopes of dislodging the touts from our personal space.

"Ahh yes, I know hotel. It's my father's, very good." The tout pulled out a card for the hotel and followed along behind.

"You know, he's going to follow us and take commission at the hotel, which means they'll jack up the price" Gerry whispered to me before stopping in his tracks.

"Ok, we know where the hotel is, please leave us alone." Gerry always took the first strike when in a dodgy situation and had a talent with haggling.

"Is ok, my father, no problem, I show you."

"No, listen we know the place... it's right there" He pointed to the hotel's sign 50 meters down the road. "We can find it, ok?"

"Ok, ok... no problem.. " The tout wouldn't let up and was hovering ahead of us, walking backwards and touting fiercely.

Finally, Gerry stopped in his tracks and tapped the tout's arm who was slowly getting closer to us.

Gerry, still calm, turned to the tout as a last attempt to shove him off, "Listen, ok, we know were the place is, you can go now."

The tout snapped, revealing to me exactly what other's had warned me about. "Why you touch me? Fuck you! This is MY country. Fuck you! We don't want you at our hotel anymore, you leave NOW!" The tout was raging. We all knew that he had no association with the hotel and was just furious that we didn't let him follow us to collect a commission.

The tout, yelling and cussing, walked back to the pack of fellow aggressors, back at the bus station, still shouting and cussing at us... but finally, he was gone.

In all of my travel's I'd never seen such hostility from a tout before. Even in India, although annoying and obnoxious, the touts would never cuss and whip up into a fury. After following the established protocol of begging, tugging at clothes, asking for baksheesh and supplying the appropriate amount of shoeing, they would simply leave you alone. Now I understood why so many other backpackers had told me that 2 weeks would be plenty in Egypt instead of my planned 4 weeks.

Once settled into the hotel, we confirmed that, of course, the tout had no relation to the hotel and, as usual, the hotel was glad to not have to pay off a tout.

Although the hotel had a serious power problem, which meant no air conditioning for hours on end in a city which was known to reach 50 degrees at times, it did have some redeeming qualities, like a rooftop sitting area, which, when the power was actually on, was quite pleasant.

Luxor, a busy Egyptian city with enough Pharoic sights to make your head spin, was as Egyptian as they came, especially at night when all of the locals sat out in the countless coffee shops smoking Sheesha pipes and sipping Chai tea.

Luxor, as with almost all other Egyptian cities, was nestled on the Nile river, the lifeline of Egypt. The East bank of the Nile river, with it's temples, and on the west bank, the valley of the kings where dozens, if not hundreds, of Pharoes tomb's laid.

To make short work of the East bank, we rushed off to see the temple of Luxor. A temple strewn with Hieroglyphs, mammoth statues of Pharoes and a Sphinx lined entrance which once led all the way north to the sacred temple of Karnak.

In the mid-day sun, the temple beamed bright white light as we hunted for shade, slithering up and down alleys, stuck to walls and caressing the small amounts of sunless shadowy bits of ground.

The sun proved to be a powerful opponent and chased us back to our hotel after a quick trample through the temple.

It was the first Egyptian site I'd seen, and did inspire some images of a powerful civilization dating back to 3000BC but, I knew that I would quickly be "templed-out", a term colloquially used to describe the state of mind induced by the overwhelming amount of temples in Egypt. Upper Egypt ( which was actually the south of Egypt, and not the north as one would assume due to fact that it was "up" the river Nile ) was speckled with enough Pharoic tombs and statues that, unless you possessed an obsession for Egyptian history, would quickly become overwhelming.

Back at the hotel, we leaned over the balcony to supervise, or more appropriately, gripe, at the Egyptian electricians working up on the power lines, trying to fix our power outage.

The Egyptian man, high up on his ladder was sipping tea and bending raw wire around a pole. "Now that can't be safe... Look at this guy, he's even drinking tea!" We couldn't believe the near-death reparation work that was going on below. The tattered mess of wire they finally left behind on the mangled pole was testament to frequent outages.

When the sun finally began to set, the heat fading away and the city filling with a soothing glow, we headed to the Temple of Karnak for the sound and light show. I typically didn't waste time on cheesy shows contrived for tourists but walking through the massive temple, passed giant statues, as eerie music and colored lights bathed the statues with a mystical glow, I surprised myself. The temple seemed to come alive during the walk through and tiny goose bumps sprung up on my arms as if to say "see I told you this would be cool!"

The next day we attacked the west bank. Seeing as the tombs were endless, we had booked a tour and left early in the morning to soak in the tombs where Pharoes had been laid to rest.

The tombs were spectacular. Buried in deep caves, beautifully ornate with hieroglyphs and paintings, the tombs were intended to hide the Pharoes rather than put them on display as earlier Pharoes who'd opted for the more in-your-face-pyramid-style tomb. Hidden for centuries from grave robber and now jam-packed with tourists.

I was surprised by the large amounts of tourists in Egypt. The rest of my trip had seen very little and with the troubles in the middle east I was tempted to shout out "Hey! Everyone! Can I have your attention please. Uh Hummm... Don't you know that the middle east is in bad shape right now? You should be afraid!! Go home! It's not safe!" But... they knew the truth, beyond the headlines, the middle east, aside from certain hot spots, was safe. Seeing as how Egypt invested massive amounts of pounds on security, which could be seen just about everywhere in the country, safety in Egypt was really not a concern. The secret was out, although I did suspect that years back, before the area became as "unstable" as it was, massive hordes of tourists must have flocked in. The remaining trickle, which was still substantial, was a surprising large number.

The tombs were a pay-per-tomb deal, which meant, picking the best ones and passing on the rest, which we did, the best of which was the tomb of Nefertiti. A quick 10 minutes in the magnificently painted tomb, which as still in perfect condition, wet our appetite for more. 10 minutes was the maximum allowed time inside due to tourist's heat/breath/blah blah blah effect on the tomb. In hind side, seeing the most spectacular tomb in all of the valley first was probably a bad idea as the others barely tickled the imagination in comparison.

We ended the day by visiting yet more temples and colossal statues. Back at the hotel, the British girls sparked up their new Sheesha pipe and we all sat on the rooftop for a relaxing evening under the stars.

-- Aswan - Down the Nile, Egyptian style.

The next morning we left for Aswan, a town south of Luxor, on the Nile and known for it's Felucca rides. A felucca, essentially a sail boat used by ancient Egyptian was the perfect way to see the Nile river. When we arrived in Aswan, we met up with the girls, who had left the night before and arranged for a sunset Felucca and a day trip to Abu Simbel.

It was obvious why the feluccas where a big hit. The quiet, small, smooth running sail boats floated down the Nile passed us as the sun set. Calm, relaxed, and peaceful, the ride was enough to tempt Gerry, Kathy, Paul and I to book an over night trip up the Nile 2 days later after the girls had left.

When we awoke at 4 the next morning, after another night of Sheesha smoking, with great difficulty we pulled ourselves out of bed and onto a tiny mini-bus to Abu Simbel. Abu Simbel, a famous Egyptian temple near the border of Sudan in southern Egypt was massive. Giant statues of Pharoes guarded the entrance and we walked passed in a flood of tourists. The spectacular temples were worth the early wake up call but the visit also marked the point where I was officially templed-out.

The 7 of us spent the afternoon at the hotel in our AC room, occasionally venturing out into the heat to pick up a batch of fresh Falafel ( deliciously addictive deep fried balls of chick peas in a plump salad filled pita ) and slept.

The group shrunk by 3 as the girls left for Cairo and we prepared for our 2 day Felucca trip.

The felucca was all that was expected. A calm glide up the Nile, sipping beer and listening to music to end with an overnight snooze on the east bank of the river.


-- Oasis Paradise

Having finished our jaunt in Upper Egypt, Gerry, Kathy, Paul and I embarked on a 26 hour mission north to Lower Egypt which consisted of 2 trains and one long bus ride. The ride was worth it. The lush Desert Oasis, Siwa, in the Western Sahara Desert was as quaint as could be in a land of busy, buzzing streets and shouting Egyptians.

The mud brick houses surrounding the central decaying village had a calm, lazy feeling to it. People seemed calmer, friendlier, less stressed. Donkeys wandered the streets and locals waved hello as we walked passed.

Paul, Gerry and Kathy booked an overnight trek into the desert but I chose to stay behind alone and soak in the cozy oasis village.

Once the heat passed and 3pm rolled around I rented a bicycle and rode off to the Temple of the Oracle where Alexander the great himself ventured to around 300 BC to seek confirmation from the resident Oracle that he in fact was the son of Zeus, and a God, before heading back east to command and conquer the Asian world.

The temple, was mostly decayed but revealed just how large the oasis was. A giant pool of salty water surrounded by green, leafy date trees and donkeys could be seen from the top. Spotting a small road down below, I rode off in it's direction, getting lost and eventually finding my way to a much needed shady area. 3pm wasn't as cool as I thought it would be! Dripping with sweat, I retreated to the Internet cafe, the only one in Siwa, were I'd made friends with the owner and talked, sipped tea and met more locals than I had in all of my time in Egypt. Siwa was paradise, (although a very hot one) no wonder people ended up staying here for so long. Not that there were many tourists. It's distance from mainland Egypt kept the bulk of tour busses at bay.

When the sun finally began to set I climbed the hill in the center of the city which was speckled with ancient half decayed mud-brick houses for the sunset. Watching down on the slow moving city, from up there, the oasis could be seen for what it was, a small patch of green in a sea of Saharan sand. All around the oasis, the desert surrounded the village. Down below, muddy houses stacked atop each other, stretching out within the green oasis landscape which blossomed from the pure water of the well. Women, in traditional, fully veiled, head to toe garb walked by. The sun set over the village and I ran back to Mohammed at the Internet Cafe for a long cup of Egyptian tea outside watching the small town folk walk by.

The heat in Siwa was so intense that the CPUs in the computers had become too hot and we waited for hours before being able to connect, finally allowing me to check on my Iranian Visa. A visa which was proving to be quite elusive, and still, after 19 days, hadn't been processed.

-- To the Desert!

The 3 day desert tour of the Sahara which I had booked for that day quickly fell apart as other's began to change their minds about spending 3 hot days out in the desert. To keep things simple, I opted for a 2 day tour, sleeping under the stars in the sand dunes instead. The tour took us through the desert, through golden sweeping sand dunes and lush oasis'. It had been my 3rd desert tour since I started the trip. First in India, second in Wadi Rum, Jordan and now, the Sahara, in Egypt near the Libyan border.

"Hey!" Andrew shouted as he lugged his pack down the street to the Palms hotel. Andrew, had gone to Lebanon and Syria on a whirlwind tour after I had left Jordan for Egypt and had just arrived in Siwa.

We caught up quickly and left for the tour, which he'd also booked.

Sitting in the back of the truck, as we zoomed over sand dunes, Andrew turned to me. "Luc.. what are you doing? Yer slacking! "

"What? What are you talking about?"

"TravelPod... common... no entry since Israel? You can't just leave us hanging, like that."

I'd converted Andrew into a "TravelPodling" when we were in Amman and he had been using the site since.

"Well, you know.. Ummmm... not much has happened in Egypt... Just tourist stuff really."

"Common man.. you can't just wait for shit to happen.. you gotta go looking for it. Like in Sri Lanka, YOU went to Jaffna, Jaffna didn't come to you!"

He was right, I was getting run down. I hadn't felt the urge to push the envelope in months, unlike when I still felt I had something to prove to myself. I had to do something... something to revitalize my travels.. but what? The ideas began to form but a I-couldn't-be-bothered attitude still permeated my system...

I'd think of something later...

The Sahara was quite different from the other deserts. Vast desert surrounding us and soft fine sand getting into every possible wrinkle, pocket and crease imaginable. We watched the sun set behind dunes from atop a massive peak of white sand where I sat back and thought to myself "Wow... I am in the Sahara Desert". After traveling for months, the numbness of new and exotic sights rarely inspired a thrill but I couldn't help feeling a sense of being somewhere special... unique .. and unforgettable.

Awaking from a hard night of sleep under the stars in the desert is always rough. Rubbing sand away from your face and delicately picking it from your ears, nails and clothes. Gladly the truck arrived to ferry it's human cargo back to the hotel early in the morning for a much needed shower.

One last day in Siwa then it was off to my last stop before meeting Linda in Istanbul, Cairo.

-- Cairo

I was done with Siwa, 5 days was enough, mostly because of the brutal desert sun. Another night of patchy sleep, this time, aboard a cramped bus from Siwa to Alexandria and finally, to Cairo. Even a healthy dose of Valium couldn't have helped me sleep through the loud Quranic verses pumping from the stereo that night.

I'd been warned of the busy chaos that awaited in Cairo, but as usual, low expectations helped ease the onslaught on a new city. As they did again in Cairo.

Cairo was a nocturnal city. Calm and trafficless during the day, leaving you with a false impression that the city was scarcely inhabited. At night, the city came alive, streets bulged, overflowing Arabs and manic traffic took over the wide avenues. Arriving at 7am into Cairo, the nearly deserted streets calmly guided me to my hotel, a cheap, grungy hotel, popular with the backpacking crowd for it's central location and roof top rooms. Unable to string together enough words to perform a respectable bargaining routine, I accepted the 5$ US rooftop, bright pink room which was no larger than my toilette back home and made a dash for the showers.

I had 3 days in Cairo. 3 days in which I was determined to slowly absorb the city, not rushing through it like I had done in the early stages of my travels.

Those days were over with. Rushing from city to city, riding cement trucks and cargo busses on a whirlwind schedule. I adopted a much slower pace where a full day of nothingness was welcomed and now a customary retreat from hectic, breakneck travel. The heat may have had something to do with it too. After all, a blazing sun, pounding 50 degree's Celsius heat on a north American traveler was torture enough.

I decided a slow and interesting way to ease into Cairo was to visit the Egyptian Museum which was a cool 5 minutes walk from the Dahab.

-- "Where are they all coming from?"

"My god... where are they all coming from?" I thought as I locked my gaze down from the second floor of the museum onto countless groups of tourists accompanied by their guides yelling loudly over the other touts, each in a horrifically nerve twitching symphony of noise.

The museum was, by far, Egypt's largest collection of artifacts from pharoic history. 100,000 pieces of statues, mummies and gold, strewn seemingly haphazardly throughout the building was a complete overload.

I bumped my way through tour groups moving in a jerk like manner through the halls to find the two halls I had been told not to miss. Tuttankamun, the famous world known symbol of Egypt. The golden funeral head dress did not disappoint, or maybe it was just that his show room was the only air conditioned room in the musty museum, regardless, the amount of gold, and flashes of documentaries I'd seen on the young pharoe which flooded back in comparison with what I was gazing at was one of the first times I'd cracked a my-god-this-is-stunning smile with a locked gaze since I'd arrived in Egypt.

With difficulty I slowly convinced myself to exit the sweat-drying and soul-soothing AC room to visit the mummies chamber.

Finally, after being through Egypt and seeing monument after monument built by Ramses-this and Tuttsy-that, I could see them in the flesh, laterally. The mummies lay there, some locked in a horrific expression, others seemed to sleep. The mummies where in pristine condition, considering their age of over 4000 years. The room was cramped and I popped over shoulders and nudged aside locals to gawk.

When I'd had enough I returned to the Dahab Hotel for downtime.

-- Guess who?

"Hey, there you are!" Gerry greeted, stepping over my ankle-high door frame, into my room. I was laying in bed reading a book he'd given me a few days back in Aswan.

"Hey hey! How the hell are ya?" I sat up to shake his hand.

Gerry and Kathy had left Siwa early to head for Cairo and knew that I would be at the Dahab. They were staying there as well. After catching up on the 2 days since we'd last seen each other we shared a beer and walked out through Cairo to perhaps one of the best street-food sellers in town.

The streets were slowly beginning to swell with people as night approached.

We gorged ourselves on some fine middle eastern cuisine and headed back to the Dahab. Gerry and Kathy were leaving that night for Nairobi. We sat in the large roof-top communal area, had our last beer and smoked a sheesha while trading stories of travels throughout the world.

Gerry paused and sighed, "You know, I would be just as happy if this flight were taking me back home to Australia." he said before taking a long draw from our waist-high sheesha pipe and handing it to me.

I toked the pipe and sympathized, "Your burned out eh?"

The pipe was a pitiful excuse for a sheesha. The draw was week and I could only imagine how many holes it had in the tube.

"Yeah, We..."

I dropped the long wooden-tipped pipe down on the table and sloshed back the rest of my crispy cold Sakara Beer "This pipe sucks..."

"Yeah... it does..."

"Sorry, you were saying?"

"Uhh,, oh yeah.. well... We've been gone for a long time." Gerry was shifting himself uncomfortably on his stool.

I shifted my eyes left to catch Kathy shaking her head side to side quietly. Gerry caught a glimpse of Kathy's silent differing opinion. She wasn't ready for home.

He chuckled, "Yeah she isn't ready to go home."

The topic made me think of how long-travel takes it's toll on us. After a certain amount of time, you either don't want to go back or you can't wait to.

I was drifting mentally between both extremes.

The sheesha was officially dead. A dark lump of charred Apple tobacco in the bowl confirmed it, it was time for them to go to the airport.

Once they left I almost immediately passed out, having only enough energy left to make it to my bed.

-- Pyramids

The next morning I had arranged for an 8am taxi to the Pyramids, my last sight seeing trip in Egypt. Unfortunately, 8am "Egyptian-time" was more like 8:30.

"40 pounds to the pyramids and back" the fat man downstairs barked.

I had no time to waste. I wanted to get to the Pyramids before the convoys of tour busses arrived and had no patience for the typical Egyptian run around.

"No .. that's bullshit. I arranged the taxi for 30 yesterday. Don't waste my time."

"Ok, ok... 30... but you need camel. Not allowed to walk around the pyramids, you must have a camel or a horse."

I'd heard these stories enough to know he was wasting my time and trying to up sell me.

"F*ck that... I can walk. I know. Do you want my business or not." I snapped curtly while eyeing left and right for passing taxis who would be more than happy to take me to the pyramids for 30 pounds.

"Ok, ok... you go, for 30."

Finally... "why does everything need to be this hard?" I thought realizing that my passed 3 weeks in Egypt had been painless due to the diluting effects of traveling as a group. Now, my second day alone, I was already growing annoyed with the constant Egyptian scams.

As I walked towards the towering pyramids in front of me, not a tourist in sight, I knew I didn't have much time. The mere thought of visiting the last standing 7 wonders of the ancient world would have brought goose bumps to my skin but I mechanically toured the site without a drop of adrenaline.

Perhaps it was because of it's tourist edge. The site was fully set up as a tourist trap. Surrounded by shops, touts and vendors. In Asia, almost all of the sights were still active monasteries or sites of worship, in Egypt, everything was a show. "Pay your money and see the statues, ohh and don't forget to buy your this and that." More like a country-sized museum than a living, holy shrine throbbing with ancient history.

I sat in the shade for a short break from the heat and looked over at the pyramids. One thing struck me. Here I was, ooing and ahhing at all these fantastic ancient civilizations. But in reality, the most impressive of things were still just rocks, stones and primitive structures. Ok, so they were impressive. "Wow they built this back then?". I couldn't help thinking what would people think when they unearth my apartment 10,000 years from now, after we finally successfully obliterated our own civilization. Would they think "Wow, they had computers back then, wow... the internet, TV, microwaves, telephone." or perhaps more simply "Man this Luc guy had a dirty house, didn't they have brooms?"

Perspective. Mild thoughts of nothingness passed the morning in the shade overlooking Giza.

Once finished with the Pyramids, dripping with sweat I headed back to the hotel to lounge and attempt sleep, a futile effort due to the frequent blasting of Quranic verses from the neighboring mosque which served as a wake up call every few hours.

I was clinically templed-out, oasised-out, done with the heat and overall, "Egypted-out". 2 more days until Turkey, and I was dying for a change.

-- Last Days

"Weather very good." The locals told me. It was hard to believe that the this brutally humid heat could be considered cool compared to the normal sauna-like climate in Cairo.

Hot weather had the effect of keeping me idle for most of my last days in Cairo. Seeing as I was leaving soon, with a flight to catch, the option of packing up and jetting off to a new city to beat the heat wasn't one I could take. I would have to sit it out in Cairo until it was time to leave.

Having idled away the last of my time in Cairo by taking care of logistics and finishing a brick sized book Gerry had given me before leaving, I reached my last afternoon in Egypt.

I attempted to retrieve my Iranian visa. I had applied for it over 20 days before. It still hadn't been processed. It was looking bleak. I found solace in the fact the Iran was currently suffering from flooding as most of Europe was. Perhaps it wasn't in the cards to visit the country.

My guide book, the infamous "Bible", warned not to think of modern Cairo as an ancient city, for a taste of the "real" Cairo, a visit to "Islamic Cairo" was a must.

When the sun dropped to a level which wasn't quite as hot, around 5pm, I ventured off to the old city.

This part of town was alive, split into two sections, the tourist bazaar and the local bazaar. I hadn't taken many photos in Egypt and headed straight for the local bazaar.

The bazaar was just what I was looking for. No tourists, stalls overflowing with hacked up animal bits and local Egyptian sellers more than happy to see a tourist stray from the overcrowded tourist bazaar.

Everyone smiled as I passed and welcomed me to Egypt. I always felt uncomfortable walking around with my bulky SLR camera strapped around my neck but decided to try something different this time. I was no longer "Luc the tourist", but "Luc the local freelance Photographer". The ploy worked beyond my wildest dreams. When Egyptians would come to me offering help to find my way back to the tourist bazaar, I would reply, "No thank you, not tourist, photographer" with a big hearty smile and a quick shake of my SLR.

The result was a flurry of invitations for a quick photo. People ran from around corners and friends gathered as they all asked for their photo to be taken, and to my surprise, without asking for baksheesh! (A "tip").

The tiny streets in the market were covered just enough to let a soft warm trickle of afternoon light in.

Each street had it's specialty. Spices, clothes, meat, fruits, electronics... and not a tourist in sight.

"Excuse me... are you lost?" Egyptians kept trying to help me back to the other side of the street, back to the bus loads of hundred of tourists and souvenir shops. "What are you looking for?" they would ask as I smiled happily and wiggled my camera, "No just walking, taking photos" some would even go out of their way to guide me to interesting photo spots. The experience, my last one in Egypt, was to be my most genuine one as I enjoyed a generous helping of Egyptian hospitality.

As I walked passed one shop selling rolls of brightly colored cloth, a man sitting along with 10 other Egyptians gestured that I sit with him. I sat and greeted them. My Arabic was shamefully weak given my near 2 months in the Middle East but was enough to carry on a basic conversation. One which my hosts where twitching with excitement at my attempt to speak their language. I sat and sipped chai with them as they puffed their water pipes and begged for me to take photos. Every 10 minutes someone would pass and join the group which grew to a ripe 20 men, all laughing and joking innocently with me, but mostly, at me.

I snapped so many pictures what I had to lie and tell them that I only had "wahid" picture left. One. They all understood and beckoned the others to silence as they pleaded for a photo to be taken.

Having finished my chai, I shook hands in turn with the group and walked off once they had admittedly refused to accepted any money for the tea. I gratefully took their address and promised to send them the pictures.

I walked off back into the bazaar where dozens more people in turn asked to have their photos taken until I eventually did empty my stock-pile of film.

My treasure chest of film was overflowing and I wandered back to a tea shop, famous within Cairo. When I arrived, it was jammed with sheesha puffing locals.

"Wahid Sheesha, Turkish coffee, bi kem?". One Sheesha and a Turkish coffee, how much?.

I sat, sipped my small cup of coffee thick with grinds, the way a good Turkish coffee should be.

"Excuse me, what are you smoking?" the British couple next to me asked.

"It's a sheesha, would you like to try?"

"Sure, you from Cairo? You look, well you don't "look" but you look like you are a local. You know, the way you 'are'."


I was flattered by the comment. I thought that I was as bad as when I arrived but maybe some of the local customs and language was wearing off on me.

We talked for hours as I finished my pipe, and was off to find my way back to my hotel offering the overpriced taxis a ritual short burst of "Tsk tsk tsk" when they tried to charge me tourist prices for the ride. I finally haggled my way to a reasonable fare and retired for the night. Content with my final impression of Cairo and ready for my flight to Istanbul.

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