I’m (still) alive

18 02 2011

Although I had my doubts a few times the last two weeks. I managed to stumble across some internet at 2am after a big few days getting to Hurghada and tried to make sure that you all knew I was ok, and then didn’t update the blog again. Sorry, well, I’ve been a little unwell.

2011_02_03 08_59_04I have been eating the local food and when I thought it was safe or I had no other option, drinking the tap water in Egypt. Until I reached the tourist places on the Red Sea I had been healthy. The day I arrived at Hurghada (famous for it’s cheap, all inclusive resorts full of Russian and European tourists) I ate some Kushari (Egyptian fast food that is normally vegan and yummy) and immediately (within minutes) got sick. I will spare you the details, but it wasn’t pretty.

2011_02_03 10_55_50

A bus or 1000km of this...

After recovering for a few days (and nervously watching the revolution continue to unfold) I worked out that the only way out of here (in a generally forward direction) would be to take a bus to Cairo. My initial, and far superior, plan of taking the ferry from Hurghada to Sharm el-Sheikh (80-odd km across the Red Sea) was disrupted when I found out the ferry has been broken down for the last x months (x is any number from 3-9, depending on who you speak with). I didn’t find out because someone cut the internet to all of Egypt. Bugger.

2011_02_06 13_11_38

Is that a gun in your pocket?

So I took the bus to Cairo (since there were no buses to Suez or anywhere else remotely in the direction I wanted to go). Then the bus to Sharm el-Sheikh (spending as short a time as possible in Cairo – the revolution was calming down, but the city was still under army control). The distance was ~500km + ~600km and somehow took 16 hours of driving+3 hours of waiting around. To go a net distance of 80km. The police and army were out in full force – I’ve never seen so many tanks and been subjected to so many completely pointless ID checks. Around the Suez canal they were especially nervous and searched the whole bus.

Of course the bus was significantly delayed and the bus schedules so upset by the revolution that I ended up spending a night in the bus station of Sharm el-Sheikh. After a few days in Hurghada I didn’t want more of the same in Sharm. So I bussed again to Dahab – well known by backpackers as a place to visit for a few days and leave several weeks later.

2011_02_17 13_55_38I wanted to spend a few days to eat and recover a bit before riding to Jordan, and Dahab is the closest town you might like to kill some time in (the ferry to Jordan is a mere 80km north of Dahab in Nuweiba). I didn’t plan on getting sick a second time. I was a bit worried that I might have Giardia after a week of not getting better the second time, so I bought some antibiotics on day 9 of being sick and I seem to be on the mend. So, like most, I have spent far longer than I expected in Dahab. But, disappointingly, I haven’t done very much (like most who seem to spend months here). I have got out a few times to snorkel (when the wind wasn’t blowing me off the beach), and the reef really is first class. Although I don’t see a lot of point in diving – the best of the reef is in about 5m of water (although there are many other dive sites I didn’t look at). I would to have a photo but camera isn’t waterproof.

2011_02_17 06_32_11My Egyptian visa is perilously close to expiring, so I cheated yesterday and took a tour to the top of Mt Sinai. To watch the sunrise and get frozen. This is the site of the oldest monastery in the world, and the place where Moses was delivered the Ten Commandments. I didn’t know until I got there that the mountain next door (Mt St Catherine) was higher, but I didn’t have time to bag that one. I was amused that the monks in the monastery keep a fire extinguisher beside the ‘burning bush’.

2011_02_17 09_28_51

Today I did have great plans to go to Jordan but after staying awake all night to walk to Mt Sinai and the combined effects of being sick for weeks, my body (traitorous as it is) had better ideas and I slept too long. I hope the wind is below ‘full sand blast in the face’ again tomorrow.

Pyramids and People

22 01 2011

So I’m in Cairo. I’m a tourist; there are things a tourist must do. I went to see the Egyptian Museum yesterday, and made the trek out to the pyramids at Giza today. So far the only riding I have managed is from the airport to the Hostel.

IMG_6548The Museum was very interesting, but huge. And became a bit boring by the end. The Pyramids were very big, and quite evidently not going anywhere. The Sphinx was, as I had been warned, smaller in reality than I expected. But these are all objects I had seen in photos since my childhood, so I knew what to expect. I did have a good time crawling around in some of the pyramids – it’s slightly unreal that those walls, statues, engravings, etc, etc were built 4.5k years ago. That is a very old, and very big, pile of rock. And a stupid amount of tourists, and proportional number of locals trying, relentlessly, to sell a camel or horse ride.

What I hadn’t been taught anything about is the Egyptian people. And I’m struggling to work them out. I’ve travelled a little, but some of the behaviour here is puzzling. The first thing I’ve decided is that I feel safe and welcome here. I am happy to wander down any side street in Cairo. This is in sharp contrast to a woman I met in Greece who couldn’t say enough bad things about the Egyptian men. Since I feel safe, I’m considering (no, more than considering, I’ve decided) to make a trip along the Nile into Egypt before I go back and head to Jordan. If I really enjoy following the Nile I might keep going. Today, at the Pyramids, I met a (very nice) lass who lives in Sudan, and another (at least equally nice) who lives in Iran. I was given  reports that Sudan, Ethiopia and Iran are good places to visit. So it could be that this trip turns right and goes into Africa, although I doubt it. We’ll see. Either way it could be that I’ve made a contact to meet in Tehran for when I eventually get there.

But there is something about the Egyptians (well, the men that I have been talking too) that is troubling. With most random encounters on the street, I know where I stand, at least I know what the other person wants – and it is normally in my pants… pocket. 99% of the time they want something from my wallet. And that is fine, I can deal with that. Also I realise that central Cairo has lots of tourists, and a few times I’ve been trapped and had to pay ‘tourist tax’ on top of, for example, my 1 kilo of Oranges. But a few times now I’ve pulled myself up and wondered why the guy I just talked to for 10 minutes wanted. Check the pockets – no he wasn’t a pickpocket. So what was he after? Today I got an Arabic lesson on the bus on the way to the Pyramids. And invited into Abdul’s house for a drink of tea, after getting taken to the rooftop for a different view of the Pyramids. Yes Mum, I did follow a stranger to his house. But this guy quite obviously had no ulterior motive (of course he had a cousin who tried to sell me a camel ride, but that was completely expected). Puzzling.

And this evening I trapped myself. I was crossing the street – a dangerous activity, to say the least, in Cairo, but unavoidable to get to the book/map shop. A man came running past and shouted a warning in English along the lines of “hurry up!”. I knew the traffic was stopped, so I stood in the middle of the road and asked him what he was talking about. He made some story about the cars not always stopping for the lights (which is actually true – you want to see Democracy in action, watch the Cairo traffic for a while, the car drivers, and not the lights, dictate which direction should go next). But I’d called him out, and so he launched into the normal “Where are you from”, “Oh, Australia – Sydney, Melbourne, Kangaroos, Steve Irwin”. So I switched into ‘he wants something’ mode, and made good my escape. 5 minutes later I felt bad about snubbing a bloke who could have been genuinely trying to help (see? I do have a conscience). 10 minutes later I bumped into him again, hassling some (female) tourists. After they blew him off, he recognised me and yelled out; we shared a smile. Then I realised my initial impression was right after all.

But this is troubling. If I can’t rely on everyone, uniformly, being out simply to part the obvious tourist from his money, how am I going to deal with this? Could it be that a percentage of people will just be overtly friendly for no reason at all? And why doesn’t this happen at home?


And there are no brake pads that fit my bike in Cairo. All of Cairo. I checked. But I did find a map. Perhaps I can find a way to use the map to slow me down when I’m going downhill. This could be a problem… But now it’s time to  go find a Shawarma with Hummus and see if I can get it without paying (too much) tourist tax.

Edit: Huh, I just found this: http://www.radiolab.org/2010/dec/14/

That woke me up

19 01 2011

I understood that the Egyptian traffic might be a little different to the European traffic. I’ve travelled in Asia – how bad can it be?

Well… I’m still alive and I’ve found my way form the airport to a hotel in town. It was an experience at least. Thank God (or Allah) for GPS. Even though the GPS initially lied to me – it said it was only 10km, and here I am 1.5 hours and 25km later. But it got me here, subway construction, road rerouting, general chaos and all.