Egypt January 2011

Jim_Egypt1-300x226I arrived at Cairo airport about midnight the 21st/22nd January 2011& made my way to the  hotel via taxi through the most insane traffic and randomly scary driving I’ve ever experienced. It would seem beeping your horn a million times and ignoring traffic lanes is simply the way it is in Cairo. Actually, now that I think about often there aren’t any lanes on roads that a whole three cars wide. I don’t believe there’s even speed limits – which might be why I saw not one, not two, but three car accidents on the way. This would include are car on it’s roof. Other sightings that became the norm were people hanging on to the back of cars, ute-ing your donkey or camel around town and buses that drop people off, and pick people up without actually stopping. Seriously.

The next day we arrived in Luxor. Luxor really impressed me. Cleaner, and more tourist friendly than Cairo. And The Nile didn’t look as much of rubbish tip. Don’t kid yourself, it is, but in Cairo it was plenty woeful. A highlight in Luxor was the Karnak temple. Here our guide was hilarious and actually came up to our group and harassed us saying he was a taxi driver – before Hazem introduced him. He then proceeded to tell us, his brother was a real tour guide, and that he was just a taxi driver so he’d just be repeating in English for us what the other guides where saying about the hieroglyphics and layout of the temple. He also enjoyed taking this piss out of Tasmania, while sharing his educated theories on Egyptology.The next day we hopped into our Toyota 4WDs before dawn and headed out to the white desert where we camped the night and enjoyed some great Bedouin hospitality and great food. Around this time our Egyptian mates had given us all new names as they couldn’t be asked trying to remember our real ones. I was given Sa’id, which means ‘happy’. In turn we named our Bedouin mates and apparently we weren’t very imaginative. Bob, Garry etc. A few nights more out in the desert and then a night at the Bedouin camp in Dakhla followed. There was also one more fantastic night out in the desert – but for this we travelled by camel. It was awesome – Lenke had asked pretty much everyone involved to give me the meanest, grumpiest camel available, of course – But mine was alright even though I apparently looked like i was gonna fall off the back the whole time – Their faces are so funny & when we came to our stop – twenty odd camels all stopped and pissed on the ground at the same time in unison – special.The first day in Cairo, Lenke and I checked out the museum. On the way we got harassed by pseudo-friendly souvenir & perfume store owners left right and centre. They come straight up to you on the street, ask where your from, crap on about having family & friends where-ever you are from and then try their hardest to get you into their store. I think I even told someone I was from Jamaica before resorting to pretend to speak French. At the museum was some really cool stuff including the mummified animals room, and heaps of Tutankhamen treasures. We met our tour group that night as well as our legendary, tour leader, Hazem. The pyramids at Giza and the Red Pyramid further out of town followed the next day. Cairo is so smoggy, dusty and just downright filthy that the Pyramids literally poke out from the filthy air above the dense residential buildings when you least expect it; and you suddenly realise how epic, and huge these things are. This was the first of many things that left me with nothing else to say other than , ‘wow!’…
The Red Pyramid required a bus trip a fair way out – and it was properly in the desert. So I really dug it – you could walk around it and really soak up the expansive nothingness while in the shadow of a huge monument.
egypt_jim_bw-273x300The sun was setting as we left the temple – From dodgy distorted megaphones bolted onto buildings the Muslims kicked into prayer chants & songs that kinda clash with each other & turn into noise. I recall at one point as we reunited with the group outside the temple it felt like there was literally a 360 wall of prayer chants blasting into the air.  At first it seems like some sort of propaganda or alarming msg due to the use of megaphones – after a while its just surreal. On the way back to the Hotel from temple we drove straight past a large demonstration. In their wake, the road was littered with rocks, broken glass and scared faces. A government building had its front gate smashed in and all the while we were cracking jokes about backing the bus up to get more photo’s etc. And that night we spent dancing and carrying on in the ‘disco-tech’ below the hotel while things outside where probably really hairy. On the 25th there was what was called a ‘Police Day’ which was basically a public holiday as the police weren’t working. Now this is where I get into what I learned, and no doubt spill into other peoples / my own opinions on the situation – In Egypt, the police are considered, corrupt, the face of president Murbarak and are also poorly educated – stupid. The demonstration on this day had been planned and promoted, but obviously the numbers were bigger than expected. Facebook had helped and hence the reason, the internet got shut-down. This demonstration resulted in the police running scared, hiding in embassies and also resorting to looting, thievery and anything else to scare people and remind them that the police are needed. We heard rumours that the looting of the museum Lenke and I had visited days earlier was actually plane clothes police and ‘associated’ gangs. In the meantime the demonstrators in Cairo, Luxor and all about were basically targeting government buildings in their demands for Murbarak to sod off.

The next day in Luxor we had a tank sitting on the round about not even half a block away from us. As scary as that sounds – the relation between the people and the military was quite compelling. The Egyptians see the army as the people. The Military from the outset took the stance of just protecting the government buildings and not necessarily interfering with the demonstrators. At this time things had been light-hearted and plenty of jokes made about the civil unrest. But the shit really sunk in when we went to do our balloon ride over the valley of the kings. We were waiting on a boat apparently for the weather report – but a man came onto the boat and announced there were men on the west bank with shotguns and it wasn’t safe for anyone – so we very quietly went back to the hotel. Plenty of alarmed faces. I can’t recall if we’d done our donkey ride to the valley kings before or after trying to do the hot air ballon ride – but that was hilarious. I had a slow donkey at first – but I got an upgrade half way through to one that liked a bit of a run. The valley of the kings was a great highlight – we also crammed into a day the workers tombs, tomb of Ramesses III and Hatshepsut temple. And then of course another night dancing at the downstairs disco-tech haha….

Aswan was our next destination. The group had just justifiable hesitations at moving on at this point as Luxor was great, seemingly calm enough and our accommodation was pleasing. Hazem wasn’t really detailing any specifics of or if there was a plan B should the shit really hit the fan. I’m sure there was plenty going on in the background. And to really help get our spirits up – some kid through a rock at our coach bus as we entered Aswan and it smashed a window. Duncan, the only other bloke (legend!) on the tour could have lost his face if that specific window didn’t have bags leaning against it. Anyway, that nicely shattered some nerves. Some shopping at a bazaar followed and retail therapy seemed to help the girls – didn’t shit for me – I was getting pissed off at this point as another part of our tour couldn’t happen as demonstrations were planned for afternoon. Lenke and I stayed in the Hotel and tried to find out what was going on – Unfortunately that came in the form of a over-sensationalised BBC news report. Fighter jets were flying over Cairo – and some git made a statement along the lines that Cairo could burn tonight, civil war etc…We hit Hazem up to get us out promptly after. But he calmed us down, we decided to wait till the morning to decide on our next move. He was in touch with people in Cairo and had his finger on the pulse. By this stage also, alot of the crew on the tour where getting msgs from really concerned parents – saying get out now!

We saw a BBC report later on the TV that had a substantially more positive feel about it – Less squeezing for bloody ratings or whatever…They actually interviewed an Egyptian on the ground who detailed how it is Egyptian middle class (teachers, doctors, christians & muslims together etc) protesting and that civilians had created there own check-points in place of the police to curb the looting. In some instances we heard that at these check-points they were apologising to tourists for the drama.

From Aswan we couldn’t do Abu Simbel as planned – it was the southern most destination and also being close to Sudan/Saudi borders, the journey requires police escort and obviously that wasn’t going to happen. But we did get a taste of what was meant to be three days sailing on the Nile in a Felucca boat. While the shit was hitting the fan in Cairo we were enjoying the Nile and Nubian hospitality. We eventually learned that the rail services and flights between Aswan, Luxor and Cairo were no longer options/available – Hazem put us up in four star accommodation so I could drink gin & tonic by the pool in the beautiful Egyptian sun while someone else dealt with our evacuation. That evacuation was pretty straightforward – we went back to Luxor and and flew from the international airport there on a ‘Thompson’ flight which I believe had come from Birmingham originally – The crew on the plane weren’t allowed to enter the terminal and had been working for some ridiculous amount of hours even before coming to Luxor int. and get people. 99% of the plane was fat retired poms. The captain announced – “as the plane is now flying to Luton, for Thompson customers, staff will be available to make suitable arrangements to get you to your destination – for non-Thompson customers… I just don’t know.” …We all thought that was hilarious, cheered and applauded the captains frankness. Of course we got some dirty looks from some humourless old fat people. The humour of the group I travelled with was almost completely unwavering throughout. Great bunch of people – I’ll never forget having texted dad to let him know how I was and if he could check from his end what if any flights were coming out of Luxor or Aswan earlier in the piece; and getting the response ‘I’ll do it tomorrw; telstra bigpond is fucked.’ and getting a text from Tom, saying – ‘try not to look American’ – all piss-funny especially considering the panic from everyone elses parents/family. haha…

As our tour got evacuated to Luton/London – I almost half put on the tour leader hat and recommended the peeps stay at St Athans Hotel in Russell Square (I even had their business card at hand!) – reportedly still an amazing free full English breakfast. And cheap. Many of the cool peeps also came to The Mitre to hangout and sample some big English dining. A night out in Camden boogieing to a blues band and another night out in Soho before I had to say good bye to everyone who was off to Amsterdam to keep travelling and holidaying – while I had to go back to work. WTF?! I came over here to the fun part!? *( SAD FACE )*