Sunday, January 06, 2008

Yessir, we have no bananas

I told myself that I wasn't going to just do the usual tour of Pharoanic Egypt. I would see a few monuments, to be sure, but would spend more time getting to know the land and the people of today.

This morning I decided to nix that completely. I was ready to throw in the towel and join the masses of tourists being cosseted on cruise ships and fancy hotels on private islands, and who only left the safety of their nest in the company of guides who handled all bribes. I'd take photos of the great monuments, and then spend the afternoons sunning by the pool. This land is hostile territory for the independent traveler, and it was actually costing me more to do things on my own than if I had caved and joined an official Thomas Cook tour. The frustrations of solo travel just weren't worth it.

My plans were foiled again, because once you are outside the mainstream the mainstream will not let you back in.

I couldn't get on a last-minute tour to Abu Simbel, so hired a taxi through the hotel to get to the Temple of Isis at Philae, an island a few dozen km south of here. I was hoping I could find some other travelers to split the cab with, but I appear to be the only one in my hotel. The only other guests I've seen were women in full hijab, & I didn't even bother to ask them.

I got to the dock, thinking I could at least find someone to split the boat ride with. Again, no luck. Tour groups all clung together tightly. I saw zero solo travelers. I saw a few small groups without guides, and tried to approach them. I couldn't even get a hello - they'd coalesce into a tight pack on my approach, and whatever gnu ended up on the outside of the herd would shoo me away and go no no no.

It was the same approach they took with the multitude of carpet, papyrus, postcard, and trinket salesmen who swarmed around us. I tried not to take it personal.

But still. I guarantee that I've been under more stress than they, and yet I'm still smiling, still making eye contact, and still making small talk with all the touts. I started to think, maybe I'm not doing so bad after all.

I'm almost feeling like I can relax. It's hard to drop the hard wall I've put up after Cairo. You still have to stay alert here, but some of the salesmen - once they've failed to make a sale - will tell me what bar of coffee shop to head to at night. They seem like honest offers, that we can actually have a beer and just hang out once the business day is done.

That, or they think I'll be an easier lay when drunk. There were times today when I thought all of Nubia must be gay, as claimed by the Tyrolean. With the waiter at breakfast it was coffee, tea, or me. Nescafe is hard enough to enjoy without having a wayward teen standing over you rubbing his crotch and saying, yes? ok, you like? good? I took a 20" nap after getting back from Philae, but was woken twice by knocks on the door from 'room service' checking to see if I needed anything. And, as usual, my walk along the corniche was sprinkled with a dozen offers for "special" felucca and taxi rides.

I know not to get too cocky, and that most of these boys would flirt with anything with a wallet.
(and in the back of my mind, I think: they still mutilate the genitals of women here. And if women have been desexualized en masse like that, then of course all the men would be turning to other men.)

I'll hit one of the floating bars/restaurants later tonight. It'll be my first real night out in Egypt. This is the first time I've been remotely in the mood, or had the feeling that it might be enjoyable rather than stressful.

As for the Temple of Isis - it was pretty. I only had an hour at the site, so it was hard to relax and truly enjoy it. It was the last outhold of the old religion, and the last hieroglyph was carved here in the 4th century. Or rather, near here. The original island was inundated after the building of the Aswan Dam, along with the entire homeland of the 5000-year old Nubian civilization. UNESCO removed a few temples and placed them on higher ground. And though they did an excellent job it still felt a bit stage-like and empty of the mana it should have held. I'll put up more temple info when I post pictures.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Egyptian mana?