Showing posts with label Travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Travel. Show all posts

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Last Hours in Buenos Aires

And I´m ready to go home. I´ve stayed away just long enough, or maybe a day or two longer. It´ll take a bit over two days to get home, so there´s still a long way to go.

I don´t think I´ve done Buenos Aires right. There´s been parties in the old plaza outside our hotel all night for the past few nights. The city here only really comes to life after 1 am. The people I´ve met, or traveled with, have been more conservative. They go out, for a few hours, but don´t dive in. I want to dive in. There´s so much here I haven´t done. I´ve seen the main sites and taken the photos but haven´t lived the full experience. And so it´s been fine, and in most cities that would be more than enough - I´ve been coming home between 3am and 6am each night - but I know that that is only a nibble. I know because I hear the party every night. Even now, at 10am, I can hear the musicians in the plaze. Last night it was flamenco, formally, then a South American street jam, informally, when the stage was taken down.

If I make it hear again I want it to be with the wild friends who stay up all night and sleep all day. I think Hollis and I saw most of the Daytime Sites. Not all, but most. Justify Full

So. Tuesday. Hollis and I arrive, and head to Siga la Vaca for our first parilla. It´s an all you can eat grill featuring every part of the cow and quite a few from the sheep. I have bif de chorizo (porterhouse) and morcillo (blood sausage) and mollejas (sweatbreads) and lamb ribs that a juicy, crackling skin. The lamb was the best. Lunch came with .5 liters of wine, and Hollis doesn´t drink, so I had to finish the carafe myself. Napped, and then wandered to Plaza Mayor and on to the Obelisk. We get caught in a cold rain, and wait out the storm in a cafe along Corrientes, the theater strip. We´re off to a good start.

Wednesday. We head to Recoleta. The streets there confuse me, and we walk and walk and walk trying to find the cemetery. We finally do, and it is fantastic. It´s a marble necropolis that houses all the famous poets, leaders, villains, and revolutionaries of the last few centuries, and some of the tombs were beautiful works of art. Hollis wants his photo taken in from of Evita´s tomb, and I refuse to take it at first, it seems disrespectful, but everyone else is doing it & I start to feel silly sticking to my point and give in. Later we hit the Museum of Belles Artes. It´s a great collection, with a number of sculptures by Rodin. He was the surprise for me; I knew The Thinker but had no idea how raw and sexual his main body of work was. I loved it. Hollis was bored.

Wednesday night I want to go to a all-male milonga, but can´t find anyone to go & it sounds to intense to do solo and without many language skills. Instead I take a wander through downtown, hitting two smaller bars that I had marked on the gay guide to Bs As, Toms and Flux. I love walking the city at night like this. The first joint is pretty cruisy, but the guys are odd. One tries to force me into a back corner, which: fat chance. Guys here are slim, and I have a dozen pounds on most of them. I don´t hurt the creep, just twist his arm hard enough to give him the message that that macho shit doesn´t fly with me. The second bar was run by an ex-pat UK and Russian couple, and everyone inside it spoke English. That was a nice surprise. They drank like the English too - everyone was totalled. I pretended I didn´t speak English to one shit-face American. Good times. The bartender made me a Negroni that was awesome. I taxi home.

Thursday we took a ferry to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay. The highlight is a centuries-old village on a promontory that has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are now lots of artists living there. We have lunch on a garden on the Rio de la Plata. The second highlight is the exchange rate: 25 pesos per dollar. I go shopping for the first time in two weeks. I really like this town. Hollis and I are back on the same page.

Thursday night. Did we sleep? I forgot what we did Thursday night. It´ll come back to me, I hope.

Friday we go to the La Boca neighborhood. It looks pretty rough and tumble - wide dusty streets and lots of poverty. In the center are a few smaller streets that have been renovated and have become a major tourist attraction. Friday night we head to La Canitas on Dave G´s suggestion, meeting Dave, Eli, and Donielle for dinner at the famous Campo Bravo. This is my fist taste of the beautiful life in Bs As. San Telmo, where we stay, is full-on bohemian - narrow buildings and plazas with old men drinking wine and cobble stone streets; I expect Garibaldi to come along and liberate it at any moment. La Boca was rough and tumble, Centro was major urban inner city, and Colonia was artists. La Canitas was fashion and glitz and the newest place to see and be seen. It was quite a change. Mariano was supposed to join us, but turned Latin on us - he called and was surprised that we had grabbed a table so early. At 9;30 pm. By 3am The rest of the crew goes to bed. I try one last club. I skip the mega club in favor of a smaller place, and get more macho weirdness. Think 20-year olds who want me to call them ¨Papi." It just doesn´t work. To make it extra weird, the exact same kids who would try to come on macho would then melt in my arms when I´d stop them from biting or grabbing or squeezing or whatever.

Yeah. Biting. I´ve never had so many men try to bite me. At least not in public and at the bar. I get home at 6am. Back in my barrio the party in Plaza San Dorrego is still going strong, but I´m still dressed trendy from La Canitas and don´t really blend well with the working-class vibe.

Saturday I want to go to the Malba, the Latin American museum. I never make it. Hollis and I decide to walk. We spend a few hours wandering, then Hollis gets pickpocketed while we watch a tango show. The criminals are good - the opened his bag and opened his wallet and got 300 pesos without being seen. All I saw was a flash, and I couldn´t tell where the hand came from. It was amazing, really. It puts Hollis in a capital-f Foul mood. Of course. I've been there to, and there's nothing much to do but slowly work through it. No museum for him. We have a late lunch at an outdoor cafe. A thief rips a necklace off of another patron and darts into the street. She screams and cusses, la puto! and ladrone! And half the men jump up and chase the thief down the boulevard, but he is too fast. That´s enough crime for one day. Hollis goes home, I go to the Malba, but we are evacuated after a half hour so that a film-star can tour the collection. I don´t know which one, but if I find out I will forever hate them. The collection looked awesome, and I´ll try to visit again before my check-out.

Saturday night, and it´s no disco for MC. Poor me. I go to a parilla with some guys from the hotel. It´s good. The steak is far better than what we get in the states, but I still haven´t had that piece of so-soft you can cut it with a fork slab of meat that this country is famous for. The hippie member of our party, who was already getting on my nerves both for his slimy bragging about how much ···· he gets from his young boyfriends here and for his lack of fashion sense (red and yellow Pippi Long Stocking socks with Birkenstocks, commits a fatal error at dinner and I let my inner monster out and slash into him, hard and loud.

If anyone is actually reading this far, here´s a warning. I tip well at restaurants. It´s my choice. Do not try and stop me. Last night we divide the bill, then I throw an extra ten pesos in. Hippie announces it´s too much and takes the money as his change. I throw another ten pesos in. He again insists its too much, that the waiter was rude and doesn´t deserve the tip, and redistibutes it to the other members of our party.

Can you say dead in the water? The bitch was nothing but road kill after that. I threw in more money, he started to reach for it, and I laid into his ass hard. That pretty much broke up our party. I went to a small bar with two guys from Montreal, but I think they were a bit nervous around me and things were too subdued for a Saturday night.

And now its Sunday in San Telmo and I only have a few hours left. I´ll go to the museum, pack, and spend my final hours drinking wine in the plaza, as I should have been doing all along.

Friday, January 18, 2008

24 Shots of Egypt

I tried to keep this to a Top Ten, but failed.
I'll get the bulk of the photos up this weekend. Maybe.

"Camp" in the Sinai: Trying to warm up after a hellacious night.Our Camp Photographer
Somewhere in the Sinai: Bedouin Guides
Mount Sinai: Where I discover that there's not much air at 7500 feet.
Deir el Bahri: Looking down on the Temple of Hatshepsut
Ain Hudra Oasis, Sinai: Home to five families
Sinai: Climbing a dune
Sinai: Our guide and driver
Sinai: View from a desert cave
Kom Ombo: View from the train window
Medinet Habu: Ramses smiting his enemies
Medinet Habu: My favorite temple by a long shot
Qurna: Wheat fields outside my bedroom, Marsam Hotel
Karnak: A football-field sized field of stone papyrus reeds
Outside Cairo: A river of human waste
Outside Cairo: Daughters of an artist outside her studio
Outside Cairo: Preserving traditional crafts
Aswan: A fisherman tending his nets on the banks of the Nile
Across the railroad tracks, East of Aswan: Wrestling with the kids
The View from the Bab Zuweila Minaret, Fatimid Cairo: Collapsing from the topBeit el-Suhami, Fatimid Cairo: Ottoman Dining Room
Saqqara: Imhotep designed the first true pyramid for King Djoser
Giza: Camel in front of the Sound and Light Show set
Giza: Cops

Monday, January 14, 2008

Munich II

This place is so damn civilized it is going to leave me in a daze. Everything we fight for in Hawaii, and everything the public insists will never work, works here. And they work fine.

The center of town is dominated by people, not cars.

You can grab a glass of wine in the park and enjoy it without being arrested. Although it is not quite wine. It's gluhwein, which is warm and spicy and spiked with what tastes like rum. I also tried grog, at a stand outside and on the street.

The main roads all have light rail running down the middle, and bike lanes running alongside the sidewalk.

For dinner I stopped at a pork shop. For 3.5 euro I got a plate of grilled sausage and a pile of potato salad. You eat standing up around small tables, then bring your dishes to the kitchen. So cheap, but top quality.

It is clean, it is orderly, everything works, the bus arrives when it is supposed to and leaves when it is supposed to. Top it off with, people are nice.

No, top it off with: for some reason the guy at the front desk gave me an upgrade, and I am in a suite on the top floor.

And I might have written that my travel bug was cured too early. I am already fantasizing a bit about where next.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Final Day

Go figure, that I'd really start to like a place the day before I leave.

Got back from a trip into the Sinai interior with a group of students from Cairo. We had two amazing days, and one superlatively hellacious night.

Day one we hiked the white canyon, a narrow slot canyon a couple hours drive into the desert. One of the guys was 200 kilo, at least, and the girls were all city girls - so that one hour excursion took 2.5 hours. We ate lunch at a small oasis that was home to five Bedouin families. The land was so incredibly arid that it was a relief to see this small valley with trees and life. The afternoon we switched to a 4x4 and went tearing off into the wilderness. That ... was an adventure ... though it left us all bruised.

One of the Bedouin showed me videos he had downloaded onto his phone. There were exactly three types: Lebanese girls belly dancing in their rooms from You Tube, camels fighting, and guys doing spin-outs on sand dunes in their 4x4's. And there you have Bedouin Culture, in a nutshell.

Then we drove into camp.

I can't put enough quotation marks around that word camp, so you'll just have to fill in the irony yourself.

Camp was a few pieces of lumber hastily nailed together, with a few moth-eaten camel blankets on the roof and one side, ripped plastic sheets on two sides, and the third side open. The floor was rocks with think blankets placed over them. The sun went down, taken it's meager heat with it, the moon brought a cold wind with it, and we suffered the night. I can't recall ever being so cold and uncomfortable. And angry - I had specifically asked about blankets, reminding the tour organizer that I was from the tropics. He assured me there would be plenty, that we'd be taken care of. What he meant was, you get one blanket each, hope you survive.

The sun came up, and it took as a few hours to warm up. Next stop: St. Katherine's Monastery. The Bedouin told us to tell the military police (there were lots of check-points) that he had come from Dahab that morning. I guess we broke the law that night. Ooops. Yeay. That made me feel better.

The monastery was absolutely packed with tourists from the mega-resorts at Sharm, so it was hard to enjoy - but it was still a fascinating place. It was founded in the 6th Century by the Empress Helena of Constantinople - though it might have still been Byzantium then. It had already been a place of pilgrimage for centuries, as it was the reputed site of both the burning bush and Mount Sinai, of the Ten Commandments fame.

It was another Bedouin lunch in the desert, which took a few hours - Cairo Time is worse than Hawai`i Time. It was late in the day before we finally started heading up the mountain. No picture I've seen has done this place justice. Past the monastery the land opens up into a great plane surrounded by craggy peaks. One crag, taller than the rest, looking impossibly sheer and laying behind the setting sun, was Mount Sinai - our destination.

We're taught "Moses went up the mountain for forty days" without giving it much thought. Staring at this crag rising to the sky you realize how absolutely pagan the whole idea was. You're people are starving in the desert? Climb a mountain and wait for the sun god to send you a message.

The climb wasn't too bad, until the end, and the Steps of Penance. Some unknown monk had made it his life's labor to carve out a stairway to the final summit. The "stairs" were more rough rock. 750 of them, we were told. It was at a 7500' elevation, the air was thin, and we hadn't slept the night before. It was incredibly hard - I had to stop every three or four steps to catch my breath.

The 200 kilo guy didn't make it, but the girls did, just in time to see the sun finally set behind the rows of mountains in the distance. Twilight lasted just long enough to get back down the steps, and we walked by moonlight the rest of the way. It was fantastic. I forgot to be cold until the end. Down below we could see the fires in the monastery. Above, rocky peaks outlined against the stars. I almost forgave our organizer for the night before.

It was also great finally meeting normal Egyptians, girls without veils, and one's who seemed more aware of the world around them. They're not sure what happened to Egypt any more than the author's I've read. Their mother's used to wear mini-skirts. Then ... what? Somehow most of the country reverted to 7th Century styles.

So now I'm back in Dahab. The sun is out, although there is still a cold wind. I ate breakfast with some of the guys from the hotel, and listened to their stories of seducing Western girls. The girls don't have a chance here. These guys are used to seducing women hidden behind veils and jealously guarded by their families. Western girls are easy pickings compared to them. These guys can smell a lonely girl from 50 meters. Though, sometimes, they get more than he bargained for. One was trying to pick up two Slovenian girls the night before. He used all his best lines, and they worked. On both of them. He didn't know what to do, and panicked. When one of his friends started teasing him in Arabic, he told the girls that the friend was his boss, and that he's ordered him back to work. And then he ran. These guys are so macho, and then so suddenly innocent.

Still glad to be going home, though. Tomorrw night I'll be in Munich again. I plan on taking a long hot shower. Then I'll take another one. I'm going to eat pork. Lots of pork. And then, home.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


This town is slightly more interesting than I thought. The guys at the hotel - which is more of a collection of rooms around a garden than a hotel per se - are all nice enough. I haven't met guys like this yet in Egypt. They're all young, and a lot came out here after hellacious experiences in the Egyptian army. I heard some pretty rough stories about spending two years on the border with Libya with poor food, few blankets, and lots of scorpions for company.

So now they're out here chasing European girls up and down the strip. The guys are handsome, and the girls don't seem to mind. They're hippy boyfriends might mind, but most seem too stoned to care.

I had planned to take off tomorrow into the mountains on camel. It's still cold as hell, so I had doubts about how I'd survive, but I really like camels.

That plan just got changed on me, as I've learned through the grapevine. The new plan: I'm heading on a jeep safari with three girls and a guy from Cairo. One had a guitar, and they stayed up late last night singing along to Alannis Morrisette songs. These aren't your normal Muslim girls. We'll sleep overnight in a Bedouin village, then head to St. Katherine's Monastery and Mount Sinai for a second night.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. I wanted to see the Monastery and Mount Sinai. I had no interest in a jeep safari - that might be more boring than sitting here. I like camels. I asked the guy for camels. But I told the organizer I'd be up for others joining. It would bring down the cost (I thought). I didn't realize that the others could then over ride my original plan with one of their own.

So what? It's already 9:30 pm and we leave at dawn. I can hunt down the original guide and be a bitch about it, though for a plan I was only half-heartedly interested in anyways. Or go with the flow and see where this takes me. And of course I'll go with the flow. Fighting it in this country isn't worth the effort.

On the Red Sea

I couldn't switch my ticket, so flew to the Sinai as originally planned early this morning. Landed in Sharm just after dawn, and took an over-priced cab up the coast to Dahab, a "hippy enclave" on the Red Sea. It was a bumpy flight, the kind with lots of screaming passengers.

It's cloudy, cold, and windy - so I won't be going into the water any time soon. And without that there doesn't seem to be much else to do here. Or rather, much else that interests me. I already walked the coast top to bottom, and I'm already bored to tears.

Not that it's a bad place. Aside from the divers and families there are a lot of young kids on their round-the-world party tour. The locals have all adopted a pseudo-surfer "Hello My Brother" veneer of I'm Your Best Friend. The coast is pedestrian only, and every inch is lined with cafes and clubs. Tonight I could choose from Old Skool Night, Pulp Fiction Party Night (your favorite hits of the 50's and 60's!), and a half dozen places offering Awesome Fun with various British DJ's.

Bored to fucking tears, I tell you. I'll probably end up joining some desert trek tour for the next few days, as I don't know what else to do, and there's nothing here to do on your own. If I were still 24, or a cold-water diver, or here with a lover, or content to get high and sit on my ass all day, this place would be really cool. For the solo and restless? Not. Cool. At. All.

At least I made the most of my last day in Luxor. Walked to the tombs of the artisans that were found behind the old worker's village. These were the people who built the temples and monuments for the pharaohs. They weren't allowed to use royal iconography, and so the tombs were painted in a more free-form, easy to understand style. There were lots of scenes of families at play and at work in the fields. Even the gods were more homely - Isis in the form of a tree, Anubis holding hands with the departed to lead them into the afterlife, and ferocious cat-bunnies chopping up snakes with their swords (I couldn't tell if they were bunnies with fangs or cats with very long ears). Even after three thousand years the images were vivid and strangely familiar (except for the cat-bunny).

In the afternoon I met up with Vicky, the Aussie town planner, and we went to the Valley of the Kings. These tombs were more awesome, and more formal. Entire caverns were covered with the texts from the Various Books - the Book of the Hours, which describes the descent into the subconscious), the Book of the Cavern, the Book of Day, the Book of Night. Afterwards we hiked up over the mountains, coming down above Hatshepsut's massive temple in the back of a natural ampitheater.

That night I mostly listened as the village's resident ecentrics exchanged stories. There were a handful of artists, a scattering of amateur Egyptologists who return year after year, some professors, and some archaeologists waiting for their digs to start. They were awesome company.

So - Egypt so far: Hated Cairo, Aswan was an interesting interlude, Luxor was beyond incredible, and so far Dahab looks tiring. Usually I don't want to return after a vacation, I just want to keep on moving and see where the road takes me. This might be the first time where I'm really just ready to go home. Realistically, my perfect track record of awesome trips had to end at some point. I know this, so I'm not that disappointed or bummed.

This should cure my travel lust for a bit, at least. Maybe I'll actually save some money now.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Paradise Found

I took the train to Luxor early yesterday morning, and crossed immediately to Hotel Sheikh Aly in one of the small villages on the West Bank - and finally found an Egypt I could relax in. The West Bank is the perfect storm of beauty and wonder. The hotel is set around a small garden where we eat. Small irrigated gardens stretch from the outer walls for 3 km down to the Nile. On the other side the red Theban Hills rise out of the mist. The ruins of tombs and massive temples line the dusty country roads. There are tens of thousands of tourists on the other side of the river, but most only cross to the west side in hermetically-sealed buses that shuttle them between the main sites - Tutankanem's tomb and Hatshepsut's temple. Otherwise it's just local farmers, French artists, international teams of archaeologists, and a small scattering of random travelers.

I visited Medinet Habu yesterday afternoon, an almost intact temple complex built on an epic scale. It's the first time I've been in awe of a place in Egypt. Now I get it. Finally.

Six days to find my groove, and nine days to finally be filled with wonder - it certainly did take awhile.

I crossed to the East Bank this morning to hit the bank (none on the other side) and visit Karnak with an Aussie Town Planner I met in the hotel's garden. Karnak was mobbed with tour groups, but it's monumentality dwarfed everyone. The main hall - 100 meters by 50 meters - was designed to mimic a Nile garden, and was filled with hundreds of massive stone 'papyrus' stalks stretching up to the sky, and each carved with reliefs over every inch. It was too much for the eye to take in. In a bit I'll hop the ferry back to the villages. Tomorrow I'll explore the Valley of the Kings.

I want to extend my stay a day, but I have a flight in two days & the line was 60 deep at Egypt Air. I'd lose a day to gain a day.

As for my final night in Aswan - it was a bit insane. Dinner was a let down. The 'good' restaurant was only average, and I was the only one in it. In retrospect, I think meet me for a beer at my favorite bar meant let's go now so you can pay. Live and learn. I ate, and watched the felucca sail off into the dark waters. I could have joined in, of course, and it would have sounded romantic - sailing into a Nile sunset with your Nubian lover. Knowing that I'd by buying it took some of the romance out of it. I'm not that jaded to confuse a purchase with love, something some of these old English ladies taking Egyptian boys will have to learn the hard way.

Trudging back to my hotel I gave in & agreed to go home with one of the caleche drivers. I made it clear that it wouldn't be about money, and he made it clear that that wasn't what he was after. We hopped in a cab, and took off for the hinterlands of the City. I tried to keep track of all the turns, but when we crossed the railroad tracks into a world where donkeys and horses outnumbered cars (not too hard, given that we were the only motorized vehicle in the suburb) I lost track. We zipped in and out of potholed side streets.

The word ghetto flittered through my mind before I kicked it out. I was too much into it to turn around, and the only way out was forward.

His house was up an open flight of concrete steps. I took my shoes off, and went into the living room. The walls were unfinished cement, but they and the couches along each wall were lined with gold tapestries. Shabby chic, African style.

I heard women talking in the other room. There were no doors. The guy wanted to get it on. He assured me the women didn't come into this room - all of ten feet down the hall. We proceeded to be interrupted by crying babies, shouts from the street, and knocks on the door. This is not happening, I told him. Relax, he told me. A child walked into the room. My son, he said, picking him up and putting him on the couch opposite.

I wanted to be down with the culture. Silly me. One day I'll learn, if not in this life then the next.
Anyways, no way was I going to mess around with a kid sitting there watching. All doubt was removed when even more kids came in to check out the stranger. We drank tea instead. I wrestled with the kids, and they showed me all their World Wrestling moves. Later the other horsemen arrived, and the whole neighborhood gathered in his living room to smoke bhanga and gossip. This is what we do at night, the host said. Smoke and gossip.

I have friends just like that in Hawai`i. I passed on the bhanga (tobacco mixed with hashish oil and pot), as I really was disoriented enough & really wanted the full use of every single brain cell.

The party finally ended at 1am. We tried to take a horse back, but it bolted and refused to cooperate. Instead we hiked out of the ghetto (I can't get away from that word) back to the mainstreet, and I caught a cab back to the hotel.

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.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Aswan Daze

It didn't take long in this town to finally have a proper adventure. It's been quite a day.

Aswan is much bigger than I pictured - it sprawls for a couple miles along the Nile, although here the desert presses tight against the town. And though it's chaotic and confusing & every other Egyptian that says hello is running a con and I rarely know what's going on, it's also all a bit more manageable. Just not having that nightmare traffic to deal with makes everything else seem almost easy.

I was killing time before I left the city, and went in for a haircut - my first since March, and only the second time I've been to a barber in a year and a half. I loved Middle Eastern barbers in other countries, and was looking forward to an old-fashioned haircut. Cairo, however, was not going to let me off the hook that easily. This guy spent more time blowing and teasing my hair than actually cutting it. I had to avoid looking in the mirror, it was that scary. He started off by giving me a bouffant. I growled and motioned that I do not wear my hair up. Next stage: Flock of Seagulls. I shook my head no. Finally act: David Bowie in all his Ziggy Stardust glory. I gave up.

I was so embarrassed walking down the street that I ducked behind a corner and dumped a bottle of water on my head.

Turns out that it's a pretty good haircut. I like it when it's not all poofed out.

And that was it for Cairo. I shelled out a hundred bucks to change my ticket so that I can fly out of Sharm el Sheikh on the Red Sea rather than return. I'm not alone, either. I read that Naguib Mahfouz quit holding court in his favorite coffee shop because the commute had grown so unpleasant.

I checked into my hotel in Aswan around 9pm, and decided to take a walk along the Nile. I didn't make it more than twenty steps when a dust-covered caleche driver in a gelebiya approached, took my hand, and offered a ride in his buggy. I turned it down. Grass? He offered. No. Hashish? Thanks, but no. Banana? Uh, no thanks.

He gave a rough sigh. Sir. Banana means sex.

Yeah, country boy, I understood your silly metaphor. I gave my best Cherry Blossom Princess smile (something I learned from the Japanese) and just said, oh, thank you, good night.

The Cherry Blossom routine grew less effective the further north I walked, as each succeeding caleche driver - and it was non-stop - grew more assertive and blunt. I finally turned around when one squeezed the outline of his hard-on through his robes to show me what he had.

It wasn't even that impressive of a banana. I was really expecting a higher quality of harassment.

This morning I took the local ferry across the river to visit some tombs cut in the hillside. And by ferry, I mean a small leaky wooden boat crammed with Nubians. Finally, I thought - I'm having a real Egyptian experience.

Most of the tombs were locked, but I did manage to get in a few. These were for nobles and priests, not royalty, so they were on a more human scale. I was brave enough to scurry down one hole into the darkness - and realized that I could never do this as a career. I like sunshine too much, and I scurried back up just as quick.

Out across the desert, 3 km and a few hills over, I could see the ruins of a 7th Century monastery that I'd read about. I sat at the edge of the Sahara and pondered whether it was a good idea to try and get there. I decided it wasn't, and then headed out anyways. It wasn't a bad walk, and it was great to be out in the open. I spent a few hours exploring the fortress-like monastery, then started what seemed like a much longer walk back to the Nile.

I used Qubbet Heba, the Hill of Wind, as my navigation point. Once I reached the top I met a telepathic Tyrolean who invited me to his place on Elephantine Island for tea. Sure, that sounded good. We walked south along the dune crest, and then down to where he had hidden a rowboat in the reeds.

I spent the rest of the day at his place in the mud-brick Nubian village on the island. It was a great inside look into how people live here.

Next up? Dunno. I got back too late to arrange a tour to Abu Simbel as I had planned. I might spend more time exploring the islands here, or I just might wake up at a brutal hour and see if I can hop on a tour. Abu Simbel is on the Sudanese border, and so there's no choice but to go with a military convoy - at 4am.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Cairo: Final Hours

They need to stop oppressing gays in this country and let us run things for a few years instead. Egypt needs our help, and bad.

I head to the airport in a few hours, and don't know if I've ever been so glad to be leaving a city. It's not that anything outright bad has happened, so much as I've never been to a place so desperately in need of a revolution. It's a city ruled by cars, where people live like rats in the margins.

But I don't know what I would have skipped. I spent the day yesterday with two American archaeologists at Giza, and it was great. They were pretty amazing, actually - they kept digging through the dirt exclaiming at every pottery shard. They could actually look at a fragment and tell without pause how it was fired and cooled, and what period it came from. Saqqara and Dahshur were worth a day. Old Cairo was worth a day, easily. I had to see Islamic Cairo after reading all the history, even though all it's monuments were shockingly run down compared to other places in the middle east.

Today I went to the museum, which was the tipping point for me - what should have rivaled the Louvre instead had all the grace of a warehouse. I woke up early, coughed up all the gunk that had collected in my lungs the day before, packed, ate, and hit the road. The toxic cloud that had settled over the city the night before was blocking the sun, but it was Friday and at least the traffic was a bit lighter than normal. I walked along the Corniche, the road that runs along the Nile. I only had to shake off two hustlers, which wasn't bad.

I thought that I'd beat the crowds, but there were thousands already lined up outside the gates of the museum - tourists of every conceivable stereotype, the worst being the transvestite hookers. I mean, Russians - God's gift to misanthropes everywhere. They only dressed like transvestite hookers. It made no sense: plastic high heels, daisy dukes and halter tops and bare midriffs in the middle of winter in a Muslim capital, tons of make-up, fake blond hair, and fat boyfriends in capris and tight shirts. Worse, they were rude. You could be reading a plaque, and they would literally push you out of the way to get a better look.

I had been confused when people kept telling me how nice the Egyptians are. I mean, yes, they are. But, I thought, where aren't people nice? Pretty much everywhere I've been, and that includes New York and Paris. Now I know: they aren't nice in Russia. They are assholes.

Back to the museum. Sigh. So much wealth, just squandered. Everything was arranged pell-mell, much of it behind grimy glass panes. The toxic cloud from outside crept into the main hall, and turned the air inside a sickly yellow under the glare of the fluorescent lights.

I think of the incredible impact just a few Egyptian pieces had at the Louvre, and how little impact this museum had for all it's pieces, and can't understand why this museum can't find the resources to apply the most basic modern principles to managing or displaying the collection. With the 25US entry, plus 50 for the mummies, and the thousands of tourists there just in the few hours I was inside, and we're talking tens of millions of dollars a year just in entry fees. Poverty is not an excuse here. Certainly they could have at least put in decent lights, or washed the grime off the walls and display cases. Or - inshallah - put in bathrooms where you didn't have to bribe the doorman for toilet paper (or have them demanding baksheesh while you were still pissing).

But overall, this was Cairo. Noise, chaos, dirt, and a government that seems more interested in putting money into the military and secret police than providing basic services. There's such an amazing infrastructure here. It's a shame it's been allowed to decay. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go cough up a lung and then find somewhere to eat.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Cairo Day Three

I just had a really good day. It was a surprise - because I haven't been liking Cairo until now.

Technically, I fucking hated this City. I hated that every transaction had to be a fight, that you could not let your guard down once, that 90% of any random merhaba was followed by a demand for a bribe, baksheesh, or the beginnings of a scam. I hated the air, thick with exhaust fumes. I hated that I couldn't catch a taxi without bargaining hard, and that it would take three to four tries before I would get a taxi offering close to a reasonable price.

I had great plans to explore the city's nightlife. Those are all out the window. It's too much a pain in the ass to wander far.

I hated the hotel. I want a hotel to be a refuge from the world, especially one as chaotic as Cairo. This one is basic - I knew that - but even here I was charged obscenely to hire a driver for a day. The bite was, I knew I could have gotten a private tour with a professional Egyptologist for the same price, but I was stuck with this one as I don't have a phone to arrange other plans. I tried to tell myself that 50 US wasn't bad for a private driver, that I could afford that - but the exploitation from this hotel still stuck in my craw.

And I hated the horns. The non-stop blaring horns. I know there's a secret language in them, and that there's different honks for hello, and do you need a taxi?; a short quick honk for it's safe to cross, and a dreaded long honk for you just fucked up homeboy and are about to be roadkill.

It was probably the horns more than anything that were jangling my nerves. There was no rest, and no peace except for under the covers of my cell-like room. I was like some delicate English lady sent out to the colonies to live with her Officer, totally unprepared for the madness of life outside London.

So I woke up in a dark mood yesterday, all gunked up inside from breathing this air - and the the blackness of my lungs was only matched by the blackness in my soul. I wanted to fly out that night, but I had paid for five days & had a flight on Friday evening to Aswan.

I couldn't believe how badly I misjudged this. But how could I have known? I've liked even the most unlovable of cities, and wasn't Cairo once the Mother of the World?

So, yesterday, I met a Peace Corps volunteer from Armenia, and invited her to share the ride (for which the price went up, dammit). The driver was pleasant, and we started off visiting the pyramids and necropolis at Saqqara.

My spirits went up a little when we say the pyramids of Giza framed on the horizon. I tried to maintain that brief moment of joy while at Saqqara, but ... it was a challenge.

Our first stop: the Mastaba of Mereuke, a tomb for the vizier with 32 underground rooms. It was interesting, but we got trapped in the tomb between a very loud and very large Spanish tour group and a slightly less loud Russian one. We couldn't pass through, and were stuck waiting for them to move before we could.

Next stop: The Mastaba of Ti. This was off the main route, and we had to walk a brief way across the desert to the entrance. Our spirits shot up when we realized we were the only ones there. We descended stone stairs into an underground channel - and the Bedouin pounced from behind one of the pillar. He was like some angry spirit of the tomb, hungry for baksheesh and forcing himself on us as a guide. I tried to ignore him, but he wouldn't allow that. Sir! Sir! He'd snap in my face, and then hiss if I ignored that. Sir! LOOK HERE! ELEPHANT? SEE? ELEPHANT? NOW LOOK HERE. CROCODILE. He was almost as loud as all the Spaniards combined.

Penny (my traveling companion) was a dear old gray haired lady, and unfortunately much more polite than I was. We were stuck with him. He of course, demanded baksheesh at the end, and I gave him a pound (I would've paid ten times that to make him go away), and he got angry. He tried to follow us out of the tomb, but the Tourist Police stopped him.

The Police then asked for baksheesh. Which: no. I draw the line at paying bribes to cops. We walked on with a smile and a masalama.

Then we drove to Zoser's Step Pyramid, the first of the pyramids, built by Imhotep. It was impressive. I wanted to explore some of the other sites (the Serapeum, the Persian tombs, the inside of the collapsed Umas pyramid), but all were closed. Random Bedouin carried keys and offered to open up secret tombs for us, but we declined.

So Saqqara was mixed. It was cool, but it could have and should have been world-class. It has the raw resources, but too much was locked up and only open to those who paid bribes, and it was impossible to know what locked doors led to interesting things and what to empty rooms.

Then we did lunch, at the Pharaoh's Carpet School and Garden. It was our driver's choice. I was ready for more tourist hell, but it turned out to be the perfect pit stop. We ate in a garden of Date palms, and the food was excellent. There was a bit of kitsch - dancing Arabs in tambourines played and danced around us when we entered, left, or went for a piss. But it was also an oasis of peace.

Refreshed, we went south to the pyramids at Dahshur. They were built just prior to the huge ones at Giza, and are almost as impressive. Best of all, you could enter the Red Pyramid. Penny and I lucked out, we were the only ones inside. I was a bit claustrophobic, but made it all the way down the long ramp into the inner sanctum. It was a great end to the day. The cops tried to demand bribes again, but this time I just laughed. Seriously, no fucking way am I going to pay off a cop for doing his job.

But I still could've left Cairo after that.

Today I meant to head to the museum, but changed my plans en route and hopped the metro to Masr Quadima, the original Coptic and Roman town (Memphis, the pharonic city, has long since sunk under the mud of the Nile).

I went without a map, and had to cross multiple highways to get there. That alone was an adventure. I'd join a group of men, and move with them through the traffic. It almost felt like we were a school of fish, all turning left then right in unison until we made it across. The subway was less challenging, but you only had a few seconds to jump on or off the train before it took off. It had it's own dangers.

And Masr Qadima was fabulous. I wandered into convents with signs telling us "No Photos ... Blessed are the Obedient." There were ancient Greek churches, the last Jewish synagogue in Cairo, secret alleys, and mysteries behind every door. In the old cemetery I was shocked to smell. Herbs and flowers, vaguely Mediterranean, but also unique to this place. This, I thought, is what Cairo must have smelled like before 21 million people and 3 million cars.

I spent the day exploring. It was the experience I was hoping for in Islamic Cairo, but that quarter's monuments are stripped and barren. This was the real thing.

And since I didn't have map or agenda, I ended up a bit far from the tourist paths. And this is how I stumbled onto the City of the Dead.

I was walking down a dirt road bounded by two walls, trying to find my way back to the main thoroughfare. On the left was the Greek cemetery with it's smells. Behind the wall on the right I could see what looked like the roofs of a village. I came to an open gate, asked a young man lounging under a tree if was ok to go in, and he motioned me to go ahead.

I entered, once again, into another world. It looked like a village of small stone or brick houses, all packed close together and with neat dirt alleys and paths running between them, and many complete with doors and stairs and porches. Each house, however, was a tomb. It was a tidy Our Town for the dead. I explored for a good thirty minutes, with no company but the stone angels perched on the roofs of the tombs.

I left in a bit of a daze. It was the singularly most haunting place I have ever seen. I recouped for a bit in a coffee shop, then hopped the metro back to town.

So. Cairo. The walk back was ok. The horns still irk, and I still can't breathe, but ... it might not have been such a bad choice after all.

Tomorrow I take the train for a day trip to Alexandria. Inshallah.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Cairo the Rapacious

This city is kicking my ass. I'm starting to develop an atitude that would put New Yorkers to shame.

The truth is, I was more anxious than I let on in visiting. Breathing the air, they said, was the equivalent of smoking three packs of cigarettes a day. The merchants are so cunning they once fleeced the King of Mali of twenty camels laden with gold. The traffic is so insane that the guidebook recommends hiring a taxi to cross the street. 21 million people are squeezed between the barren desert, with an increasingly deadly police state above and the Muslim Brotherhood on the streets below.

I arrived at the hotel, crawled into the bed, and debated staying there until my flight to Aswan.

Seriously. I only act tough. I'm like the kid who climbs to the highest rock to dive off it, and he only did that because he read about it in a book, and then remembers too late that he's scared of heights.

Books are bad.

Thirty minutes after lying in bed my stomach overruled my timid brain & demanded that it go out and find food. And so I ventured out for my first taste of this city of 21 million.

I'm staying on Zamalek, an island in the Nile. It's slightly more upscale than the surrounding madness on either bank of the Nile. It has it's crazy high-speed no-rules roads, but it also has quiet sidestreets where guards sleep standing up in the shadows, and embassies are hid behind high walls and private gardens.

Within the hour I'd eaten my first meal in Egypt - pigeon on a stick. It was stuffed with wheat, then roasted on an open fire. The chef snapped the head off before serving me, for which he has earned my eternal thanks. An hour after that I'd shaken off my first hustler. He hit me up while I was taking photos of the Nile. It was ... muddy. Not photogenic at all. I suppose I was expecting the Seine, all golden lights and stunning vistas. As for the hustler? He was an amateur, to be sure, but still - it gave me confidence to handle him so easily.

Same routine this morning. I debated hiding under the sheets for the day. I wondered if I shouldn't cave and join a tour group. Or spend the day locked in the museum.

Instead, I hailed a taxi and rode into the heart of the madness - Fatimid Cairo, the original Islamic quarter. This was the quarter that has caught my imagination, even more than the pyramids and the tombs and all the other pharaonic monuments. You can blame books again - I'd read too much Naguib Mahfouz, and too much of the history of the area - Mohammed's conquest, the rise of the Fatimid dynasty, it's take over by Salahadin, Crusaders camping at the gates, the slave-wife who hid her husband's death long enough to take charge herself and establish a dynasty of former slaves who later enslaved the caliph's family after Genghis Khan destroyed Baghdad ... I had to walk these streets myself.

First I had to survive the taxi ride. I was warned a Cairo taxi was an adventure in itself. I wasn't prepared for the driver to approach a crowd of pedestrians and then hit the gas. We went plowing through the crowd, slaloming between the poor innocents, and somehow came out the other end without hitting a soul. There was no time to breathe before we approached a merge at speed where three lanes closed into one.

Thirty minutes of this, and we turned a corner into another millennium. I had asked to be dropped off at Bab Zuweyla, the southern gate of Fatimid Cairo. I expected - what? Not this. Not a dusty dirt road in the middle of this metropolis, flanked by thousand-year old stone walls, with covered alleys leading away into mysterious directions.

And all without another tourist to be seen. I was shaking when I got out of the cab. I climbed the minaret for a good view of Cairo, and sorry that you'll all have to wait for the photos. Spent the rest of the day wandering the streets and alleys of the old city.

And like the poor King of Mali, I was royally fleeced.

First the good: just being here was an adventure in itself. The keeper of the Bab Zuweyla gate gave me a great tour. In Arabic, but he kept it simple. The restored Ottoman House of Beit Suheimy was fabulous, and was like stepping right into the pages of Palace Walk. The view of the Cities of the Dead were haunting. And the mosque of Sultan Hussein had beautiful marble work that provided perfect acoustics for an Iman singing prayers in the mausoleum behind the prayer room.

The mediocre? Nowhere to piss. I had to hide behind a ruined monument. You would pay a guard 20 EGP (2 dollars) to open a locked door - but there was no guarantee that there'd be something interesting behind it. The hustlers were supposed to be bad, but I found them to be a minor, almost charming, annoyance.

The bad? Lunch. I ate at a local dingy hole in the wall. The proprietor started piling food in front of me. There was so much chaos and noise all around, and such a mass of shouting people at the cafe, that I couldn't manage to say no, stop, this is enough.

And so I ate eggplants and an egg soufflé and falafel and hummus and a tomato salad, and finally had to order him to stop. I was going to burst, and it was turning into an awkward situation.

Then he brought desert out. No. I begged. I wish I knew how to say "I'm full." Instead, it was la la la shokran no please no thank you for the love of god no. I held his hands and looked into his eyes and tried to get my message across.

No luck. He force fed me. No shit, and no exaggeration - he took the spoon and forced it in my mouth.

I was laughing. It was all a bit surreal, being force-fed by a mad chef in a medieval city. Then he gave me the bill.

By American standards, it was slightly over-priced. By Egyptian standards? Ten to twenty times what the cost should have been.

So no more laughing. They got me. Me and the King of Mali. I paid, left the shop, put on my shades, and hit the streets with a new attitude.

One upshot of all this was, I wasn't scared of the traffic anymore. Once outside the quarter I was walking across the street with the best of them.

I'm determined to get the better of this City. It feels like a competition.

Tomorrow - I've hired a driver to take me to the pyramid fields at Dahshur and the Necropolis at Saqqara. "These are not tourist," he told me. "You like Giza better, yes?"

But I'm sticking with Plan A.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Munchen on a Sunday Morning

I landed in Munich last night, completely but expectedly disoriented. The flights went well, and I was doing alright until a few brief hellacious hours at London´s third-world Heathrow Airport. It knocked the winds out of my sails, and the final leg from London to Munich was a bit of a daze. My original hotel had some water damage, so instead of checking me in they arranged for a room at a higher-class hotel down the road, and handed me enough cash to make up the difference in cost.

That was totally unexpected - especially from a budget hotel sandwiched between Man´s World and Tiffany´s Lap Dance Palace - and kind of puts Waikiki hotel´s to shame. We have so much to learn.

I left my house at 5am Friday morning, and arrived at 5pm Saturday night. Thirty six hours by the clock, though my body only went through 24 hours - and I´m applying this to a new theory on how to beat jet lag, my own little special theory of traveler´s relativity. I won´t think: oh, I´m x hours ahead of home and how will I ever adjust? Instead I´ll tell myself that there is no time difference, and that I merely traveled forward through time at a faster rate than the kids back home. I did one and a half hours for every hour they did, and that´s that.

It might have worked. I was sick and beat when I arrived, but a nap, shower, wander through town, and sauna was all it took. By midnight I was feeling fine - demonstrated by a sudden and ravenous craving from bratwurst. It might have been the statues of pigs all over that triggered it. I first thought it might be a Christmas thing - a Yule hog to go along with the tannenbaum and lights; now I´m thinking it must be some deeper pan-seasonal symbol of Bavaria.

The town itself is beautiful. I arrived with a google map and a rough idea of where the train station, hotel, and sauna were. I planned on winging the rest. I wandered in a good-seeming direction, and stumbled on the Marienplatz. It was bounded by a huge gothic cathedral with a huge Christmas tree out front, and it looked like some child´s fantasy of what the holiday should look like.

I tried to use the castle´s spires as a landmark to navigate home, but I didn´t realize that it was just one of who knows how many castles and cathedrals in a small area. I didn´t get lost, amazingly, but did take a bit of a detour trying to find the route back to my bed.

This morning I´m immobile again, but for a different reason - German breakfasts. The hotel spread was stunning - fourteen kinds of meats and sausage (I counted), fourteen kinds of cheese (ditto), a dozen kinds of bread, two kinds of smoked salmon, a yogurt bar, a muesli bar, strong bitter coffee, espresso, fresh squeezed juice, an assortment of pickles, eggs, potatoes .... frakkin´heaven on a cold rainy morning. Next time someone tries to pass off a croissant and nescafe as a ´Continental Breakfast' they´ll be getting an earful from me. I could´ve spent all day there, but after trying to sample all the meats and cheeses I hit a wall, and would´ve had to purge to continue on.

Twenty more minutes and I leave for the airport to fly to Cairo; then the real adventure begins.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


OK, I've got everything confirmed except for a place to stay in Munich and Abu Simbel, a flight to Abu Simbel, and the ride from Dahab to el Milga.

The Beginning
16 hours in coach. Or, hell.

  • Fri Dec 28: Airborn - United 934 HNL-LAX (07:00-14:22); United 934 LAX-Heathrow (16:49-11:25)
  • Sat Dec 29: Munich - BMI 3275 / Lufthansa 4755 LHR-Munich (13:25-16:00)

Cairo the Victorious
Mayfair Hotel, Zamalek

  • Sun Dec 30: Air Egypt MS 788 Munich to Cairo (14:10-19:00)
  • Mon Dec 31: Egyptian Museum, Coptic Cairo
  • Tue Jan 1: Pyramids at Dahshur, Saqqara Necropolis
  • Wed Jan 2: Alexandria
  • Thu Jan 3: Islamic Cairo

Hathor or Horus Hotel, Aswan
Abu Simbel Tourist Village (Hotel Abbas), Abu Simbel

r Egypt
Marsam Hotel (Sheikh Aly Hotel), Qurna (West Bank)

The Sinai

Bishibishi Garden Village, Dahab
El Milga Bedouin Camp, el Milga

  • Thu Jan 10: Air Egypt MS 162 Luxor to Sharm el Sheik (7:10-8:00). Bus to Dahab.
  • Fri Jan 11: Hike to Ra's abu Galum
  • Sat Jan 12: Midnight convoy to el Milga. Climb Mount Sinai; Monastery of St. Katherine; Hike Wadi Arbein.

The Journey Home

  • Sun Jan 13: Bus to Cairo (6:00-14:00). Shopping Day. al Azhar Park, Khan el Khalili.
  • Mon Jan 14: Air Egypt MS787 Cairo to Munich (09:50-13:10)
  • Tues Jan 15: Airborn - Lufthansa 380 Munich-Denver (09:15-12:05); United 77 Denver-SFO (13:23-15:03); United 77 SFO-HNL (16:05-19:46)
  • Wed Jan 16: Back to work

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Revised Egypt

At some point I'll need to go to bed tonight, but I think I had way too much coffee at work. Memo to self: Water good. Coffee good, but dangerous.

Been working on Egypt, based on the vacation dates I actually got rather than the ones I only fantasized about.

Updated Nov 20 to fit in time by the Red Sea

Dec 29-30: Munich
Arrive 4 pm Sat / Depart 8am Monday

Mon-Fri: Cairo
Mayfair Hotel
Dec 31. Arrive 2pm. Settle in. Explore Zamalek.
Jan 1. Explore Islamic Cairo (al Azhar, Qayn al Basrayn, Beit al Sihaymi).
2. Pyramid Fields at Saqqara and Dahshur.
3. Wadi Natrun.
4. Museum; Islamic Cairo II (Masjid Ibn Tulun, Masjid Sultan Hassan, Bab Zuweyla) or Coptic Cairo

---Mon, Wed, Sat: Sufi dervishes at Salaheddin Citadel
--- Cruise Marriot Hotel
---al Hakim, Khan al Khalili
---Wed: Mahazer plays at Makan (video here - Mahazer plays zar, a pre-Islamic women's trance music).
---Check al Ahram or el Sawy for listings.

ﺑو ﺴﻣﺒﻞ
Sat: Abu Simbel
5. Temples of Rameses II and Nefertari

: Aswan. Coptic Christmas
Keylany Hotel

6. Aglikia / Temple of Isis. Elephantine or Sehel Island.
7. Monastery of St Simeon, Tombs of Nobles.

Tue-Thur: Luxor.
Ras as-Sana / Islamic New Year
Senmut B&B or Nefertiti Hotel
Fly to Luxor. Luxor and Karnak
9. Hike Tombs of the Artisans, Valley of the Kings, Deir Bahri
10. Abydos (train/bus)


Fri-Sun: Dahab
Penguin Village or Bishibishi
11. Fly to Sharm / Taxi to Dahab.
St. Katherine's Monastery (closed Fri / Sun) / Mt. Sinai
Camel Trek! Ras Abu Galum?

Monday, Jan
14: Fly to Munich
8am fly to Cairo / 2:45 pm / 5:25 pm

Tuesday, Jan 15: Fly Home,
Leave 9 am, arrive 8 pm

White Party

It's on ... Sanker released the line-up, and it absolutely works for me. The DJ line-up is awesome - Manny Lehman and Abel remain the Kings in my book. Drew already has his tickets, his friends John & Neil are going, and I'm feeling like a little kid already & I need to start working on my costumes. Or, barring that - since I'll be flat broke after Egypt and this - working on my body so I won't need a costume.

Thursday April 17, 2008

Welcome Party - Josh Peace - Oasis - 9pm to 3am

Friday April 18, 2008

Boxers or Briefs Underwear Party - Joe King - Wyndham - 9pm to 4am

Saturday April 19, 2008

Boogie Wonderland - Rosabel - Convention Center - 9pm to 5am
Climax - Alexander - Oasis - 4am to 9am

Sunday April 20, 2008

Extreme T-Dance - Manny Lehman - White Party Park - 3pm to 9pm
Closing Party - Tony Moran & Brett Henrichsen - Wyndham - 9pm to 6am

Monday, November 05, 2007

Jihaddy Fucks

I've been hanging out in the Thorn Tree Egypt forums a lot lately, and they've been invaluable in helping to plan an independent trip to Egypt.

It turns out one of the forum members was a victim in the April 2006 bombings in Dahab.

This is his story.
We lived in Egypt for two years and experienced it all. All the baffling requests and hassles. But we left Egypt still loving the country and the people. (And this despite the fact that we left Egypt after being vicitms in the Dahab bombing in 2006. I'm still recovering from the bomb blast that almost took off my right arm and left ankle.)


It's been a long road of recovery. (I'll have my 14th, and hopefully last, operation since the bombing on tuesday!) I don't blame the egyptian people for what happened. I do blame what I call "those jihaddy f*cks." I revisited Egypt in May and enjoyed it immensely. I doubt I'll be able to revisit Dahab for a good long time though.


Ahh, the details, please excuse me if I don’t get into the gory details, it’s still tough to talk about:

My wife and I had lived in Cairo for two years. I taught at an American school there, she worked for an NGO. Her parents came for a visit and it was my spring break. I went to Dahab a few days early to recover from a long winter of teaching while my wife took her folks to Petra in Jordan. They flew into Sharm late afternoon on the 24th and took a cab to Dahab. When they arrived they were hungry, so we took a stroll down the corniche to find a place to eat. We had stopped to look at the menu at Capone’s and were walking away when the first bomb went off on the opposite side of that little bridge. I saw flame and sparks and thought, “what a weird time to be shooting off fireworks.” Then someone yelled “run!”

We were all in different spots near Capone’s. I and my mother-in-law were close to the menu; my wife and her father were over near the tourist trinket shacks. My plan, and this all happened in seconds, was to jump over one of the walls that separate the walkway from the restaurant seating areas. I got about two steps before the second bomb went off, the one on the side of the bridge near Capone’s. I remember a loud bang and then flying through the air. The next thing I remember was coming to on the ground surrounded by death and destruction.

I took a quick inventory of my body and it wasn’t pleasant. I thought my right arm had been blown off as all I could see were bits of bone sticking out from my shoulder. My left ankle was just hanging by skin. I saw my wife lying on the ground about fifteen feet from me and my father-in-law sitting up not far from her. As I tried to crawl over to my wife two Egyptian men snatched her up and ran off with her. Then a group of men came over to help me. They put me on a blanket and carried me to the back of a jeep where I was driven to the Dahab clinic. I don’t really feel like going into details here… needless to say the next few hours were as close to hell on earth as I’ll ever come. The clinic was full of injured people, bodies, blood and chaos. I was then taken by ambulance to the hospital in Sharm, then the next morning flown to Cairo in a military plane. At the hospital in Sharm I learned my wife was ok, as was my father-in-law. It wasn’t until I got to Cairo did I find out my mother-in-law was fine. (She was the smart one; as soon as the first bomb went off she just ran like hell and only suffered a few minor shrapnel wounds.)

After four days in Cairo we were all flown to an American military hospital in Germany, then back to the USA. I was in the hospital in the states for four months. My upper right arm was pretty much destroyed so it had a metal bar put in and is fused at a 90 degree angle. My left ankle was seriously fractured and I lost a bit of bone as well. I had my final surgery on my leg in august and hopefully will be able to walk with only a slight limp soon. (I’m still in a wheelchair recovering from that surgery.) I’ve had a total of 13 operations since the bombing. I had shrapnel wounds, well, everywhere. There’s not a part of my body that doesn’t have a pretty large hole in it. I also suffered quite a bit of nerve damage. My right wrist does not work, but my fingers do. On Tuesday I’ll have surgery to have the wrist fused and a tendon transfer on my thumb.

My wife suffered a lot of shrapnel wounds to her lower body, but thank god escaped serious injury. My father-in-law also had a lot of shrapnel wounds and a serious fracture of his right ankle. He had a final surgery on the ankle last week and will hopefully be able to walk normally soon.

So that’s the short version with a lot of terrible details missing. Also some funny tales omitted as well. (You know… it is Egypt. I could use up a page just telling the story about the Cairo hospital orderlies who got into a fist fight over which operating room I was supposed to be in. or the time a wheel came off my gurney dumping me on the ground…) as I said above, I don’t blame the people of Egypt for what happened. Just some nut jobs in the Sinai. My wife and I visited Egypt in May to see friends and say goodbye to that part of our lives. I’ll never live in that country again, but I left knowing Cairo and Egypt will always be “home” in some way.