2005 Time-out Diary
Wandering around Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon

earlier      later      homepage

06-08 August 2005

Saturday 6th August 2005    day 25     whereami     Satellite view

Predictably I didn't get up early for the fishmarket. I crashed about 2:30am and woke from a very sound sleep at 11. I feel a bit lazy but it's not laziness really - I was out for the count! I didn't really think about it being hard "work" when I left for this little adventure - but it is. Forever walking, and a fair bit of cycling, swimming and climbing in the last couple of weeks.

I paid for 2 more nights here and went out and headed west along the seafront to look for my morning shay. A hustler soon locked step with me, as if we just happened to be going the same way. He asked me the usual questions and I gave the usual short, conversation-killing, answers. He wanted to buy me a shay, no - have a cigarette, no - come into my shop, no - do you want some hashish? no. Do you want a woman, there's a good place here where you can stay for 1 hour, 3 hours, whatever you like - as much as it was a refreshing change to be hassled for heterosexual sex, paying for it is still not really my style! - so no. He was a big lanky rogueish looking bloke and I wasn't sure if he was eyeing the zips on my rucksack - so I hung it one shoulder so I could see them all. Eventually, after a good 2km, I'd walked him too far from his homeground and he accepted that he was wasting his time - and said goodbye. I don't think these blokes are too much to worry about - they're just a nuisance.

I walked along a beach area where egyptian holidaymakers were enjoying themselves in the murky-looking sea. There was also a small harbour full of fishing boats, and fishermen sitting around mending their nets, working on their boats or just chatting. I kept going and soon realised I was almost in Anfushi Bay - I hadn't intended to come this far. I walked past a boatyard where there were lots of old, decaying boats lying around and some new ones being built - including some "Liveaboard" diving boats obviously destined for the Red Sea.

new liveaboards being built

Out on the point it got very touristy - a few dull-looking museums and an aquarium, and the fort (1497AD) looked like it was built last year - absolutely pristine - it surely can't all be original.

Qaitbar Fort

I finally got my shay(s) in a quiet little café and sat watching the people, traffic and trams go by. The trams are very different on this side of town - much bigger and sharing the roadspace with everything else. They're incredibly noisey when they go by and I realised that's what I could occasionally hear from my hotel room. They sound like they've never seen a drop of oil in their long lives and cough up great clouds of dust as they clatter by.

The main beach here was private (I got invited in but I think I would have had to pay) and looked very nice. Then more boatyards, then an industrial area that surrounded the main industrial port. It was a very scruffy area and I got lots of odd looks, being away from the tourists. I walked up and down dark and dusty sidestreets where all trades could be seen - a street of welders, a street of carpenters, a street of panel-beaters etc. etc. all in their grubby little workshops and spilling out into the narrow streets. Taxis, minibuses and trams bombed around giving you about an inch of space to walk - great fun.

I turned back inland a bit to look for something to eat and soon found a bustling fruit and veg market. An open-air café (locals café - no tourists here) was serving up some nice looking food so I accepted the invitation to sit down.
Their speciality was chicken but it didn't look too good so I ordered felafel - he gabbled something to me that I couldn't understand, so I just said "aiwa" - yes. He brought me a plate of salad - tomato, cucumber and water-cress, some bread (just dropped onto the table) - and a bit later 4 big felafels and a plate of pickled cucumber. It was very tasty - the felafels were different, they were quite green inside - maybe added spinach. There was loads of it - a good full meal - and I stuffed myself full. While I was eating, ducks and geese from the adjacent stall were strutting around the table. I heard something behind me and turned to see a big stork right there - with a skinnier younger one too - both pecking and preening their huge wings (I initially thought they were pelicans, but I think they were storks). Do they eat storks? - or maybe just the eggs ? I dunno. 3LE for the lot - a good bargain - great ambience - I might go back if I can find it again.

market cafe

I slowly wandered homeward stopping to buy some mangoes on the way 10LE/kg, got some water and stopped for a shay in a quite nice looking place close to my hotel. I'm pretty sure there was some discussion about whether they should serve (scruffy) me - but they did. Gimme a break - I'm on my way back now to do me laundry!!

Back to my room at about 7:30 - washed my trousers and t-shirts - but I'm not sure they look much better. No clothes, so it's an early night to get up for the fishmarket - 5am!!

Hotel Cabry room   Hotel Cabry view

I've had a bit of a sore throat today, I hope I haven't caught a chill up north here in this cold weather - I reckon it dropped below 30C last night!!

I've noticed here, and to a lesser extent in Cairo, that people give a lot of attention to others shoes - and I don't think they think highly of mine - dirty and shabby. They're very into shoes, there's shoeshops everywhere - in the photo above looking down from my window all the stalls are shoe stalls - about 200m of nothing but shoes. I've come to the conclusion that your shoes say a lot about your status here - like a car does at home - and I'm clearly a peasant. On the plus-side I don't get too much hassle from the many shoe-shiners - they know a lost cause when they see one.

      High: Great meal in the middle of the bustling market
       Low: Probably the hustler - but I don't let it bother me really

Sunday 7th August 2005    day 26     whereami     Satellite view

Oh dear, failed again - I got well stuck into my music again last night and didn't crash until late - so no 5am fishmarket again. Must try harder!!

I don't actually feel all that good. My throat is worse and I'm sniffing and sneezing too - and a bit of a headache. Must have picked up a bug - it's nothing to worry about except that I feel very listless - and it's not the heat or lack of sleep this time.
I messed about with my camera a while - turning off all the beeps and lights to make it less noticeable - I really want more street action shots but I'm wary of upsetting people with it - and a little cautious of drawing too much attention to something worth several months local wages.
Last nights washing seems reasonably successful - t-shirts look a bit cleaner but are sweat-stained, trousers look quite a bit better and feel a kg lighter!

Eventually showered and went out - west again towards the markets. Minor hassle from a middle-aged hustler but he soon got the message. Had a good wander around and stopped in the middle of the market for a couple of shays. It was nice outside in the breeze and shade, just people-watching. A tv behind me was blaring out a big football match that seemed be on in all the cafes - and passers-by would stop to see how the game was going. I watched an old boy on the other side of the narrow street (no room for cars) selling cigarettes from his tiny stall. He smoked at least 7 or 8 cigarettes in the hour I was there! He went to the adjacent stall and bought a dozen or so limes, put his thumb in one, squirted it in his mouth and up his nostrils, had a good old rinse-out and spat it on the ground. He squirted the rest of it into his shay. I keep meaning to buy some to make my gallons of water a bit more refreshing but I never remember at the right time.

Boys and men walked up and down with carts full of bread, big urns of shay, melons - everything really. A pick-up slowly squeezed it's way through with 3 men in the back struggling to control a precariously high stack of tatty furniture. Women and children with their shopping - the women often carrying the heavy stuff on their heads. Men with piled-high trays of bread also balanced on their heads - I saw a guy in Cairo cycling like this, he should be in a circus! And of course, young women walking up and down - always a great way to while away an afternoon.

I moved off again feeling a bit refreshed and just wandered around the market. At one stall, a bloke was cutting up goats heads with a machete - and he had 3 or 4 big chest-high plastic barrels of heads he was working through. I tried not to think about my Siwan breakfast!! There were great piles of goat parts at several stalls; heads, legs, hearts, livers, intestines - some in glass-fronted cold-cabinets, most on the ground on scraps of cardboard and spilling over the edge onto the filthy road.

After a couple of hours I stopped again for a shay at a lively looking café - and sat outside again close to where a group of men were noisily playing dominoes. They were having great fun shouting and moaning at each other when they lost and kidding their opponents when they won. It reminded me of when we used to play liar-dice in the pub (25) years ago. A couple of them saw me watching and they smiled and said "welcome".
I noticed another westerner (first in Alexandria I think) on the other side of the road - probably german with a young daughter about 8. A local girl of the same age went to say hello - but stopped and they just eyed each other curiously.
A bloke joined me at my table and gave me a couple of biscuits, and I later gave him a cigarette. I decided I was going to ask them if I could take a photo of their game - not really sure what the answer would be. I paid my 2LE for 2 shays and asked - they couldn't have been happier - and jokily squabbled about who was the most handsome and should be central.


They insisted I joined them at their table, ordered me another shay, and I watched them play for a while. I nearly got invited to play but another local stepped in and took my place at the last minute. I'm not really into games but it would have been fun. None of them spoke any english. After 45 mins or so I tried to pay for my shay but they wouldn't hear of it - I thanked them, shook a few hands and went on my way.

It was starting to get dark and I was still feeling a bit rough and very tired so I wandered slowly towards home - up and down every interesting-looking sidestreet. Eventually got back to Raml station and looked around for something to eat. Got a couple of takeaway koftas for 4LE from a roadside stall - very nice. Went off to find the nearby internet café I noticed yesterday and spent an hour and a half 3LE checking the website and answering a few emails. I emailed Olivier and Atika suggesting that we could meet in Cairo next week. I wanted to check a few bank things but I don't feel comfortable doing it in an internet café - so I emailed Suzi (sister) and asked her to check and send me the details. I'm still getting quite a few "failed delivery" messages so I hope my emails are getting through.

Still pretty hungry but I'm cleaned out of small notes - just 50's left - and they get quite upset if you want to buy something cheap with a big note. I don't know how they manage to always have loads of small notes ? So I don't bother - I've got a couple of mangoes in my room - they'll have to do. Back about 11pm.

I really must try and get to that damned fishmarket in the morning - and it had better be worth it!

I might have one more (tomorrow) night here then move on - or I could do the fishmarket and get a bus or something straight to Rosetta (East along the coast) - I'll see how I feel in the morning - if still ropey, I'll stay.

Couldn't get a gprs connection to the web server to ftp today's diary - hope there's not a problem with me and Orange - like a huge bill for example!

      High: my domino playing friends - they were great fun
       Low: feeling tired and a bit off all day

Monday 8th August 2005    day 27     whereami     Satellite view

Didn't sleep at all well, restless, twitchy and hungry - couldn't sleep so got up at 3am and ate a mango and my 2 apples I'd forgotten about. Woke at 6am anyway, feeling groggy, and showered and out by half-past.

Walked up the quiet street the 3km to the fishmarket - I wanted to get the tram but I couldn't work out where they stopped. There were bus-stops but the trams just trundled by - there was only one going my way anyway. Bought a croissant and a sweet-looking pastry that turned out to be a cheese and olive pasty for 2LE. Probably should've been a quarter of that, and he gave me a "stitched you up like a kipper" smile but I'm too tired to negotiate for the equivalent of 10 or 15p - and just smiled back to say "I know" - it was quite a funny exchange really - ate them on the way.

The fishmarket was pretty good - shouting auctions for trays of fish going on inside a big smelly shed. And outside, bought trays being loaded onto pick-ups, horses and carts, and into the boots of taxis. One taxi was so overloaded that the trays extended upwards beyond the vertical bootlid - the back of the car almost dragged on the ground. I wanted some photos but again it seemed intrusive - they're just trying to earn a living and I'm getting in their way treating it as some sort of spectacle.

I went to café over the road where I could watch from a respectable distance and had a couple of shays. The café is quite busy and there's loads of the usual shouting and grunting going on. The Alexandrians have quite an aggressive manner about them and they growl and gesture threateningly to one another. Some of the conversation seems to be about me and it's easy to imagine that they're saying "what the hell's he doing here!? - this is a locals café!! And he's sitting in my seat!!" but I'm sure it's just their way - they're perfectly polite if we make eye contact, and just say "salam" or "welcome" or less often "hamdulilah" (god/allah be with you). I'm reminded of a scene in The Simpsons where 2 Eastern European immigrants are playing chess and the loser smashes his fists on the board, sending the pieces flying, and shouts and wails aggressively at his opponent - the subtitle says "well played sir, care for another game?".

I was starting to feel pretty rough again and got the idea that it would be nice to sit quietly in the shade in one of the nice public gardens and read a book all day. But I haven't got a book and the chances of finding an english book here are slim, one worth reading almost nil. I can't really be bothered with the city today though - too much attention from the locals, the hustlers, every single passing taxi beeping at me etc.
I wandered along the coast a bit but I'm just going over old ground - then I spotted a mini-terminus for the trams - one going back towards my hotel just pulling away. I got across the road and jumped on the moving tram. Paid 25 piastres and we slowly trundled back the way I'd walked. It was nice on the tram, watching the world go by. I feel a bit more anonymous here, my few fellow passengers don't take all that much notice of me and the people outside are out of reach. I didn't want to get off but I need to go to the hotel. But I now know what I can do today - I'm gonna ride the trams around all day - don't care where they go - and just hop off and back on where it looks interesting - sounds like fun and I wake up a bit at the prospect.

Back to the hotel, paid for another night and picked up a couple of things I'd forgotten in my early morning stupor. A chambermaid came in and changed my sheets and wiped a wet mop around the floor. Alone!? in a bedroom!? with a young and attractive woman!? in Egypt!! - better have a cold shower!!

I walked to Raml station and got on an eastbound tram. After 30 pleasant minutes I got off when I thought I was further east than I'd been before. I walked around looking for a café but there wasn't one. This was a nicer area of big expensive shops and garages selling new(!) cars. I headed north - there must be something on the coast - and found myself just short of where I'd walked on my first visit to Alexandria. So I walked a bit further east along the prom and found my café-owning friend in the same seat smoking his shisha. I joined him for a quick shay and we caught up on events - mainly Siwa and the Sharm-El-Sheikh incident. He had to go and I wanted to get moving so we didn't chat long. I started walking and a car slowed and beeped, I ignored it but it was my friend offering me a lift - I said thanks but I wanted to walk.

Alexandria - new bridge

Walked a mile or so further east alongside quite nice, but artificial tourist beaches. The sea crashes in quite roughly along this coast - many of the beaches are like little false bays with a small inlet from the sea - to tame it a bit.

Alexandria - false bay   Alexandria - fishermen

I looked, with concern, at some of the hotel buildings - some more than 20 storeys high. They look like a good sea breeze could bring them tumbling down. The quality of all workmanship here is appalling - they're great people but they're lazy and slap-dash, and do everything in a half-arsed, that'll do fashion. I accidentally kicked the wall surrounding my balcony in Siwa one day - and the whole wall wobbled and vibrated. I treated it with great care after that, and certainly didn't lean on it! I look at the towering hotels and the many unfinished walls don't look any better built than my Siwa balcony. I've no idea what's holding them up!!

I turned back inland and soon hit the tramline again. I rode another 20 mins east to the end of the line. Walked a fair way north to the seafront again through poor and dusty sidestreets. It was nice enough but it was just row after neat row of umbrellas, shelters, coke stalls, showers, manicured sand - not very interesting.

I walked a bit but was soon bored - and didn't want to walk back to the tram so I flagged down a minibus taxi - they seem to run mainly up and down the seafront so should be ok. He confirmed he was going to Raml so I climbed in just behind the driver - he wanted 1LE. We stopped whenever someone wanted to get off, or whenever he spotted some new passengers. People behind me would tap on my shoulder and pass me money, I'd do the same to the driver. Then change would be passed back to me, and I'd pass it over my shoulder etc. You just couldn't do this at home 'cos some lairy sod would just put in his pocket - it's nice to see and it's almost fun in a silly way. A nice little trip along the front and we got to Raml station in 30 minutes. Round 1 completed.

I walked to my favourite takeaway and got my usual 2 Damias without salad - and they were without! They're so nice, and such an incredible bargain. Back to the tram station and onto the other line that I thought went further south. We did branch off south but we soon rejoined the original line and after 45 minutes I ended up at the same eastern stop. I found a nearby café this time, had a shay, walked 1 stop west and trammed back to Raml - I managed to get a seat on the other side for a different view.

I was intending to get another tram and head out west but I was just too tired. My near-sleepless night was catching me up and my nose has been streaming like a Siwan spring all day and is driving me up the wall. I had a couple of shays near my hotel and called it a day at about 7:30. I need to sort my gear out tonight anyway.

While I had my last shay I was treated several times to the odd spectacle of Alexandrian parking. Despite all their bravado on the road nobody seems to have the faintest idea how to parallel park. Most of the time they don't even bother to try and just leave their cars all over the place as you'd expect but sometimes, like outside this café, it's necessary. It's a common sight to see 3 or 4 people shouting and waving their arms about guiding someone into a space 3 car-lengths long. And they still usually end up at 30 degrees with one wheel on the kerb. I'm a little ashamed to admit that it took me a long time to master it - but like most people I got there - but nobody here has got a clue.

I've decided tonight that I'm being too conservative with the camera and will take more street shots. I haven't upset anyone with it yet so it's time to push it further.

An angry dispute in the street below has just reminded me that I saw my first bit of physical violence in Egypt this morning (including my several previous visits to diving resorts). A man unknowingly stepped back into the path of another and was shoved hard and deliberately out of the way. It was quite unnecessary and the poor guy didn't know what to make of it. The shock on the onlooker's faces showed how rare this sort of thing is.

Well, all things considered I've had a good day despite feeling a bit under the weather. My magical mystery tours of about 2-3 hours and probably 35km cost me a grand total of 2.25LE (23p) and it was a great way to trundle around and see some new things.

      High: riding the trams and mini-taxi - relaxing and entertaining
       Low: sniffing and snuffling the whole bloody day

earlier      later      homepage