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

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11-13 August 2005

Thursday 11th August 2005    day 30     whereami     Satellite view

Lovely and cool in the room and I slept like a log. Woken by the 5am prayers, and listened to them echoing around - they're more melodic here, it sounds nice. I like the sound of it everywhere but it's usually quite tuneless chanting. Soon nodded off again and didn't wake until mid-morning.
It was still very cool (23-25C?) and it was quite cloudy out - but I was surprised to find it a good 30C when I got outside.

I'm in El Nile hotel which is on the west bank of a big (0.5-1km) Nile tributary in Rosetta. Rosetta is best known for the Rosetta stone - a heavily inscribed ancient obelisk found here in 1799. It's markings were the key to our understanding of hieroglyphics - and enabled historians to interpret other markings found all over Egypt. I saw a replica of the stone in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, the original is in the British Museum.

I walked south along the river a couple of km but it seemed to go nowhere so I turned back. Stopped for a couple of shays in a quiet riverside café. It was nice and peaceful just watching the fishing boats going up and down. A couple of small boats were towed by a bigger one and dropped right in front of me - 100m from the bank. They stretched out a net between them and slowly drifted apart - then rowed around to meet up again having circled the net - they were really having to work at the oars. Then they quickly pulled the nets in while splashing the oars and brought in their catch. It was great to watch it happening right in front of me - it seemed like a little demonstration put on for my benefit.

a Nile ferry   a big Nile trawler   Nile trawling

I walked north along the river passing a lot of boatyards where some nice looking cruisers were being built - mostly all wood. The unfinished hulls were along the bank, the more complete boats in the river.
Further along they were building steel-hulled cruisers and big trawlers - at the far end was a very purposeful looking cruiser that looked destined for military use. There were a lot of big industrial brick kilns surrounded by millions of neatly stacked bricks. Presumably they're made from the Nile mud - they were all right on the bank.


I walked for ages up the dusty road, probably 7 or 8km. The river side was all boatyard - kiln - boatyard - kiln.

The other side of the road was very agricultural once I got away from the town. Very neat fields of rice, sugar and other crops. Evenly spaced date palms formed avenues between the fields and were geometrically dotted around in the fields. Enormous oxen were tied up under palm-frond shelters - they were huge, the cows looked like dogs beside them. It was all very green and healthy looking. Horses/donkeys and carts loaded with produce rattled up and down the narrow road. Occasionally taxis, minitaxis, pickups and a surprising number of 1940/50's big american cars would thunder by beeping and overtaking crazily.

agriculture   birds in a paddy field

I saw something moving in the river and watched a rat swim ashore and scamper off over the rubbish.

I'd been hoping to get across the river and walk back down the other side but there were no ferries here so I decided to get the next minitaxi back. Then I saw a ferry coming in so went and waited with 2 women - dressed in black but unveiled - very few veils here. The little ferry moored up, some people got off and we got on - then a young lad bumped his barrow of lychees aboard and led his donkey on too. His donkey was mostly shaven with geometric patterns on his head and back legs. The donkey wouldn't face the right way for a good photo but I wish now I'd taken one anyway. 25 piastres for the surprisingly quick crossing.

We landed in a very poor and heavily populated village and people looked at me in complete disbelief. Women and girls were doing their washing and the washing-up in the filthy looking narrow canal that ran alongside the river - yet again I would have loved some photos but it just doesn't feel right and I didn't feel altogether welcome here. A few youngsters said hello and welcome but the older people just stared and frowned.

I walked south down a very rough track and it soon got quieter and a bit friendlier. Several people asked me to join them in their cafes but I kept going. There were some great sights and I readied my camera in my pocket for some quick surreptitious photos, but every time I thought I could get away with it someone would appear and I chickened out. Got a couple in a fairly empty area.

the village   the village

I kept walking and eventually accepted an invitation from 8 or so lads and men sitting opposite a café. They ordered me a shay and I sat down. They were all staring and laughing amongst themselves and trying to communicate with me all at once. In no time I was surrounded by 20, then 30 and there must have been 40 or more towards the end - all craning their necks for a look at me and trying to get my attention. There were children, lads, men and old men all crowding around staring and introducing themselves and asking my name. One of them spoke a little english and asked for my email addr. which I gave him. He told me not to worry about the crazy mob around me - but I wasn't worried anyway - they were clearly just having fun. They pointed to a very old man who was beaming at me and said he was a general - and they all laughed. They pointed to a younger man and said "donkey" - and all laughed again, and doubly hard when I repeated it. They kept telling me their names and laughed when I tried to repeat them.
The man seated behind me kept grabbing my shoulder, gabbling something that I couldn't understand and laughing his head off. After 20 mins I'd finished my shay and we'd run out of conversation except when a new passer-by would stop to see what all the fuss was about and join in. I said I should go and had to fend off 30 invitations to dinner before I could get away. A very funny and very strange experience. The english-speaker said that nobody ever visits this area and they were all very pleased to see me.

about a third of my mob

I walked on with a small entourage that slowly melted away. Occasionally people would join me and try to communicate but it get's a bit tedious after a while and I get bored with continually shrugging my shoulders - I'd sooner walk alone. One very dapper little bloke - several inches shorter than me - joined me for a while and we struggled to chat. He was getting quite irritated that I couldn't understand him no matter how slowly and loudly he spoke - he seemed to think I must be a bit dim. Then he asked me if I was from Japan! I said no, Inglaterra - "oh, inglaisie" and he nodded. A few minutes later he asked if I was German. With his funny little tantrums and poor geography it was as much as I could manage not to laugh in his face. He too invited me to dinner when he turned off homeward. I carried on, wondering if I'd have a clue if I was north or south of my hotel when I got back across the river.

I found a ferry and crossed alone - 1.25LE this time - maybe 'cos I was on my own, but it was a better, bigger boat and we were getting back towards "civilisation" again so . . . .

Got to other side and I guessed south - and my hotel was only 100m south. I walked inland a bit to find some food and found a fairly busy market. Got some bread, tahina, date cakes, limes, fruit juice and water and went back to my room at about 8pm for a feast. Knackered!

Halfway through my feast there was a knock at the door - I assumed they wanted me to pay for tonight. It was Monier - he'd looked for me during the day and wanted to know if I needed any help with anything. I hadn't been planning to go out again but suggested we could meet for a shay in 45mins when I'd eaten and showered - and he'd prayed.

We met and sat on the riverside chatting - and with others keen to meet me. One of them said tourists don't seem to like Egyptians and keep themselves very much to themselves - nobody usually says hello, and they certainly don't sit and talk with them. We went for a shay that I managed, with a struggle, to pay for. I asked about an internet café and we went and found one - he sat with me while I answered a couple of emails. Olivier and Atika are in Cairo 14th-17th and said it would be great to meet up again. We walked back towards the hotel and I said I was calling it a night. He kept on about how pleased he was to meet me and be my friend and could he call on me tomorrow night, and insisting I should phone him if I needed any help with anything. He's a nice lad and I'm absolutely certain, no doubt whatsoever, that he's 100% genuine - and wants nothing from me at all.

Another great day, walked miles, saw some amazing sights, met some great people and had a pleasant evening.

I think everyone wants to help me 'cos they don't really believe I can get by without it. They're all quite astonished that I just go wandering when I don't know where I'm going or what I'll find there. "You just went there on your own? alone? why? what if you got lost?". As Dad always says, "I'm not lost, I just don't know where I am!".

      High: the shay with the curious mob in the nowhere-village
       Low: three and a half hours to write the diary 'cos there's so much I want to remember!

Friday 12th August 2005    day 31     whereami     Satellite view

Restless night - up pretty late with a long diary entry - and quite noisey outside - music, chanting prayers and traffic. Woke up with 5am prayers and fitfully snoozed most of the morning. I had to hide right under the sheet, with a small breathing hole, as there's lots of flies around here in the mornings - a good 30 in my room. Showered and went out for a shay, then headed towards the centre to look for the museum.

Got called back by a policeman 100m behind me. "where're you going? where've you been" etc. But mostly I think he just wanted to chat. He told me the museum is closed today - of course, it's Friday! He recommended a 10km trip to the rivermouth, "very nice, the Mediteranean sea" etc. - sounds ok so I started off north and looked out for a minitaxi.

A few minitaxis were all stopped in one place and a driver offered to take me for 10LE - seemed ok so I jumped in. Halfway there I realised that it was way too much but it was too late really so I paid up. I'd imagined that there was some kind of resort there, maybe it's where all the tourists hang out to avoid the locals. We arrived and there was nothing there at all! He said "army, soldiers, no go that way" and pointed to the one building in the distance right at the mouth. It looked interesting, sea/river turbulence at the mouth and a few people fishing so I got out - wondering how I'd get back.

It looked quiet enough so I walked the way he said I shouldn't and climbed some rocks right out in the mouth where a fisherman sat alone with his rod. The sea seemed to be winning the battle with the river, big waves rolling in, but the river flows out here so it can't be really. I sat with him and we "chatted" while he pulled in several small fish. He kept looking over his shoulder towards the army building and I wondered if I really shouldn't be there. Then he packed up and went, I thought I'd overstepped the mark but he'd actually been watching his bus that was about to leave. I walked south and joined some other fishermen for a while.

fishing at the mouth of the Nile

I walked on south, stopped at a tiny stall for a coke and bought some water, and carried on hoping to find a minitaxi back. A cart went by, the bloke insisted I got on, and I gladly accepted the lift. Ahmed "explained" that he climbed the palms and cut out small branches that they use to make fruit/veg boxes. We stopped by his house and he called his 2 sons and his father out and insisted I took their photo.

Ahmed at the reins   Ahmed's father and sons

We stopped in a village and I persuaded him to have a shay with me. I was the usual curiosity in the café and they had a good look and had a bit of a laugh - "what's he doing HERE?".

in the café with Ahmed and friends   in the café with Ahmed and friends   Mr Handsome - who insisted I took his photo at the cafe

They wouldn't let me pay for the shay and I went on my way, feeling like the Pied Piper with a stream of children behind me.

I was soon alone again until a dim-looking 20(?) year old joined me. He couldn't grasp the fact that I didn't understand him and kept pulling at my arm trying to slow me down. He was asking for money, and indicating that he was very poor and I was very rich. I kept saying "la floos" - no money. He wouldn't have it though and kept pointing to a black plastic bag he was carrying as if it was all he had in the world. It was twisted tightly closed and I assumed it was fruit/veg - but it was actually a (barely) live chicken! He was starting to annoy me with his constant grabbing so I pushed him off me and told him to go away "imshi". He eventually turned off on his way home.
A minitaxi came along and I got a ride back to Rashid for 50 piastres.

We stopped by a little monument with a replica Rosetta Stone and some canons. I noticed I was in the way of someone's photo so moved away. But he asked to me stand with his 3 teenage daughters for a photo (?).

I wasn't sure what to do (5pm) so headed into the centre to make sure I knew the way to the station for tomorrow - couldn't find it. I was finding the continual excessive attention a bit wearing and wanted a bit of peace and quiet so I went back to the hotel to get my book and sit in my local café by the river with a quiet few shays for an hour or 2. Had a look a little further on first for something to eat and found a quiet riverside fish restaurant so went in.

They seemed happy enough to see me but seemed confused about what I was doing there, "you want to EAT?" in disbelief. I said I wanted to eat but we couldn't communicate so, laughing, they took me into the kitchen and showed me some fish - I pointed to a bigger one "you want THIS ONE?" in disbelief. I couldn't understand their shock and wondered what was going to turn up. The kitchen girl came and laid out some folding computer print-out paper on top of the grubby table cloth and laid out 4 plates, the grilled fish, some salad, tahina and some rice. I asked for some bread as well and it was lovely. My first proper meal since I left Siwa.

After I'd eaten I moved right to the rubbishy riverside. It was nice just looking out over the river while the sun sank behind me. Looking over towards where I'd been mobbed yesterday you could easily think it was a very exclusive resort. The makeshift buildings could easily be classy hotels in the distance and evening light - and the half-built cruisers could be the resident's pleasure boats moored up alongside - St Tropez?
I watched the birds flitting about - small ones skimming the surface for insects and bigger ones occasionally diving for fish. A boatful of young lads rowed out and swam and larked about 200m from the bank - pushing each other off the boat, making pyramids on each other's shoulders and diving in.

view from my table   lads swimming   lads swimming

I could quite happily have dozed off there with my full belly but went back to the hotel to do some diary and sort my gear out - I'm moving tomorrow, either Damanhur (50km south) or all the way back to Cairo - I haven't decided yet - partly depends on how early I get moving.

A couple of shots from my window. I think there's a speaker on the mosque minaret pointing my way - it really blasts across to me.

view from my room   zoomed view from my room

I was expecting Monier to come calling again and was a bit relieved when he didn't. He's a nice lad but his adoration is a bit OTT, and truthfully we don't have very much in common. He's a serious, studious, religious young student dead keen to to the right thing by his faith, his family and everyone really to lead a perfect life and win the respect of all. And I'm just some middle-aged dropout!

I've seen a wedding party doing the rounds several times today. A stream of cars and pickups overloaded with people all beeping, shouting, drumming and clapping rhythmically - the women and girls ullulating. I've just heard them go by again - it'll probably go on all night!

      High: the cart ride with Ahmed, or maybe the great and peaceful meal
       Low: the grabby pest demanding money - just a nuisance though

Saturday 13th August 2005    day 32     whereami     Satellite view

I didn't feel like I'd slept all that well or all that long but I feel great - and, showered and shaved, I look a lot better than the haggard old man that was staring out of my mirror last night. I closed the louvred shutters last night and it's kept most of the flies out.

Laying in bed, the half-planned flying visit to Damanhur just didn't make sense so I'm going to stay here one more night. I don't really feel like I've seen Rashid anyway - 'cos I keep visiting outside of it. Decided to do the museum and the fort.

Had my morning shays in my local and set off towards the centre to find the museum. "It's that way", "it's this way", "no, it's 3km the other way". It's just about the only damned thing in Rosetta but nobody knows where it is! On my 15th walk down the same stretch of the Nile I stopped to watch some fishermen.

I was soon joined by Mohamed - about my age. After the usual pidgin formalities he asked if I would invite him to England. I said he didn't need an invitation he could just visit anywhen but he didn't think so and kept repeating himself. Then could I get him a job with the British government - as a diplomat or something, er, no, I doubt it. Could he have my address, phone no., email etc etc etc. I told him, as I've told many people, that I sold my house in England and have no address/phone - and no mobile. He went on and on about how much he wanted to get to England and how desparately he needed my help. I eventually managed to lose him. He really seemed to believe it was the promised land despite my struggling explanations that it wasn't.

Eventually found the museum and it was closed - for 2 months for repairs. Ok, the fort then.
I asked a taxi how much to Qaitbay Fort - he had no idea what I was talking about and neither did a 2nd taxi. A local told me it was north and helped me with the pronunciation - I wasn't far out! I started walking and looked for a minitaxi to flag down. One stopped, everyone inside got out. I asked "Qaitbar Fort" and he didn't understand, I said 5km north and it seemed to register. He wanted 5LE, I said 2LE, he said 5LE and wouldn't budge so I got out - even 2LE is quite a lot! I walked on a bit and flagged down the next one. We both laughed when it was the same bloke - he waved me on and I got in the front saying "la khamsa" - no 5, he just smiled. We got close to the fort and I gave him a 5LE note and gestured that I wanted change - he gave me 2LE. We're only talking about 35-50p here but it's the principle that bothers me - everybody else here is charging me fairly, the shops, the market stalls, the cafes - it's always the taxis!

The fort was in the middle of a nowhere village very close to where I had a shay with Ahmed yesterday - maybe the same village. Quite a lot of police around the fort and they jump into action when I get out of the minitaxi. They crowd around me and want to know where I'm from, where I'm staying, where I've been, where I'm going - and it all seems urgent and for no reason at all. I gave them a few sparing details and they calmed down and pointed me to the ticket office. 12LE and the police searched my bag. As soon as I got into the fort I was adopted by a guide (he's in for a disappointment 'cos the smallest note I have is 10LE, and he ain't having it). We pidgin'd around the fort. It wasn't all that great really - having been heavily restored in the mid 1980's, there wasn't much of the original left. I remembered my suspicions about the one in Alexandria, also called Qaitbay Fort. I saw where the Rosetta Stone was discovered - it had been used as part of the original fort wall! We climbed about for half an hour, I took a few photos and we were done.

the rivermouth from Qaitbay Fort   Qaitbay Fort   kids playing / men fishing - from Qaitbay Fort

He asked for a tip but I said about the 10LE note and shrugged. I was asked to wait with the police a while on the way out. I sat down for 5 minutes and they said I could go. I started walking back towards Rashid and they called me back for a taxi they'd flagged - but I pretended not to hear/understand and kept walking - I want a minitaxi. The taxi caught me up and he was very insistent that I should get in but I refused and kept walking.

After a km or so I flagged a minitaxi and got on - 50 piastres - the proper price. 2km before Rashid we stopped to let some people off and a policeman came and talked to the driver. Someone behind me explained that the minitaxi would drop me at the police station - for my security. I don't need this. 1km further and I had to get out to let some others out - I decided not to get back on, I'm close enough to walk, and I could do without the police attention. But the policeman from earlier was right behind us on an old CZ motorbike - and gestured for me to get on the pillion. We rode to the police station and 4 or 5 police gathered around. They knew I was English and where I was staying so they'd obviously been speaking with their colleagues at the fort. We went over some details again and I gave sparing, disinterested answers and kept looking away. After 10 minutes they sent me on my way - they were gesturing that I should go to my hotel and sleep.
I've no idea what all the fuss was about. I guessed that maybe word has got back to them of my wanderings in remote places - and they're worried about all the paperwork if I got lost or fell down one of the many uncovered drains or something. I also thought I'd better check the internet in case there been any further incidents.

I went to my local for a quiet shay and then on to the internet café. It was quiet there, I confirmed that there was no bad news and checked the website and answered some emails. It's quite a good café with WinXP and DSL so I asked if I could connect my USB memory stick - ok. I emailed a few movie clips to Suzi - to see if we can get them linked to the website somewhen (too big for my free webspace). Took ages to send by hotmail and I was in there 3 hours in all.
I was hassled in there again by someone I met the other day for my address and telephone and gave the usual story. As a final job I set up another hotmail account to give out to my many egyptian friends - I don't want mike_travels to get too clogged up (minimal so far).

I was shattered when I got out at about 7:30 so I bought some bread, cheese and salad and took it back to my room. The stall holders in the market can never quite understand that I want 2 tomatoes - "2 kilos?" over and over despite my explanations and pointing.

A bit of a strange day really. I set out nice and early, and full of beans. Wasted nearly 3 hours being sent from pillar to post to find the museum - which was closed anyway, saw a fairly dull fort, and got chased around by the police. I've achieved more when I've crawled out in the early afternoon on my knees!

Back to hot and sweaty Cairo tomorrow to meet up with Olivier and Atika - it'll be nice to see them again. Also, in Cairo, I've got to go and get my visa sorted - I can't make out the stamp in my passport but if it is only a 1 monther it's just expired. I suppose I was a bit lucky that the police didn't want to see it today. I'm just gonna ask them to confirm that it's a 3 monther.

      High: getting recaptured for a ride on the police motorbike was quite funny!
       Low: what's your address, give me your telephone number etc. etc. etc. etc.

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