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

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14-18 August 2005

Sunday 14th August 2005    day 33     whereami     Satellite view

Up late as usual, showered and packed by 11:30. Dropped my key into reception and the manager said he'd been asked to walk me to the police station - not again!! We went there and they really just wanted to check me out of Rashid. They asked when my car would arrive, I said "la car, tren" they looked at each other doubtfully and said "la tren Rashid-Cairo" but I'm sure there is. They told me to train to Alexandria, changing at Marmaru, and train to Cairo from there and were trying to convince me that it was far too complicated - they'd much rather I took a taxi. They told the hotel manager to walk me to the station when I refused a taxi there. I learnt that there definitely is a train to Cairo but it's one of the rough ones and they don't seem to want me on them.

I thought about going for it anyway but decided I'd maybe pushed my luck far enough the past 24 hours considering I might have an expired visa. Got a rough train to Marmaru - scruffs everywhere, asleep across several chairs, sitting on the floor, hanging out the doorway etc. A very scruffy and dirty little family opposite me asked me for something - the mother pointing at her mouth - I gave her a little packet of 2 chocolate biscuits and pointed to the children. She didn't say thanks or even acknowledge me - probably wanted money really. The kids seemed to enjoy them though and the girl, who kept shyly smiling at me, spent 10 minutes licking every last molecule of chocolate off the wrapper.
Young boys walked up and down selling plastic bags full of drink (they bite into the corner and drink it), tissues, bags of limes etc. A girl of 6 or so walked up, dropping a leaflet onto everyone's lap - and then walked back down collecting them all - I've no idea what they were about. A man with nothing below the knees shuffled up and down begging - he didn't really give me a 2nd glance.

The scenery was great, thousands of neatly arranged date palms in amongst other crops, irrigation canals weaving up and down. I got one poor photo.

date palms, shot from the moving train

Afer an hour I recognised Tabia where I'd despaired a few days ago and started looking out for Marmaru - it soon came and I got off. The Alexandria train came in 15 minutes later and I stood by the open door enjoying the breeze and watching the world go by. I asked some lads how far to Sidi Gabr station and we were there in 30 minutes.

Went to the ticket office, there's a direct train at 3, and it's now 2:30. The orderly queue was going nowhere 'cos the ticket printing machine had jammed. There were several men trying to fix it - and they were working and moving so slowly it seemed they'd been drugged. Fifteen minutes ticked by and we were all getting a bit fed up with it - and checking our watches, but we eventually got there. 34LE ticket - 1st Class, not what I asked for but it's too late to argue.

Very comfortable big reclining seat and aircon. It would have been great if not for the endless ringing of mobiles and loud one-sided conversations. Kids selling tissues and limes make a much nicer background sound.
Got to Ramyses station in 2 and a half hours - it went very quickly. I did some diary and listened to some music - couldn't see much out the window due to condensation between the double-glazed windows. I was very comfy and enjoying my music and was sorry to have to get off.

Straight down to the metro fending off over-eager taxi drivers all the way. Got my 50 piastre ticket to Tahrir Square and walked up to Hotel Dahab - got latched onto by a hotel-finder on the way who wouldn't listen when I told him I knew where I was going. He was most upset when they recognised me so knew he hadn't press-ganged a customer for them - so he got no baksheesh. They've got a room for me, a bit more central this time so I'm very close to the sociable communal area. Olivier and Atika booked in earlier today and are only 2 doors down from me but their door is closed - I assume they're out or sleeping, probably out. Had a shower and chilled out in the communal area - about 6:30.

Olivier and Atika returned, great to see them again, and we sat around with a shay and updated each other on our adventures. They've seen all they intended to see - all the way down to Abu Simbel, felucca'd back up the Nile, and Sinai. They bussed to Cairo overnight from a few days at Dahab.

We went out to look for something to eat and ended up at a nice chinese restaurant! (run by egyptians). It certainly made a change, smart and aircon'd and very nice food - cost 60LE, quite expensive by egyptian standards but we had a good feast. Then a quick wander and a shay and back to the hotel about midnight. We sat around chatting, trying to plan out the next couple of days - they fly home Wed 17th. Packed up at 2:30.

My first job tomorrow is to get my visa sorted out. Another bit of excitement is that I will finally get to know my gprs bill from Orange - could be a sleepless night!

      High: Meeting up again - and very nice to be back in Hotel Dahab, it's got a great atmosphere
       Low: the police interference with my travel plans was a bit tiresome

Monday 15th August 2005    day 34     whereami     Satellite view

Slept fitfully and woke at 4,5,6,7,8,9 - 12! Was glad to meet Olivier just coming back from his shower when I went for mine - they'd totally overslept as well. We had some breakfast and agreed to go to the Citadel (my 2nd visit) and the City of the Dead - I'm not convinced I really found it last time from what I've heard from others. At 1:30 Olivier noticed in his guidebook that the Mogamma Building, where I need to get my visa sorted, closes at 2pm! I left them getting ready and dashed off there.

It was crazy in there of course. I found the right area on the 1st floor. It looked a bit like an old Post Office, but with 50 counters all for different things; lost passports, arabic visas, non-arabic visas, resident visas, tourist visas, fines for overstaying!! etc. etc. I tried what I thought was the right place and was told to come back tomorrow - but I know better than to give up and persisted at different queues. I eventually got pointed to the right queue and after some wrestling with the "queue" and the unhelpful clerk (nearly all women) got a form to fill in. I had the foresight to bring some passport photos from UK so no worries there. Back in the queue and a helpful Italian lady, a Cairo resident, told me I need photocopies of a few pages from my passport. Back downstairs to get some copies, 1LE. Back in the queue and the clerk eventually checked the details and gave me a slip of paper with the fee written on it - 11.5LE for a 6 month visa extension - much less than I expected and no mention of expiry. Into another queue to buy 11.5LE worth of stamps. Back in the main queue and the stamps were stuck on the form. It all seems ok but I can't complete today. Told to come back in the morning for my visa stamp (probably can't - maybe Wednesday).

Met Olivier and Atika outside and we grabbed a cab to the Citadel - 10LE. We went round most of the same things I saw before but it's an interesting place and I was quite happy to see it again.

We walked north to the Northern Cemetary City of the Dead (I went to the Southern before) and after a fairly tough uphill walk in the afternoon sun we found it. It was interesting but cleaner and tidier, and not as heavily populated as I'd expected. The few people we saw all said hello and seemed happy enough to see us. We walked right through and stopped in a grubby little café for a shay.

living amongst the tombs   living amongst the tombs   tumbledown mosque

Went to the big souk (market) at Khan El Khalili - they wanted to get some souvenirs and presents to take home. We walked around and they bought a couple of shisha pipes for pretty good prices. We stopped and bought Kusharys - a 2LE plastic pot of pasta, rice and vegetables with spicey sauce and sat on a wall and ate them - very nice. Also had shays from a street seller. More wandering through the now very crowded evening souk. Stopped in a spice shop and they bought good quantities of several spices for a very reasonable price. It smelled lovely in there but it was a bit overpowering after a while.

Decided to head back as we were all exhausted - struggled to get a taxi due to the crowds, and those that did stop wanted silly money. Olivier finally got one just as I was buying a 3LE cantaloupe and they had to wait for me. We crawled home through the traffic and I took some street photos out the window.

Cairo streets   Cairo streets   Cairo streets

Cairo streets   Cairo streets

Got dropped near Midan Tahlat Harb and bought water and small pizzas from a bakery, I also managed to find a cashpoint - funds very low - I've spent about £300 now. Back to the hotel for a pizza, melon and shay feast. Sat around in the chilled-out communal area chatting and listening to a strange reggae version of Dark Side of the Moon coming out of a nearby room. Packed up about midnight - up early tomorrow for the Giza Pyramids before the crowds arrive.

      High: the Khan El Khalili souk was very lively
       Low: the shock when I woke up at noon!

Tuesday 16th August 2005    day 35     whereami     Satellite view

Up just after 7am and showered and out by 7:45. We got a cab to Giza - it took longer than we expected to get there and we weren't as early as hoped. Paid 35LE to enter the area. The pyramids didn't look all that big in the distance. There's a fair amount of preservation and restoration work going on, particularly around the sphinx, that makes some of it look like a building site.

We walked up to the main pyramids and bought a 35LE ticket to enter what we thought was the biggest Cheops Pyramid - only realising after we'd paid that we were in fact at the Chephren Pyramid. We went over to Cheops but by the time we found the ticket office it was closed - they limit sales to 150 tickets am and pm. We walked around Cheops - it's very impressive - and headed back to Chephren. The crowds had arrived by now in their nice aircon coaches.

Chephren Pyramid   Chephren Pyramid   Chephren Pyramid

Cheops and Chephren Pyramids   Cheops Pyramid   Cheops Pyramid

We queued up but when we got to the front they said "no cameras" - and there's nowhere to leave them. There's not a single sign anywhere about cameras and everyone has one of course - so everyone gets to the front of the queue and has to go away, lose the camera, and rejoin the queue. It's just so Egyptian!! I looked after Olivier and Atika's bags while they went in. Then it was my turn - the entry tunnel is very small, you have to bend double and walk down the steep (30deg?) shaft about 50m, then a bigger chamber, then up (30deg) bent double again for a further 50m into the main chamber. There's nothing to see really - just an open empty stone sarcophagus. All the artefacts from these pyramids were either looted or are in the Egyptian Museum. It was interesting though - but not for the claustrophic or unfit.

We walked around Chephren, it's better preserved than Cheops - there's even some of the original marble finish around the top - and it's only slightly smaller than Cheops. It sits on a higher plateau so looks at least as big.

We walked to the 3rd main pyramid Menkaure and tried to get in but were told it was also closed. We decided to take a camel ride to the top of a nearby hill, for photos, and back down to the sphinx.

25LE each for 2 camels and off we went - I was disapppointed that I had to share my camel with the driver but there you go. Great views from the hill and we plodded back down to the sphinx. Minor dispute about the pay 'cos it didn't take the hour we were promised but we paid up in the end. We got as close as we could to the sphinx - also very impressive, took some photos, and left for a shay and to find a taxi.
My first impressions from a distance were of course quite wrong. The scale of these things is astonishing - it's very difficult to believe they were built so long ago with basic technology. Despite the fact that they're crumbling, the precision of the work is still very evident.

camel ride   camel ride   camel ride

camel ride   Cheops and Sphinx   the Sphinx

the Sphinx   the Sphinx   the Sphinx

We went to Zamalek where there was supposed to be a good music shop - Atika wanted some egyptian music CDs - there's cassettes everywhere but CDs are scarce. We couldn't find the shop and eventually stopped for a bite in a backstreet café. We had ful which is mashed beans with spices, served in pitta bread with a plastic bag of pickled cucumber and chillis. Very nice again and Olivier and I went back for seconds. We found a music/book shop and spent an hour in there - I bought a book by Will Self.

Then back to Khan El Khalili souk for more souvenirs and presents. We spent an hour or so there and then headed back. We're out for a decent meal tonight for Olivier and Atika's last night, and with a couple of locals they met on their previous visits to Cairo this trip.

Hotel Dahab is right on the top

Olivier has a bit of a money problem 'cos he's forgotten his visa pin no. and we made several unsuccessful visits to 2 atm's. I lent him some money for the evening.

We met in an open air bar/café nested in the middle of some buildings. We had a drink then moved on to the well-known (locally) Arabesque Restaurant - it was very nice - waiters in cheap "smart" suits that were 3 sizes too big. I had Poisson Arabesque 100LE that was fish in sauce with rice - it was superb, the fish just melted in your mouth. The conversation was tricky for me - the friends were; a french girl (Tunisian roots with fluent arabic) doing voluntary work here on a literacy project and an active and well-known member of the Egyptian Communist Party (spoke a little english). So most of the conversation was in French or Arabic - but it was interesting nonetheless. We finished off with a quick drink back in the first bar and went back the hotel soon after midnight.

Olivier decided to have one more go at the atm on the way back and it ate his card. I offered to lend him some more and we talked about him paying money directly into my account when he got home.

Called it a night at about 2:30.

      High: finally getting to the pyramids and the sphinx
       Low: the camel driver was a bit of a pain - wheeler-dealers!

Wednesday 17th August 2005    day 36     whereami     Satellite view

Up about 9:30 after a very good sleep - been shattered the past few days. Olivier had been to the bank and, to my surprise, had recovered his card and got some money. Had a slow breakfast with them and they went for some last-minute shopping and I went to finish sorting out my visa just after 11.

Went to the Mogamma Building to the usual chaos. I managed to get to the front of my queue fairly quickly and they found my paperwork from the other day. They took my passport and papers to a different office and told me it would all be ready in an hour - at 1pm. I waited outside and went back at 1 - not ready yet so I waited inside trying to keep an eye on things. A bloke who'd been pressing against me a bit too much in the queue tried to chat with me but I thought I was being hit on again so just cut him. I waited until 1:20 and went back to the hotel to try and catch Olivier and Atika to say goodbye. I missed them by 10 minutes - we didn't really say goodbye 'cos I thought I'd be back.

I went back to Mogamma and joined the queue, the same bloke appeared next to me again and was right up against me again! I elbowed him away and made it clear that I wanted some space between us and he backed off. What's the matter with these people!
My stuff was all ready and I've got a visa that's good until mid-Jan06.

Picked up some food and went back to the hotel. Did my washing - much better results this time with proper washing powder.

Sat in the communal area and did some diary until I was joined by a french-canadian girl who lives in Dahab and was in Cairo to get a medical problem checked out for her diving. We chatted for most of the afternoon about Dahab and Egypt and all sorts. Then 2 french girls joined us and we chatted all evening about Egypt and it's many strange cultures. A very pleasant evening with 3 nice, intelligent and attractive young girls.

Sat quietly in the late evening and finished catching up my diary.

A nice lazy day as planned to recharge the batteries a bit - and all in very nice company - and my visa is sorted.

      High: very nice evening chatting with the french girls
       Low: not saying goodbye to Olivier and Atika - but nothing goes to plan here, so . . c'est la vie

Thursday 18th August 2005    day 37     whereami     Satellite view

Heavy and long sleep again but no worries, I was planning another quiet day anyway.

Feeling good and unusually clean: showered, shaved, and in clean clothes! Good day to go and get a haircut. Wandered around to the east of the hotel and found a barber. I waited ages while he pampered and fussed around the only other customer before deciding that it wasn't the place for me. I just want my haircut - don't want all that fuss! Went off and found a much more basic place. Got it done without too much trouble and a minimal pidgin conversation - 20LE.

Found something to eat from a backstreet stall - cooked corned beef with hot chilli and spices in a hotdog roll x2 - very nice for 2LE.

In the wrong part of town for a backstreet shay so walked for ages before I found one.

Found an internet café to check emails but they wanted 6LE an hour! Moved on but it was still 5LE - I was close to Midan Tahlat Harb, where all our hotels are so it's a prime spot I suppose. Also wanted to check out some rumours of a bomb in Dahab. I heard about it in the hotel a couple of days ago but nobody had any detail - it didn't sound true. The french-canadian girl phoned Dahab yesterday and there was no bomb but they'd heard the rumours too - very strange. Nothing on the internet about it anyway.
Spent an hour and a half in there - couldn't access my dreaded Orange bill (pop-up blockers?) so still in suspense.
Suzi: there is definitely a problem with your ntl email account, everything is being rejected (and only from you) - I've sent a couple to your hotmail. There's nothing urgent, no worries.

Bought a couple of the really nice mini-pizzas and a cake from the local bakery and went back to the hotel. Ate my snack while ploughing through my guidebook trying to work out my route for the next week or so.

I feel great again after my 2 quiet days so it's time to get back to the delta area. I'm not totally decided but I'm thinking of basing myself in Tanta for maybe a week, and making daytrips out to the surrounding towns/villages and sights. It might be easier than constantly moving and wasting time finding somewhere to stay all the time. If I find somewhere good and cheap I could even overnight somewhere else with just a small amount of gear if it made things easier.

Layed on my bed and did my diary to the sounds of Kid A (I'm addicted to it) and Dark Side of the Moon (original, not reggae!) while it got dark.

Realised it's the weekend of the Beautiful Days Festival, text'd Karen to wish her a good time.

Back out to the communal area for more route-planning - think I've got it now. Nobody about so back in my room and sorted my gear out ready for tomorrow's move to Tanta. Might even try for an early night and an early start.
I realised while planning that I've been thinking of this trip as a 6 month venture - it's actually nearer 5 months if I'm gonna get home for Christmas - I'll want to avoid the expensive Christmas flights too.

Sat on my doorstep and chatted with my neighbour for an hour. He's turkish, and I'd assumed he was just some stoned-out old hippy. He's probably a bit younger than me, is very small and thin, shuffles around at 1kmh and seems to sleep 20 hours a day. I'm still not convinced that he's not a stoned-out old hippy but he's also a student of Arabic at Cairo University and has a small shop in Dahab - he's here for some rest. He was telling me (in his very slow quiet voice) that it's good to take time, to have patience, to have time to think - Sufism.

      High: just not doing much - drifting around. it's nice sometimes
       Low: being bugged by very persistent flies while eating my snack

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