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

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25-27 August 2005

Thursday 25th August 2005    day 44     whereami     Satellite view

Slept brokenly - a lot of noise and very loud 5am prayers - but I feel well rested. Phoned Mobinil again to try and sort out my gprs but it's still not working. I'm wondering if maybe only the gsm part was unlocked when I got my phone "fixed" in UK - and gprs is still locked on Orange. It's a pain - I thought I'd cracked it. I'm going to continue with daily text updates but post the photos from internet cafes every few days - so there'll be broken links initially.
I did manage to get a gps fix so whereami is now spot on.

I noticed that my door has got fixings for a padlock on the outside and I brought a padlock with me so I locked my door securely and went out happy that my stuff was safe. Not sure what the hotel will think of it but . . .

Took a few sneaky daytime shots out the kitchen window - my café is the place with the awning in the last shot.

Disuq mini market   Disuq mini market   Disuq mini market

Set out late morning to explore the other side of the river. Stopped just up the road for a shay and walked into the centre. Picked up a boy follower of 12 or so for a while and had to keep an eye on him. Flagged a taxi to take me the rest of the way south and across the river - got robbed of 5LE, bloody taxis.

Stopped for another shay at a roadside stall at a crossroads just east of the river. It didn't look like there was much more of Disuq on this side - a bit of a town maybe but it looked insignificant so I didn't bother to go in.

I walked north alongside an irrigation canal that ran roughly parallel to the river. Got past the outskirts of the town and it got very agricultural. I was walking along a fast but fairly quiet road so had some good opportunities to take some photos.

agriculture near Disuq   agriculture near Disuq   agriculture near Disuq

agriculture near Disuq   agriculture near Disuq

Pickups, taxis or carts would stop, curious about where I was going out here in the middle of nowhere. One youngish bloke invited me to join him and some of his workmates for a shay so I went down a track and joined them for a while. They were working pretty hard digging a trench and didn't really stop, there was no sign of a shay and the boss seemed a bit anxious about their workrate so I left them and carried on. They were trying to talk to me in Italian and I learnt later that there are some italian workers here - what they're doing HERE I don't know. I can't believe there's more work or money here than anywhere in Italy.

I carried on through very cultivated countryside enjoying the peace except for having to duck into the hedge when cars and trucks went zooming by. After 2 hours I came to a village that I later learned was called El Maged Rahmanyur, or something like that. My road seemed to disappear into miles of countryside so I crossed the canal bridge into the village to see if I could get back to the Nile - my road and the canal had angled away from it.

I walked up the narrow main street and got quite a bit of attention and soon acquired a following. I wasn't sure about all of them and tried to keep them on my left - all my pack zips being on my right. But they all seemed friendly enough and were keen to show me the way to the Nile. A young crowd from an internet café (out here?) invited me in for a shay so I accepted. I actually got a bottle of 7up but never mind. The internet café soon filled up with people all wanting to shake my hand and introduce themselves. A couple spoke a little english and we had a chat about all the usual stuff. They were pretty amused that I'd shown up in their nowhere village.

I'd already turned down many offers of some lunch but when Tamer, the best english-speaker invited me I accepted - I can't keep on refusing and it'll be interesting. We went a little way up the street and into his house. I was introduced to his mother and father and his 2 young sons, and many sisters, cousins, aunties, uncles etc. We sat in his front room while the women cooked some fish. I hoped it was for everyone, I didn't really want to eat alone, and was pleased when they brought out a mountain of food. But no - it was all for me! There was easily enough to feed 4, probably 6. I kept trying to persuade Tamer to have some but he insisted that I was his guest - it was all for me - and I wasn't even particularly hungry. He broke up the 2 small fish with his fingers and gave bits to me. I didn't have a plate so was stuffing everything in pitta bread and eating it as a sandwich. The children kept peering round the doorway to watch me eat. I ate a fair bit but hardly dented the pile in front of me.

Tamer, his father and my snack!

It was very tasty, nice fish, lovely sweet tomatoes and cucumber, strong local cheese and a pickled vegetable I didn't recognise - and of course the obligatory squeezes of limes.

He wanted to look at my passport and was interested in the stamps and where I'd been. He talked a few times about could I invite him to England but he wasn't pushy about it. He'd called a friend to take me across the river in his boat as there's no bridge here. We had a shay and I said I should go. We set off to the river with his friend Karim from the internet café. I'd taken a few photos and let them take some of us too and Karim was very keen to play more with my camera but I said no more.

Tamer and me, outside his house   friend, Karim and me   with the Nile and Disuq behind me

He only wanted to play with the camera - he was a computer-head - he wasn't trying to steal it or anything. We got to the river, looked about a bit and turned back - I don't know what happened to the boat.

We walked back through the village - introductions and handshaking all the way - and they left me where I came into the village to catch a minitaxi back to Disuq. Yet another uncle was also waiting for a minitaxi to Disuq so I waited with him. We crammed into one and he waved "no" when I dug into my pocket for the fare - he paid for me.

I was dropped in yesterday's main minitaxi place and was tempted to go and have a shay with Dounier but thought better of it. It's a shame really, it all seemed relaxed and above board yesterday but I've had limited exposure to the women here, especially young women, and I'm not confident that I know the rules. They seem to have the idea (from satellite tv) that we westerners casually hop in and out of bed with each other all the time and I wonder if they might think I'm trying to do the same here.

I started back towards the centre but I've walked this road so I turned west and walked around the outside of the town and back in from the west side. Very rough and scruffy streets back into the town and I got a lot of "HERE?" attention again but they mostly just smiled and laughed at the fact.

I stopped for a quick shay near the centre and headed through the market towards my hotel. I picked up a follower again that I felt I needed to keep an eye on. Up over the railway bridge and stopped in this morning's café for another couple of shays. They were delighted to see me back and fussed around me - I unusually went right inside as there was no shade outside.

A very scruffy bloke of about 30 stopped outside with a wild, child-like grin on his face. The café owner took him out a bottle of coke and gave him a cigarette. He downed the coke in one, spilling at least a quarter of it down his neck, and beamed from ear to ear and closely inspected the bottle. He was furiously puffing on the cigarette and had a big cloud of smoke around him. He fiddled around in his pockets for some money and they took him out a bottle of fizzy orange and he repeated his performance. He clearly wasn't all there and it was nice to see that he was being well treated - they're very charitable though they were having a bit of a (kind) laugh at him. He disappeared only to reappear 15 minutes later and down another bottle of coke and have another free cigarette. He seemed very happy with his big smile and vague look of confusion.

I paid up my shays and they asked me to come back again in the evening. Returned to the hotel about 6:30 and the manager was gesturing to me about pushing a door open. I thought he might be whingeing about my padlock but he was just reminding me that one of the entry doors is very heavy.

I was writing a bit of diary when the power went, I carried on but the darkness made me sleepy and I snoozed for an hour until the power came back.

Went out about 11 to find something to eat and see the town by night. It was nothing spectacular at all and I couldn't find the kushary I fancied so had a very ropey damia. Bought a 1.5LE canteloupe and returned to my local café for a shay. He said something to me this afternoon about viagra but I thought I must have misheard an arabic word and made out I didn't understand. But tonight he showed me a viagra tablet and asked if I wanted to buy some. I assured him that everything worked just fine - "mesh, mesh". He was in raptures about how much it did for him and demonstrated by enthusiastically thrusting his hips back and forth. He must be a real hit with the ladies - mid 50's, very overweight and just 2 protruding yellow front teeth!

Back to my room a bit after midnight. I'm going to move on tomorrow to Kafr El Sheikh about 20km east. I've no idea if there's anything there - it doesn't warrant a mention in my guidebook. I'll probably stay just a night or 2 then return to comfortable Tanta for a rest day. Also might find a decent map there, my inadequate maps in my guidebook are even worse now since I unknowingly sat my rucksack in a big dirty puddle when I had my afternoon shay.

I'm absolutely filthy sitting here but I don't fancy a 1am shower here so filthy I'll stay - I probably don't smell too good either but never mind. With all the sweat and dust you're very grubby very quickly in Egypt. I've occasionally wiped my brow with a tissue and you'd think I'd wiped it under a car engine!

      High: very nice people and nice invitation in El Maged Rahmanyur
       Low: lack of local gprs is becoming a pain

Friday 26th August 2005    day 45     whereami     Satellite view

Woke late and dozed a while after a noisey and disturbed night. Thought about staying another night 'cos I was so tired but there's no reason, other than laziness, to stay so hauled myself into action.

Went to check out at midday and the front of the place was closed - shutters down and everything - it's Friday. I was outside ok as there's a separate door from the street to the rooms. I went back up towards my room and had to knock on the locked door to get onto the floor. A bloke I didn't recognise opened it - he seemed to guess what I wanted and held out his hand for the key without saying a word. His other hand was over his mouth and tight up against his nose - I initially thought he might have a nosebleed or something, but I think maybe I interrupted his prayers.

I walked up the track for a shay in my café but that was all closed up too. Caught a minitaxi to the minitaxi station and went to Dounier's café for a shay - she wasn't there today. Quick shay and back into the minitaxi station.

Asked for Kafr El Sheikh and was told I need to go back to the town centre. It didn't sound right so I asked around and sure enough found one - they do talk rubbish sometimes, and so convincingly too! I remembered Gamil (Tanta) saying that an Egyptian man will never say he doesn't know - it's a threat to his machismo - so they just invent something and say it with complete sincerity.

The driver tied my pack on the roof and I tied it on a bit more until we were both happy. I was his first passenger so we waited 15 mins while the minitaxi filled up. Pleasant journey through farmland and some very scruffy villages and we got to Kafr El Sheikh in 30 or 40 minutes - 1.5LE.

I was going to look for a shay but there were loads of taxis about so I grabbed one and asked for a hotel, not big and not expensive. We picked up another passenger on the way and got to a quite nice looking place. I thought it would be too expensive, or maybe they wouldn't want a scruff like me - well overdue for another washing day!

Enquired at reception but we couldn't communicate at all for some reason - I've made myself understood with my little arabic in many hotels now but he just looked blankly at me - I felt he was just being awkward. I think he said the rooms were 74LE - quite high. Another bloke who spoke some english came to help his uncooperative colleague. We established that they had some rooms, only available for a few days, and for various prices depending on aircon, tv etc. I took the cheapest for a reasonable 25LE.
It's a nice enough room, big, light and airy after my last 2 dingey dens and my own bathroom. No balcony but I've got a big window that opens over a very tidy main road.

I was still tired so layed on the bed a while and dozed, then did some diary with some music.

Didn't really feel like moving but I hadn't eaten all day and I was starving so went out to find the town about 6pm. It's about 2km west as it turned out. Walked through some very scruffy, but friendly-seeming, outskirts and crossed the railway line into a maze of narrow, dirty and unsurfaced streets full of shops and stalls. I stopped for a shay and went searching for food and internet.

I was joined by an english speaker, Kadry, who invited me for a shay - he seemed friendly enough so we went to a café. Usual conversation and he invited me to visit his father's big farm in Baltim - about 70km north, it's the northermost town in Egypt marked on my map. It wasn't on my list, I seriously considered it as it looks nice and remote, but decided not as it mainly looked like nowhere. I'm actually quite tempted to take him up on the offer - I've got his mobile no. I'll think about it tomorrow.
He was a nice, intelligent and educated bloke but he did make me smile a bit. Given that he knew I was over 40, educated and I'd travelled largely alone around a fair bit of Egypt for more than 6 weeks, he was giving me some strange information. We crossed the railway line and he carefully explained that it was for trains. A taxi stopped near us and he commented that the cars with yellow markings are taxis. My favourite, 2 trucks full of cows went by and he said "cows, you know cows?". He was a mine of information - I'm not sure how I've coped without him. We went our separate ways and I resumed my search.

Kafr El Sheikh is a bigger place than I expected, and is quite a bit more developed than Disuq, it's more like Damanhur. Kadry assured me though that nearly everyone is closely linked to farming, so I'm not quite sure what's made the difference.

Got some felafel - just in a cone of newspaper, no bread - it was ok. Found a promising looking internet café 1LE an hour. WinXP (very obviously pirate) so I thought I could probably connect my USB stick and post some photos. The internet connection was painfully slow though, and my patience wasn't helped by the deafening koranic music. I typed out a long and detailed techie answer to Suzi and lost the lot when it lost connection. Re-typed, copied my message to the clipboard, and the email was lost again. I tried 3 more times, pasting new replies from the clipboard and lost it every time - and every attempt took an age. I was really bloody annoyed with it and decided to quit. They asked for their 1LE and I refused, pointing to the last straw "page not found" - I'd sat there 45 minutes and achieved nothing. They fiddled with it and got it connected again and I successfully sent the email. Ran into the same problems with email2 though and they were closing anyway. Grudgingly paid my 1LE and left in a murderous rage.

Tried to calm myself down by rationalising the true seriousness of the problem - but wasn't very successful - I was fuming! It's strange how computers do this to you (me). I've had problems and concerns over the past few weeks that could have been much more serious but they just seem like challenges and I've laughed them all off without a care. But I can't send an unimportant email and I could quite happily strangle someone! I bought some food and walked back towards my hotel about 11pm - daring anyone to even look at my rucksack.

Stopped for a shay right by the hotel. Back to my room and ate some bread and cheese with loads of lime-squeeze, and a whole small canteloupe. My satisfied and slightly overfull belly finally calmed me down and I could laugh at the stupidity of my ridiculous bad temper.

Probably gonna dig out the guitar for a little session before bed to finish cleaning out the dregs of my bad mood.

      High: a decent room, and a tempting invitation to a remote farm
       Low: easy for a change - BLOODY COMPUTERS!!!

Saturday 27th August 2005    day 46     whereami     Satellite view

Kafr El Sheikh:
In the early hours, packing up from last night I tried to charge my PPC in one of the many sockets in my room - but none of them had power.
I went to bed but couldn't sleep with a few mosquitoes that had found their way in somehow. Got up and treated them to a direct shot of repellant each. Also noticed a flea hopping around on my bed and treated him too.

Felt totally shattered in the morning again - don't know what's up with me lately, I'm sleeping fairly well. Had a dry shower as there was no water - don't feel too cleansed!

Went out at midday to explore the town in daylight. I paid another night in reception and asked if there was somewhere I could leave my PPC to charge. This is mostly a pretty decent hotel - there's a very nice big lounge area with loads of expensive-looking leather armchairs and couches (I'm just tucked away at the rough end), must have a quiet office somewhere. She flatly said no - no explanation or apology, just no. I had to laugh, you can ask the dodgiest looking characters in the street anything and they're usually over-helpful, but you ask someone who's job it is to help you and again they just don't want to know.

Walked into town and walked around. It's a fairly ordinary place with some very rough-looking streets but everyone seems pretty friendly. I get the usual astonished looks but nobody really bothers me - just the occasional hello or welcome. I had a few shays along the way but they didn't have their usual reviving effect and I was just slouching around struggling to stay interested.

I decided to find another internet café to finish off my emails and make some changes to the website to make it more efficient to manage - too much moving files around like it is now. I found a place and it was ok though very slow, WinXp so managed to post some photos and did my emails. Started on the web changes but the connection was getting slower, then we lost all power so that was that. Sitting there I became very aware of a smell of stale sweat about me and my grubby clothes.
Carried on wandering a while and stumbled across another internet café so had another go. Decent PC and quite a good connection so I made a good start on my website restructuring. There was very loud music in there again though it was more acceptable pop music and one of them was a bit too keen to see what I what I was doing until I stared at him.

Volume: The only thing that counts here for any sound at all is VOLUME!!! especially music and tv. Most music you hear is distorted almost beyond recognition, and sounds quite horrible, but that's how they seem to like it. All TV's that are on, eg. in some cafes, are always turned full up too - there might only be 3 people there, watching from a few feet away, but you can hear the very distorted tv from streets away - it's painful and I generally avoid tv cafes.

Completed my tour of the town but I just didn't have any energy so decided to give up and get some rest. Bought some food and shuffled back to my hotel about 8pm. Had a mini feast and crashed out about 9pm. Woke at midnight and did some diary.

A bit of a lost day really, fairly ordinary town to look at, several hours locked in internet cafes and slept all evening. I think I need a day off very soon - and a wash day! If I can have this room another night it could be tomorrow.
It may have no power and an intermittent water supply but it is comfortable and airy, and I've got plenty of 6-legged friends to keep me company.

      High: cute little girl that kept toddling over to look at me in the internet cafe
       Low: complete lack of ene r   g     .

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