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

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04-06 September 2005

Sunday 4th September 2005    day 54     whereami     Satellite view

(whereami = Tanis)

Up, packed and checked out at 11 - Mr. reception didn't look too sad to see me go.

Stopped for a couple shays in my local and asked a few people if they could give me any more place names in the area of Tanis - Tanis is just the ruins. Nobody had much of an idea what I was talking about - until one came up with San El Hagar - which corresponded with the only hint in my guidebook. I've decided I'd like to get further than Abu Kebir in the hope of finding somewhere to stay closer to Tanis. I asked if there was a hotel there but they didn't know.

I caught a bus to Abu Kebir. The ticket lad put my pack on a seat and I sat next to it - a few stops later I was feeling awkward again because my pack had a seat and people were standing, but we soon stopped near Bubastis anyway - as far as the bus went. I went searching amongst the many minitaxis for one going to Abu Kebir - an overly helpful bloke took me to a microbus station, found an empty one and motioned me to put my pack in the back. I kept asking how much but they wouldn't say, "just put pack in". I eventually got them to tell me - 50LE for a private taxi ride - as I suspected they were trying for. I told them to forget it and went and found my minitaxi, for 1.5LE.

We got there in an hour or so. It's a very rough looking mini town. I was getting hassled by taxi drivers near the bus stop so moved on and went for a shay. Very friendly people in the café and we had the usual struggling conversation. They told me an englishman had visited Abu Kebir last year too - maybe I'm this year's ration. They told me I need a bus to Farus - great, another clue. They also told me there are no hotels in Abu Kebir - but they thought there was one in San El Hagar.

I got on a bus to Farus - it was packed solid with people standing all down the aisle so I did my best to wedge myself in by the open door. There was no room to remove my pack and nowhere to put it anyway so I left it on. We trundled along at a fair pace swerving around corners, carts and tractors like you might in a sports car. Several people were trying to chat but none of them spoke english. Anybody getting on or off had to squeeeeze past me and my pack but I really had nowhere to go.

Halfway there the ticket man wanted me to buy another ticket. I always make a bit of a fuss in these odd situations to see if they're just trying it on, and it's paid off a few times. But the driver got impatient and snatched my ticket and ripped it up to show that it was no good for Farus - except he ripped up the new one the ticket man had just given me but I hadn't yet paid for. I just laughed and showed him the other ticket. Some passengers were nodding that I should pay - so I paid another 1LE. We got to Farus in about 45 mins.

I found a pick-up taxi going to San El Hagar and clambered in. These operate like the minitaxis - they go when they're full - and I mean full. There were 11 adults and 2 kids in the back plus various baskets of fruit and my pack. The back has a roof supported on an open frame. There were 3 or 4 men on the roof. We charged off, getting blown to pieces in the back, and I was dropped by San El Hagar at about 3pm.

I walked into the village - it was small and quiet and very run-down but there was a big "Tourist Café" so I went in for a shay and to see about hotels here, and where the ruins are, etc. A few lads called me to join them at their table and I joined them. They seemed a bit of a dodgey lot, they were smoking joints and there were hungry eyes on my pack. I finished my shay and went. The waiter, who had seemed more respectable, then tried to charge me 5LE for the shay - I told him no way and gave him a generous 2. I'd asked about hotels but just got shifty answers. I got the feeling that there was no hotel here but that they were keen to keep me here, and I didn't much like that idea. The waiter said there was a hotel right by the ruins - which were just half a mile away up a dusty road.

I set off up the road and 2 lads followed, a cocky stocky biggish lad about 15, the other about 12. They were asking for money, give me a cigarette, show me your watch, give me a pen etc. and I just kept saying no. The older lad was getting very lively and tugged at my arm and kept putting his hands on my pack. I told him to back off quite a few times but he was taking no notice, just mimicking me and really pushing his luck. He was all around me. I was veerry close to the point where I really thought I was going to have to thump him to get him away from me when he finally sloped off. I noticed from my shadow that a strap was hanging loose so slipped my pack off to put it right. He'd got several of my clips undone - much more than I'd realised.

I got to the entrance and there were loads of police about but no visitors. They asked me the usual questions and held my passport while I looked around. 16LE to get in plus 5LE for the camera. There was no hotel here - looks like the nearest hotel is 60-70km back in Zagazig - I'll have to get back there tonight. I had to do the whole tour with my pack on as there was nowhere to leave it. I was immediately adopted by a rough-looking guide who immediately started talking about baksheesh. He was suggesting that he'd take me to places I wasn't really supposed to go - all a bit hush-hush, baksheesh-baksheesh. I wasn't sorry when we were joined by a young plain-clothes policeman who spoke a little english.

It's a very interesting place and has the look of an archealogical work in progress, with plenty of evidence of recent digging. There's nothing standing that hasn't been stood up though. It's mostly a lot of inscribed columns that seem to be lying where they were uncovered. There were a few nice statues and some interesting tombs with open and empty stone sarcophaguses.

Tanis   Tanis   Tanis

Tanis   Tanis   Tanis

Tanis   Tanis   Tanis

Tanis   Tanis   Tanis

Tanis   Tanis   Tanis

Every time the policeman was out of earshot "baksheesh, baksheesh" - I was getting a bit sick of everyone wanting my money and gear today. When we got near the exit I gave him 1.5LE in full view of the police - he seemed happy with that.

The policeman said goodbye and was waving me out the gate but I said I wanted my passport back! He whistled to his mates in their shack and they relunctantly sauntered down with it. The middle-aged guy who had it made a right song and dance of getting it out of his shirt as though it was very trying for him - a sure sign that baksheesh is expected. But I don't think I need to tip the police for confiscating my passport! So he didn't get any despite the fact that he had the cheek to actually ask for some. I haven't got any small notes left anyway.

One of them directed me in a straight line across some wasteland to where I came into the town. That suited me fine - I won't have to run the gauntlet through the dodgey village full of dodgey people and light-fingered youths. A few lads on the edge of town wanted to talk to me but I'd had more than enough of this lot and just kept going.

I flagged down a pickup taxi, it was packed. My pack went up on the roof and they beckoned me inside but I went up on the roof with my pack and 2 other young blokes already there. It should have been fun, bombing along on the roof, but I could feel hungry eyes on me and my pack again and couldn't relax.

A head popped up from inside and said it was 1LE. I had no small change and gave him a 20LE note - he grinned from ear to ear and disappeared back below. I waited for my change but there was no sign of it - but I've seen this before, they like to toy with me and make me wait - it happens a lot and I just let them have their fun. The other blokes on the roof were gabbling away to me about money and I thought they were just trying to get some out of me and kept trying to kill the conversation and was pretending to not understand anything. It turned out that the lad I'd paid was nothing to do with the taxi and had scarpered with my 20LE note! A few of them were pretty upset about it and said I should go to the police - that's the LAST thing I want to do. I just shrugged in resignation to say it was already history - I was bloody annoyed though on top of all the other grief today. We carried on to Farus and I gave the driver another 20LE note for my 1LE fare and he had to go off to find change.

Farus was chaos with pickup taxis everywhere, all shouting at me "hey mister, where going?" in their overexcitable way - much too keen for my money. I asked one for a price to Abu Kebir and he said 40LE - about 10x the right price. I just couldn’t hack it and walked through them ignoring them all. I sat in a quiet spot on the edge of town for a bit of peace and to flag one down when it passed. But I was soon joined by a young bloke "come to my restaurant, my brother will take you to Abu Kebir later". He gave up and went after 10mins. I flagged a nearly empty pickup and we set off to Abu Kebir. We passed what looked like a fairly nasty accident. 2 small lorries had had a glancing head-on collision, both driver's sides were well smashed in. I'd be surprised if either of them escaped serious injury.

4 or 5km short of Abu Kebir the young woman opposite me asked if I was going to Zagazig - I said yes. She said I should get off here, with her, and take a minitaxi. She seemed very nice so I went with her to the minitaxis and got a nice easy trip back to Zagazig. We stopped near Bubastis so I had to get back to the centre - I'd had enough fun for one day so just got a 3LE cab to take me to the Marina Hotel.

I can't be doing with the surly types in Hotel Zahaar. I'm treating myself to a night of civilised comfort to recover from a very trying day. Marina Hotel is the posh hotel in town and my room has cost me 70LE - £7 of sheer extravagance!! But it's blissful - a nice, big, well-furnished room and super-clean throughout. I had a 20 minute shower and used nearly a whole bar of soap and I'm cleaner than I've been since I left the UK.

I thought about eating in the hotel restaurant too but it was crawling with bow-tied waiters and looked very stuffy - and I can't be doing with all that in my dirty trousers and t-shirt - even if they'd let me. I went out for some local grub and felt very exposed without my hard-earnt protective layer of sweat and grime - I felt strangely like I'd just arrived in Egypt again, looking fresh-faced and easy pickings for the hustlers. Got a kushary and a couple of nasty burgerry things - one of which went in the bin again - I'm giving up on them. Found a damia - much better and returned to wallow in my peaceful and luxurious room and write a very long diary entry!

I'm a little bit tired of Egypt and egyptians at the moment. The never-ending staring, shouting, street argey-bargey, heavy-handedness, beeping, tyre-squealing, mad driving, hustling, "hello english", "hey mister", "come into my shop" etc. is doing my head in. I guess it's just all the hassle I've had today. But also there's no concept of personal space here, they all constantly live in each other's pockets, generally in a friendly and sociable way with endless smokey noisey dominoes and seemingly superficial conversation and banter (shouting matches). It's difficult to get my daily dose of peace and solitude - and I suffer without it. I've always thought I'd hate to be famous - I treasure my anonymity. Here I feel like a film star - I can't go anywhere without everyone wanting to say hello and shake my hand and strike up a conversation with me.

A very tough day one way and another but I always thought Tanis would be difficult. It looks very remote on my little map, and for once the map was right. I had to change my plan a dozen times but I made it, and saw it, and it was very good.

I've not had a chance to replan my route after today's upheavals and ending up back where I started. I think I'll probably have another night here, chill-out tomorrow in comfort, think about my route, do today's photos, wash my clothes and recharge my batteries a bit.

      High: The Tanis ruins, and my £7 indulgence
       Low: The lively and troublesome youth I nearly had to stick one on

Monday 5th September 2005    day 55     whereami     Satellite view

Very lazy day. Went for the simple breakfast that's part of the deal here about 10:30. Paid another night - that for a minute looked like it might not be available.

Hotel Marina   Hotel Marina

Lazed around in my room reading the Tale of the Bounty, doing yesterday's photos, collecting some photos together to email to Tamer (El Maged, Disuq) and Khaled (Zagazig) as promised, and snoozing.

Went out about 6pm and had a very good kushary - definitely my favourite of the convenience foods, and good and healthy. I followed it up with an unhealthy ice cream though - very nice too.

Went walking to find an internet café and saw a minitaxi skim too close to a stopped taxi (who may have opened his door) and they collided - it tore the minitaxi sliding side door clean off and it was lying in the street. I didn't hang around to see what happened but nobody looked too perturbed by it.
It occurred to me a while back that the complete disregard for personal safety here may just be fatalism - if Allah decrees you die today so be it, if not you will live. I think there must be some truth in it.

Found an internet café but they were running WinME so I probably couldn't connect my USB memory stick. I asked about it and he confidently said "yes, in a few minutes". I did a couple of emails that took about half an hour (because I had to re-type a long one that was lost when my PC crashed) and asked again - "in 5 minutes". I checked the news and some financials and only then realised that they were struggling to install a USB card in a different PC. There was I worried about drivers and they didn't even have the hardware. I told them not to worry and left. The owner looked a bit downhearted, as though he'd let me down, but that didn't prevent him from trying to overcharge me.

I headed back through the mayhem, bought a few bits of food and some water and got back to the hotel about 10:30.

I've enjoyed my lazy day in comfortable luxury but it's back to the real world tomorrow. I'm going to head for Damietta, about 120km north (150-160km by rail) near the Mediteranean coast. The guidebook says there's not much there, similar to Rosetta, but I’ll have a day there and a look around. I'll probably travel by train(s) for a change - and it'll almost certainly be rough ones. What could possibly go wrong?

      High: just lazing about and relaxing in comfort
       Low: bad internet café was a bit tedious - but they were doing their best to help me so I'll forgive them

Tuesday 6th September 2005    day 56     whereami     Satellite view

I was still in bed when the phone rang at 10am "you check out now?" - I said yes, I check out today (but not right now . . .). Sorted my gear out a bit and went for breakfast just after 10:30. The waiters looked a bit annoyed and were checking their watches - I think they thought they'd finished breakfast - but tough, it says 'til 11am. They obviously had to prepare me a fresh one 'cos it was much nicer than yesterdays.

Checked out just before midday and walked 1km to the railway station. I said I wanted to get to Damietta - he said tomorrow, change at El Mansura. Why is that always the first answer?! I got him confirm "tomorrow" and said ok, I'll go via Tanta. He pointed me to a different window. I asked again about Damietta and got pointed across the tracks to another ticket office. I asked Damietta, and got a ticket to El Mansura for 1.25LE. The ticket seller was having a bit of a laugh 'cos when I put my money on the counter the 25piastre note blew into the office and he didn't see it go until I eventually managed to explain it to him - he kept jokily wagging his finger at me as though I'd tried to pull a fast one on him. I asked him if the train now in was my train and he said yes.

I got in the rough old train and sat down - it was fairly full. I said "El Mansura?" to the young bloke next to me and he nodded "aiwa". I don't know why, but I didn't feel very confident somehow. My neighbour moved and someone else took his seat as the train pulled away in what I was certain was the wrong direction! I asked my new neighbour "El Mansura?" - "la, Cairo". I grabbed my pack, fought my way to the door and jumped off. It was going a bit too fast really and I fell over my pack when I landed, but no harm done - and it certainly cheered up a few locals!

There was a train on the other line that I learnt WAS my train so I got on - it was packed so I stood near the door - I can sit on my upright pack quite comfortably. Quite a few more got on until we were pretty crammed in and it moved off about 1pm - in the right direction!

I'd been standing against my pack talking to a few locals in pidgin english/arabic and was a little concerned at their reaction to my not being moslem - but it was ok. I went to sit on my pack but an old boy had beaten me to it and had made himself quite comfortable! - ah well, my good deed for the day.

We got to Abu Kebir and the train nearly emptied so I went and sat down with the people I'd been talking to. One was a young soldier, in civvies, and he seemed very keen for me to stop in El Mansura. And he and his mates were quietly muttering amongst themselves in a way that didn't make me feel too comfortable. We stopped at a tiny station in the middle of nowhere and waited and waited for nearly an hour. They were getting fidgety and one of them kept touching my pack on the floor between us. We eventually got going again and eventually got to El Mansura where we all got off and they just went - paranoia again? It was 4:30 when we finally got there - 3 and a half hours to travel about 80km and I'm barely half way!

I went to the ticket office and asked for Damietta (Dumyat) - he just shook his head. I asked again and got pointed to another window where I learnt that there was a train but not until 7pm. I went off to get a shay and think. I got my shay and decided that if it was another slooow train I'd try and find a bus or a minitaxi. Back to the station - it's a slow train. Got a taxi to the bus station - he dropped me at a minitaxi station and wanted 5LE for a 3km journey! - I gave him 2LE and shut the door.

Found a minitaxi going to Damietta - just 2.5LE. He didn't want my pack on the roof so I crammed myself into a corner trying, and failing, not to take up more than my fair share of room. It was quite a long journey and I got very uncomfortable but the scenery was great, as it had been on the train. Acres and acres of rice fields, sugar cane and a few date palms dotted about - and sooo green.

We came into Damietta and it's quite a big and very populous place - with an extraordinary amount of rubbish about. I walked around briefly but there was no sign of any hotels so I got a cab and asked him to find me a cheap one. He dropped me outside a too-nice looking place and they only had a double room for 85LE. He pointed me around the corner where they only had a double room for 150LE, though it quickly came down to 120LE when I gasped. I wandered up and down a few backstreets but couldn't find anything so gave up and paid 85LE - he wouldn't budge an inch - checked in about 8:30. It's a very average room for the money - clean but basic.

The receptionist told me I'm not the first englishman they've seen here - they saw another one 10 years ago! I still can't believe that the delta area is so remote. I've not seen a single western face, in fact not a single non-egyptian face, since I left Cairo 3 weeks ago!!

Had a quick rest and went out for a look around and something to eat. Couldn't resist a kushary again - a giant 3LE tub that I took to the river and ate leaning on the railings, looking over the night-time Nile. It's very picturesque here, it curves tightly - almost a hairpin - with the bright lights of the town reflecting from it.

Damietta night Nile   Damietta night Nile   Damietta night Nile

Walked around the town for a while. There's a lot of good quality furniture made and sold here, every other shop is a furniture shop with a posh showroom full of very ornate armchairs - gold painted wood and fancy upholstery. Also a lot of quality shoes being made and on sale. This is quite a wealthy town - hence the hotel price - with nice cars, well-dressed people and smart shops. There's a lot of fishing and a sizeable industrial port too. The people don't seem particularly friendly - the kushary man only grunted at me, the supermarket man only grunted at me and only one person said hello - the rest just stared. Apart from the Nile I couldn't find much of interest so went back to my room about 10:30.
It ain't nothing like Rosetta though, not even the slightest resemblance - bloody guidebook!

I'm not going to hang around here, I'll have a quick look at the daytime Nile and head a bit further north to Ras El Bar - just 15km or so. It's supposed to be a nice (beach?) resort, popular with egyptians escaping the summer heat. I'll stay a day there if it's nice and then move to Port Said.

I've decided I want to complete my northern tour and be back in Cairo by mid-September latest. So it's gonna be a few flying visits and a quick run down alongside the Suez canal to Suez, then Cairo.
A day to chill-out in Hotel Dahab, and I want to allow 4 weeks to enjoy the long journey through the western desert oases and Aswan.

I keep meaning to mention that my phone is on "silent" so if anyone tries to ring me don't expect an answer - text me and I'll phone you back if necessary. I don't want it to ring when I'm telling everyone I don't have one!

Election day tomorrow - should be interesting.

      High: great scenery, greeeen fields and night-time Nile
       Low: 85LE for a hotel room - bleedin' £8.50!!

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