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

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19-26 September 2005

Monday-Friday 19th-23rd September 2005    days 69-74     whereami     Satellite view

5 days in one go here as I couldn't keep up my diary with no power - so it's all a bit blurry, and it was all pretty samey anyway.

We both decided to stay a while to support Hamouda - he really seems like the good-guy in this dispute.

We spent our days lazing around at the camp, trying to catch tourists from buses (gave up as it's just too crazy and Hamouda was worrying about police problems), a bit of helping with the work in the camp (building and fence-making), walking in the desert and gardens around the camp, we built a simple website for Sand Dune Camp, sorted out some PC virus problems and just lazed around reading books.

road to camp   road to camp

Sand Dune Camp   Sand Dune Camp   Sand Dune Camp

Sand Dune Camp   Sand Dune Camp   Sand Dune Camp

Sand Dune Camp   Sand Dune Camp

We slept all over the camp, sometimes in shelters, sometimes outside - when we'd be visited by wild (but timid) dogs in the night.

We got invited to the Imam's house for a shay one evening and bumped into an egyptian bloke, probably in his mid 50's, who'd lived in Australia for 30 years. He had a very traditional egyptian moslem look and a very broad aussie accent - they did not go together!

Some Bedouin musicians visited us - a reed pipe and 2 drums. They were really good - the pipes were played by circular-breathing as with a digeridoo. On the last night about a dozen of us were building a fence around one side of the camp - at 1am, the musicians turned up and it made a great scene: the Bedouin workers bending and tying palm fronds by gaslight to make the fence with the Bedouin music as accompaniment - all in the vast desert night.

Sand Dune Camp - Bedouin musicians

The night sky is incredible in the camp - so clear and so many stars visible. We spent hours lying on our backs on the sand staring at the sky, spotting planes or satellites, and watching shooting stars. The sounds are interesting too - frogs croaking and crickets singing from the gardens, wild dogs howling, donkeys trying to outdo each other by seeing who can make the most ridiculous noise, and even the occasional desert fox screaming. Sound travels incredibly well in the desert and it's strangely difficult to pinpoint the direction and distance to any of the noisey creatures.

We played football in the pitch dark with a half-inflated football. We visited springs to clean up from time to time. We ate and ate extremely well.

We heard a hundred jokes mainly about "the man from Upper Egypt" who is the local equivalent to our irishman, and the "sudanese man" with his dubious sexual preferences. I think I understood about 3 of them but it was all very funny in pidgin.

We made our own music a few evenings, my guitar, several of them liked to sing Bedouin songs, Taar had made himself a "sensame" (or something like that) - the same as I saw the young lad playing at Tala Ranch, Siwa, and water carriers for drums.

Sand Dune Camp - Taar and his sensame   Sand Dune Camp - the full band   Sand Dune Camp - the full band

It was all good fun and very relaxing, the camp is in an idyllic setting. But I started to need more peace, they were a pretty noisey bunch and Mohamed was constantly entertaining them with silly stuff. I found myself going for more long walks and retreating into my books. I decided that I'd done my bit and couldn't really spare Hamouda any more days - my original plan was 2 or 3 days here - and I decided to leave on Friday, to much protesting.

They took me into town on Friday morning but the bus had already gone, half an hour early as it was Friday. I had a small suspicion that my missing the bus was no accident so wasn't entirely happy but kept it to myself. I went back to the camp to much cheering and read my book all day. They really tried to persuade me to stay but I'd made my mind up to leave - to Farafra, another oasis village 180km south of here.

      High: really nice people and a great desert camp
       Low: flies, flies, flies, flies, flies, flies, flies and more flies

Saturday 24th September 2005    day 75     whereami     Satellite view

Up, breakfasted and packed again by 10:30. I've been wondering if I should offer Hamouda something for my 8 days free bed and board but in the end decided not to. I think the safari was expensive, I've fixed his PC, helped build him a website and set up a business email, and I only stayed so long because he wanted me to - I reckon it's all balanced out pretty fairly.
Said my goodbyes to everyone and we headed into town. They dropped me off at a café opposite where the bus stops so I had a couple of shays while I waited.

The bus turned up and I got my 20LE ticket - seemed expensive for a 2-3 hour journey. Caught up a bit of diary (charged my PPC at Hamouda's yesterday) and watched the Black Desert go by, and then the White Desert. We got to Farafra about 4pm.

It's a pretty small place though there's a fair amount of ongoing development so it mostly looks like a building site. I was welcomed by a policeman who was expecting me - we'd been through several checkpoints. He walked me to the cheap El Waha hotel I'd been recommended. It doesn't look bad but it too is under development so there's mess and noise about.

They showed me a room for 45LE but I said it was too dark, we found another smaller room that I got for 30LE - probably over the odds - I must sharpen up my act a bit!

The young manager invited me to his home for lunch so I joined him. We drove across the village to his family home - a traditional mud-sand Bedouin hut. He reckoned one good rainfall would melt it - it's been here for more than 30 years. We had the usual Bedouin food with some really nice home-baked bread. I didn't really meet any of his family - his brother was asleep and his mother just brought in the food and went again. I'd said I wanted to sleep in my room so we soon went back to the hotel. I didn't really want to sleep - after 8 days communal living I just need some solitude and time to get my diary in order.

I laid on my bed, caught up my diary, listened to the buildng noises, got interrupted too often by people banging on my door to recover a telephone, to pull out a bit more wire for the telephone, to see if I wanted to eat, and a mistaken identity.

I couldn't update the neglected website though. Despite having power again I can't get a reliable gprs connection here.

I don't feel particularly hungry and I'm not sure what time this one-horse town closes so I'll probably just go straight to bed and explore Farafra tomorrow. I'm not certain I'll get far without a police escort - they seem keen.

      High: getting moving again - I was getting lazy
       Low: would have liked a better room with a balcony and a view - never mind

Sunday 25th September 2005    day 76     whereami     Satellite view

Up mid-morning and out for a shay, walked around a while and stopped for a damia breakfast.

Went wandering around the village and taking a few photos. It's very quiet here and I've had no hassling whatsoever - a welcome change. Most people just notice me but that's all. The young children all say hello in their sweet singsong way and wave to me - and that's always nice. The police are less bother than I thought they might be. I can't pass one without questions but they seem content to just track my whereabouts by radio.

It's a very traditional place with lots of the mud-sand dwellings in narrow tracks but they are being replaced by more modern block built places. The few cars and motorbikes drive very slowly and rarely beep. People wander around slowly and quietly. There's a kind of respectful hush about it all as though someone is sleeping and we don't want to wake them. I was half-looking for an internet cafe but didn't find one (learnt later there isn't one) - there's very little here. I've seen no other visitors though there are a couple of more expensive hotels somewhere.
A resting roadsweeper said hi to me and I went over to shake his hand. He asked me if I was from Japan - I'm starting to get a complex about my apparently oriental features!

Farafra   Farafra   Farafra

Farafra   Farafra   Farafra

Farafra - the main drag   Farafra - the main drag   Farafra

Farafra   Farafra

Went back to the hotel for a while about 1-ish. Soon got a knock on the door from the manager inviting me to lunch again. I put him off telling him I just wanted to be quiet today - the truth. I'm feeling a bit anti-people again lately - or more precisely anti-boring/trivial-conversation. He seems concerned that I'm not enjoying myself, more likely he's concerned that I'm not spending enough on desert trips etc. I'm a little miffed 'cos I'm sure I've been overcharged here and that's another reason I won't be giving him any more for a safari or whatever. I feel fine though really, I just want to be by myself, left alone, in peace.

I decided to go out for another walk, mainly for the quiet. The manager suggested walking west where I'd find "Old Farafra". I headed off and soon found what I guess was it - a big complex of mud-sand dwellings all joined together in a complicated muddle. Some of it was still inhabited but it was mostly derelict.

Old Farafra

I noticed that the path I was following went straight into the oasis gardens - orchards really, but they all call them gardens. I carried on into the gardens. It was really nice in there - mostly deserted and silent apart from the hum of insects. I slowly and quietly wandered up and down the paths and tracks, occasionally coming to a dead end or into open desert at the borders. It was nice and cool 'cos you're generally in the shade. Little rough irrigation canals ran down the side of some tracks making a nice trickling backing track.

Farafra   Farafra

Farafra   Farafra   Farafra

The date palms were loaded with fruit. I also saw a few lime trees, lemon trees and orange trees - I picked up a lime faller that I'll try later.

Farafra   Farafra

I bumped into a couple of old Bedouins feeding and watering their camels. One of them gave me a handful of dates from his pocket - he washed them in the irrigation canal before giving them to me.

Farafra   Farafra

I spent about 3 hours walking around in there it was so nice but I was getting tired, desparate for a shay and hungry so headed back into the village. Stopped in a different café as I was overcharged this morning 2LE. They had the TV on, some James Bond film, and it wasn't blaring - a first for Egypt. I sat in the corner with a shay 50piastres and read my book for an hour.

Walked up the road to a "restaurant" I noticed this morning. Had a nice meal of bbq'd chicken, rice, potatoes, bread, salad and tahina + 2 shays for 15LE. The flies were a bit of a nuisance but not tooo bad. Sat there reading until it got dark and returned to the hotel.

Doing my diary and sorting out photos when there was yet another knock on my door. Do I want to go to the hot spring tonight? The manager is clearly upset that he can't get any more money out of me - never mind.

I'm moving again tomorrow. Farafra's actually quite nice if you can overlook the building sites that consume most of the northern end. It's quiet, virtually hassle-free, lovely gardens, quiet and polite people, friendly kids, interesting old dwellings etc. But it's only a very small place and I think I've seen it all, and what's left means desert trips - very nice but expensive on my own and there's nobody here to share with. Also this hotel is not up to much. I don't need much in the way of comfort and cleanliness these days, it doesn't concern me, but I do like to be able to see the world - I'm virtually isolated. And if someone bangs on my door again I'll, I'll . . . .
I'm off to the Dakhla Oasis 320km south-east from here. It's much bigger and seems to have more to offer.

      High: peeeaace and tranquility in the gardens - it was perfect
       Low: they're mainly only being hospitable but I wish they'd leave me alone in the hotel

Monday 26th September 2005    day 77     whereami     Satellite view

Didn't sleep all that well and building noise started early - dozed 'til 9:30 or so and packed up to move.

The pesky little mosquito I couldn't catch last night has attacked me in the night on my ankles and forehead. I've not had too much trouble with them, they don't seem to like me much. Flies on the other hand seem to find me irresistible - I sometimes feel like Linus out of the Peanuts cartoon, or as Mohamed suggested in Bahariya, maybe I'm the Lord of the Flies. And it's not down to any lack of attention to personal hygiene - I can walk straight out of the shower smelling only of soap and shampoo and they're onto me like flies 'round a piece of . . . no, bad analogy . . .

Not much to do today really, the bus goes through at somewhere between 3 and 4pm. Went into the village for a couple of shays and read my book for a while until I could tolerate the flies no longer.

Went walking up to the supermarket to pick up a few things when a bloke stopped me to talk. He was a microbus driver and had a carful ready to go to Dakhla in 20 minutes - 20LE, same as the bus. Sounded good so I agreed to join them. We jumped into his Peugot 504 and drove to my hotel to collect my big pack. Then back into the centre to collect the others. It was only when the last lad was getting in that it became clear I'd be sharing the front passenger seat with him. This is pretty common practise but we're looking at a 4 hour journey today - at least.

We set off at 1:15 and predictably it soon got pretty uncomfortable. It's probably about 40-42C here today so squashing up next to a stranger for 4+ hours is even less appealing that it might normally be, but hey - this is Egypt - who needs personal space. It's a pretty good and mostly straight road through the desert but our driver seems happy at about 45mph - this is gonna be a long day . . . We stopped after an hour at a café for a quick shay. We swapped places in the front so I now had the more comfortable door position. We stopped again 5 minutes later when the rear hatch popped open.

I dozed for an hour or so and woke up to see yet another checkpoint on the horizon. I'd just pulled myself upright when WHAM!!! The bonnet flipped up and slammed against the windscreen - it's a wonder it didn't smash it. We stopped, he pushed it down and we crawled to the checkpoint where we kind of bashed it back into shape and position so it would shut properly again.

It only seemed fair to swap places in the front again so I took the middle spot. The driver had suggested several times that maybe I could pay a bit more owing to my big pack and the (minimal) delays at the many checkpoints due to me. I just laughed, I thought I'd paid for this seat - and I've barely got half of it!!

The journey went on and on. It was nice scenery - mostly just empty, desolate desert on both sides with "mountains" down the east side and scattered hills to the west. The distance disappeared into heat-haze and what looked like sand in the wind. The black road often snaked about for miles in front of us.

We finally got to Dakhla about 6ish but it's a collection of settlements and it was 6:40 before I was dropped off at the Garden Hotel in the main settlement of Mut - pronounced Moo(t). I was tempted to tip him as he'd found me what looked like a good spot but decided not to. He'd sold me this journey as comfortable and quick, and it was neither.

The hotel owner seemed very quiet, timid and eager to please - and I immediately felt I could trust him. I was greatly relieved to see room prices clearly marked on a wall-poster, very reasonable too - 15LE for a room with bathroom, 12LE without. I splashed out on the 15LE option. Not a bad room - not really a view to speak of or a balcony but there's a nice rooftop area with tables and chairs for all guests to use, and I have a feeling I am all the guests. It's got a nice view of some towny oasis gardens, the town, the distant desert and the old Mut citadel that looks a little like that in Shali, Siwa. The owner said to be here for sunset when the nearby date palm garden fills with birds - storks I think.

I went straight out dying of thirst and starving, quick shay to liven me up, 2 big damia sandwiches to takeaway and a big bottle of fizzy orange. Returned to the rooftop but I'd missed the sunset - the trees were full of birds though, just as he'd said.

Stayed up on the roof and did my diary. Surprised and happy to find it unvisited by mosquitos - and my fly friends all go to bed at 7pm sharp. It's now 11:30, I'm still on the roof - man it's hot here! It's still deep into the 30's - I'm quite a way south now. It's really nice though, I can see myself spending a little time here. It's not as quiet as Farafra but not as noisey as Bahariya. I got gently hustled a few times on my food/drink errand but only very low-key.

The book I'm engrossed in now is The Language Instinct by Stephen Pinker - about the theory of language, focussing on the latest theories that many basic rules of grammar etc. are hard-wired into our brains, and we only learn the detail. It's very interesting and has some funny examples worth sharing:
An artificial intelligence program was being tested for it's ability to interpret english sentences. They gave it the simple, though abstract, sentence "time flies like an arrow". It found 4 alternative meanings:
1. time goes quickly.
2. measure the speed of flies like you would measure the speed of an arrow.
3. measure the speed of flies like an arrow would measure the speed of flies.
4. flies of a certain type, time-flies, have a fondness for arrows.
You get the idea of just how difficult it is to recreate the things we seem to do effortlessly!

Or (and avert the children's eyes) in a chapter about complications caused by words that can be verbs or nouns or adjectives etc. depending on context, there was this great example:
When asked why she hadn't been to the opera recently, Dorothy Parker replied "because I've been too fucking busy - and vice versa" - classic!

It's just occurred to me that it's almost a year ago since I came to Egypt the last time. I think we arrived at Marsa Alam on the 30th September 'cos I remember some confusion about watches going forward 2 hours on the plane and then back 1 hour for Egyptian Daylight Saving at 11pm the same day. I'll have to remember to keep in sync.

And we're back in business!! My web service provider had problems when I was in Cairo - so I couldn't update. In Bahariya we had no power (and little privacy - I don't share my website with many here 'cos I'm too rude about most of them) - so couldn't update, unreliable gprs connection in Farafra - so couldn't update. But here in Mut I have it all and can update for the first time in about 2 weeks.

This electronics and computer stuff is my game, I've got a pretty good understanding of how it all works. But it's nothing short of astounding to me that I'm sitting here, in the middle of the night, on a hotel rooftop in a tinpot town in the middle of an african desert where half the population can't read and they ride around on donkeys/carts, I've got a few hundred quids worth of Pocket PC and a mobile phone, and I'm sending photos and words to another computer in the Czech Republic (I think), that my family and friends can connect to and look at right now - all at the same time if they wish! It's almost preposterous.

      High: Mut - I like the little I've seen, and a nice quiet rooftoop terrace at the friendly and cheap hotel
       Low: the journey was a bit long and uncomfortable, but a little bit of suffering does you good now and then

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