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

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02-06 October 2005

Sunday 2nd October 2005    day 83     whereami     Satellite view

Sheikh Wali, Dakhla:
Up, breakfast, swim, read The Essential Hegel, swim, lunch, read Narrative of The Life of Frederick Douglass (a famous american negro slave escapee), swim, Hamdi's for an excellent dinner, bat photos, mosquito bites, bed.
Boring to read about but very enjoyable again.

The in-breeding theory has been confirmed. Cousin-marrying came up twice today in 2 different conversations - it seems it's still very common. I read a book 4 or 5 years ago - an anthropologist's study of the Bedouins of the Western Desert - I really wish I'd brought it with me to re-read. The study must have been based on these very settlements I've been in over the past 2 weeks - I think around the 1960's. I remember reading that marriage between cousins was preferred and positively encouraged.
There was an interesting parallel in Pride And Prejudice where cousin marriage was also a hot topic for maintaining the purity of the upper class bloodline - and keeping the inherited wealth within the family. I've read speculations that in-breeding contributed to the downfall of many upper class families from that era.

I asked Nasser today if there was any real danger from scorpions and snakes - suspecting it to be a bit of a myth to increase the "adventure". He told me he'd found 3 scorpions just this morning when taking down an old wall, and had them in a jar. I don't know why he catches them as they're sure to just die in his jar. We had a look at them a bit later and they were bigger than I'd expected, probably about 100mm from nose to tip and sand coloured. Nasty looking things.
At night there are bowls of glowing embers and spices burning in the open doorways to keep them away. The spices, which are also used in the traditional treatment of bites and stings, are said to keep them away as it fights their poisons. The only spice name I recognised was cardamon.

I couldn't be more chilled out now - this place has really sorted me out. I'm starting to think I should be moving again soon. The main reason to loiter now is the expected arrival of 2 german guests (one of whom is one of Nasser's ex-wives). There should be an opportunity to share the expense of a desert safari. They're due this week but we don't know when. I'll hang around while I'm still enjoying the chill.

The bat photos are not as good tonight, I was trying to get one as it splashed the water - 10 times harder to get.

bat with reflection   bat with reflection   bat roosting

      High: the peeeace, the quiet, the books . . . .
       Low: the mosquitos are a pain after dark, but I do keep putting myself in the worse place

Monday 3rd October 2005    day 84     whereami     Satellite view

Sheikh Wali, Dakhla:
Spent today lost in Jacques Cousteau's The Living Sea, written in 1963 about his adventures on Calypso in the 1950's. It was very good but there's some strange inconsistencies in it - getting emotionally attached to some friendly fish and needlessly killing sharks just because they're evil. Maybe they didn't know better back then, but their expeditions were all "scientific" - and that doesn't very scientific under any circumstances.
A lot of it takes place in the Red Sea - Daedelus Reef, Elphinstone Reef, Zabarghad Island - all of which I was diving on exactly 1 year ago. It's made me hungry for a bit of diving. I don't suppose I shall be doing much now though. I probably won't be in Dahab long enough to work and it's fairly expensive to just dive. I'll have to see how it goes.

Nasser caught 4 more scorpions today so yesterday was obviously no fluke.

I was actually going to do some work today and wash my clothes but the water's been off pretty much all day so I'll have to stay grubby.

The pool was very warm today, hot even, and very brown. Apparently it's mainly filled from a hot spring that has a high iron content, and some days it's just hotter and browner than others.

There was a distinct moment this afternoon when my relaxation suddenly transformed into laziness. 5 days of just reading by the pool is probably enough for any man - even a bookworm! I'm going for a walk tomorrow around the Sheikh Wali farmland.

We had a pretty good drumming session before we went out to eat this evening. They've got a big drum that sits face-up on the floor and a bongo. The women were clapping and the kids dancing.

And tomorrow is the first day of Ramadan.

      High: the peeeace, the quiet, the books . . . .
       Low: I really can't think of anything

Tuesday 4th October 2005    day 85     whereami     Satellite view

Sheikh Wali, Dakhla:
Up late - I'm sleeping like a log here - and there's no water again so no shower. Had some breakfast - feeling a bit awkward eating while they're fasting.

Got a good demonstration of the power of the dry heat last night. I ate an apple before I crashed and left the core by the bed. This morning it was just a bone dry twig - it didn't look much like an apple core at all.

Set off for my walk at midday and headed east on sandy tracks towards the next settlement. There was very few people working in the fields - it was mostly deserted and quiet apart from insects and birds - very pleasant.

The area is mostly desert scrub, some cultivated areas and some fenced off gardens.

trail   desert scrub

trail   desert scrub

I walked until I was getting close the next settlement then turned north towards the desert mountains. After many twists and turns and dead-ends I stumbled across an old deserted and derelict village.

half house, half pigeon-house   old village

old village   old village

Lots more twists, turns and dead-ends again before I finally broke through towards the mountains. Found a strange creature on the track. It was very like a scorpion but it didn't have the long, arching tail - just a stubby one. I dunno - but I kept clear of it!

It was quite a walk to get to the mountains - they just don't seem to get any closer - but it was worth it. I climbed up the nearest one and wandered around from peak to peak amongst it's neighbours until I found the one with the best view. Sat on a comfortable rock and just looked around me for an hour. It was really nice up there - terrific views, blowing a gale, and relatively cool. A great place to think.

the mountains   the climb

mountain view   mountain view   mountain view

mountain view   mountain view

I moved to another peak and watched some big black birds wheeling about overhead in the gale. They were making a lot of noise as if I was intruding on their patch. I went to look from a west-side peak and, just as I got to the wide and flat top, a desert fox scampered away from me. It stopped about 40m away and turned to look at me but then trotted away and I didn't see it again. It was quite big - much bigger than our english foxes - and had very large ears. I didn't manage to get a photo but at least I've seen one now.

Decided to head back and met the same problem of twists, turns and dead-ends again - you just can't tell where the tracks are going to go, if anywhere!

There was more farmers in the fields on the way back. I didn't realise until a few weeks back that the Ramadan fasting includes no drinking. These guys are working in the 40C sun and they're not allowed to drink water from sunrise to sunset.

Eventually got back to the hotel at 5:30 - shattered. My feet hurt, my ankles hurt, my hips hurt. Still no water so still can't shower or wash my clothes. The farm animals are gonna be complaining about me soon.

I got a message that Nasser would be going to Hamdi's at 7pm so tried the shower at 20 to, and it worked - clean again! Great meal again and much appreciated after my long walk and no lunch.

We stopped at Nasser's in-laws on the way back where I got fussed over with grapes and shay. They live in a mud-brick house in Mut and seemed like a very nice family. They were keen to marry me off to a widowed aunty - she seemed friendly enough but was let down by being about 18 stone and possessing all the feminine sweetness of Joe Bugner - I had to disappoint her. She didn't seem too upset - maybe as relieved as I was.

Back to the hotel for one more lemon juice and bed. I couldn't wash as the water was off again. I was just rinsing my hands with a drop of drinking water in my room when some movement caught my eye. There was a scorpion in the corner that was now scuttling towards the shelter under my bed! I stamped my foot in it's path to try and encourage it out the door but it didn't take any notice at all and carried on under the bed. I got my torch to look for him but there was no sign - there must be a hole in between the bricks somewhere. I went out and told Zachariya (Zico) by making a scorpion with my hands, he woke his older brother and they came to look but we couldn't find it. They put a tray of the burning spices under the bed and waited a while, but nothing. They gave me a new room and I can still hear them out there trying to find it.
Funnily enough I forgot the shoes-at-night rule and nearly went to my room in bare feet - only remembered at the last minute. I bet I don't forget again!

I'm treating myself to one more day of idle reading and then I shall leave on Thursday. The only thing that could change the plan is the arrival of the Germans and the chance of an economic safari.

Pretty good day all round, even diary-worthy for a change.

      High: good wildlife, a desert fox and a scorpion - one too timid and one too intimate
       Low: I don't half ache after my long walk - I feel old - I think it was the uneven ground

Wedneday 5th October 2005    day 86     whereami     Satellite view

Sheikh Wali, Dakhla:
Finished off my stay in Sheikh Wali with another boring-diary day. Spent the day getting into Tolstoy's Anna Karenin - very good too. Had a few swims, fended off a last desparate attempt by Nasser to tempt me into a lone safari, and watched a great sunset.

Heading off to the Kharga oasis tomorrow - 200km east from here. There's only 2 buses a day, 6am and 10pm, so the alarm's set for 5am. I don't think I'll be staying long - it's quite developed and the charm of most of these places is the fact that they're not developed.

I've enjoyed my stay here, I've been well looked after and pretty much left alone to recover my senses from the excessive attention.

      High: my last bit of peace buried in a book
       Low: got to leave these nice people tomorrow

Thursday 6th October 2005    day 87     whereami     Satellite view

Sheikh Wali, Dakhla:
Up at 5am, finished packing, quick shay and Nasser took me to the bus/taxi stop in Mut. I gave Nasser a generous 250LE for my week long stay - double the basic room cost to cover all the food, shay and lemon juice I'd got through whilst being waited on hand and foot, plus a bit for the lads.

A minitaxi said he was definitely going before the bus so I got in. Not a bad 10LE journey through interesting desertscape and we arrived in Kharga at 9am. The police were immediately onto me and wanted to know where I was going. I got a 3LE taxi (he asked for 5) to El Waha hotel and the police followed.

They rapped on the door as there was nobody about and we got in. It's a pretty seedy place but I've got a decent 15LE room with a balcony overlooking the street. A grubby scruffy hotel assistant seemed delighted to see me and insisted on giving me a big long hug that I struggled to escape from.

Sat out on my balcony a while. It seems really cool here, I'm in the shade and there's quite a breeze blowing. It could almost be chilly!

Set off about 11am to find the museum. Paid 1 night and collected my police escort on the way out - oh great! He introduced himself, Fateh, and we went marching off. After about 1km he asked where we were going, I said muftah (museum) and he indicated that we were going the wrong way. In my hasty look at the map I'd misread it. We turned back and he started complaining that he was tired and wanted to get a taxi - that I'd obviously pay for - but I told him I wanted to walk. I always like to walk around a new place to get my bearings and just have a look around, and I'm not going to miss it because my unwanted escort can't hack it!

We turned onto the right route and Fateh complained on and off all the way. He even stopped to complain to a few of his colleagues guarding a government building, but they mainly just laughed. One of them was on a Suzuki GS550 police bike - in very good condition - it must be nearly 30 years old. We eventually got to the museum.

The museum (20LE) was interesting but certainly not spectacular. A few sarcophaguses, mini sphinxes and cat statues. Lots of oddments - vases, utensils, tools, jewellery, etc. from 2000BC up to around 500AD. Also some flint tools and blades from stone age times. I spent an hour or so in there. No photos allowed.

The Temple of Hibis was next on the agenda, 2km out of town. Fateh immediately protested that it was too far to walk and started trying to find a taxi. We walked as far as a big roundabout and he stopped to look for a minitaxi. I waited for 5 minutes and decided that I really did want to walk and I was going to walk - Fateh can make his choice. He grumblingly chose to join me. We passed an abandoned settlement on the way.

abandoned settlement

Fateh's complaining was getting on my nerves and I told him to phone his boss and complain to him instead - I don't think he understood me but the "boss" seemed to shut him up. It's farcical really, this guy is supposedly my protector but he hasn't the strength to walk 5km - with at least an hour's rest in the middle while I walked round the museum! Fat lot of good he'd be if we had to fight someone! And out of respect for fairness I'd had nothing to drink since I left the hotel.

We got to the temple (500BC) and he suddenly cheered up. The temple was closed for renovation and structural work. It's on a clay foundation and is in danger of collapse due to subsidence so it's heavily buttressed on all sides. I walked around the entrance arch but was told no photos. I really can't imagine why - it seemed ridiculous. I walked around the main temple and Fateh indicated that I could take some discrete photos out of sight of the attendants - and started the hush-hush, baksheesh-baksheesh routine. So that's why he's cheered up. I could just about see inside from one spot and it looked interesting but never mind.

The Temple of Hibis   The Temple of Hibis   The Temple of Hibis

Last on my list was the Necropolis El-Baqawat. It's an early christian burial site with tombs from about 300-700AD. My book says it's a further 3km away but Fateh knew a quick way and was surprisingly keen to walk there. We cut through some gardens of mainly date palms and soon got there, maybe 1km, 20LE.

 garden walk

Some of the tombs had quite well preserved paintings inside their domed rooves. One had a visible mummy but we weren't allowed to photo it. I say "we" because I bumped into an american here. He'd seen me at the temple and was complaining that "the bastards (police) wouldn't let me get anything like as close as you got" in his loud boisterous drawl. It was an interesting place.

The Necroplis El-Baqawat   The Necroplis El-Baqawat   The Necroplis El-Baqawat

The Necroplis El-Baqawat   The Necroplis El-Baqawat   The Necroplis El-Baqawat

The Necroplis El-Baqawat   The Necroplis El-Baqawat   The Necroplis El-Baqawat

The Necroplis El-Baqawat   The Necroplis El-Baqawat   The Necroplis El-Baqawat

And a shot of a fellow visitor.

fellow visitor

We headed out back towards the road and Fateh was resolute about getting a ride back into town. It suited me too but I wasn't particularly happy that he'd made the decision. He'd been going on about baksheesh again and I told him again that I don't give baksheesh to police. He found a minitaxi and we rode back into town 3LE.

Fateh then started on about going to a cafeteria and was rubbing his stomach expectantly. I asked if it wasn't Ramadan but he seemed to think that he'd be forgiven. He was obviously hoping that I'd treat him to a slap-up dinner for all his troubles - wrong again. I want his memory of the day to be full of hard work and no reward, and I want him to complain to his boss - then maybe I'll be left alone in future.

I bought some fruit, salad stuff, bread and cheese and went back to the hotel. Fateh on my tail pleading for baksheesh all the way. He launched into a great tale of woe when he met his colleagues at the hotel and I left them to it.

Quick feast, did some diary, little snooze.

Went out again about 7pm to visit the internet café down the road. The police were happy to let me go, presumably as it's only 300m down the road. It was closed so I made the most of the opportunity to wander around on my own to look for another. Couldn't find one or anything else of much interest - it's a bit of a nothing town. Back to the hotel at 8:30 and got collared by an english-speaker for the usual chat. He was actually ok and ended up taking me round the corner to a decent internet café. I stayed there for an hour and a half and caught up.

Back to the hotel a bit before 10pm. The manager asked if I was going tomorrow and I said I was. He recommended the 6am or 7am buses to Assiut and straight on the train to Aswan. He also told me that all water for the whole town gets switched off at 10pm so I need to be quick if I want a shower - I dashed off and showered.

I thought I might want to spend a day in Assiut so I checked the guidebook. It strongly advises avoiding it - it's a very fundamentalist area, there's nothing to see, and you will definitely have a police escort. Hmmm, perhaps that's what the manager was getting at. So I'll skip it and set my alarm for 5am again. It can't be good for you - getting up early 2 consecutive days! It's gonna be a long day too - a 3 hour bus journey to Assiut, 6 or 7 hours on the train to Luxor, 5 hours on the train to Aswan. And I've no idea about connections. What could possibly go wrong?

      High: interesting sights, and nice to be moving again
       Low: complaining and begging police escort, but I had my fun

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