Temples, Touts, Tourists and Thaumaturges

1 12 2005

 It has been only a few days since my last update but so much has been happening. This is the chronological update on what I’ve been up to. Reflections may or may not follow. Theres a lot I’d like to elaborate on but this will be long enough already. Where to start? I’ll try for chronological order but already some of the finer points are hazy… I’ll try to keep the update of what I’ve been up to as brief as possible.

Follwoing from my last entry, I woke up early and went out to the pyramids. Of course the pyramids are picturesque- and awe inspiring – but they are plauged with rude, money hungry touts and riders preying on tourists. And they are really annoying. They are more than annoying they are well words fail me… realy really really anoying.  Nothing saps the joy out of something like constantly having to shirk off doggedly persistant men trying to rip you off with goods you don’t want. They hang on to your clothes and follow you around screaming for your attention.They start before you even get to the pyramids telling you that you can get in without a ticket if you rent a camel from them( lie). When you get into the pyramid sight there are hundreds of people trying to sell tacky Egyptian kitsch. Whilst trying to admire the pyramids one is instantly set upon by these money sucking mosquitos. They sap the joy out of the experience for tourists and give the tourists the impression that all arabs are annoying money sucking mosquito’s. I’ve prided myself for being fairly savy through europe, avoiding scams and catching pickpockets and the like – even spent a day or two ‘crimewatching’ – ie. watching scams and crimes going on around european cities –  butI got suckered a few times at the pyramids. I wanted to take a photo of a camel rider and before I knew it I was up on the thing. Although once up there it was cool to ride a camel. Because many tourists only meet arabs when they are out at the tourists sights, they are put off from the local people and leave with the generalization that all arabs are like that. It is a very poor impression, especially compared to the majority of Egyptians who are warm friendly people.

I was lucky enough to snag a ticket to go inside the largest pyramid cheops (they only let 300 people in a day). Inside Cheops is awesomely baffling. How on earth did they get the stones to fit so precisely there is no gap whatsoever. To do something like this even today would be an achievement and require a computer controlled lazer. So how did they do it 3000 years ago? On leaving cheops I walked around gawking at ruins and shirking off arabs. I finally succumbed  and let one of these pests take me away from the others who were hounding me on a horse ride. Once we were away from the pyramids and the pests this guy was ok, though it doesn’t matter how much you pay they always try to leave you feeling guilty so you pay them more than their already comparitivly extortionate rates. I took a guided horseride up into the sahara desert which borders giza. We weant up into the dunes to the three queens pyramids. Despite the fact it was totally against the rules, I ‘convinced’ the guards to turn a blind eye while I climbed one (another entry on baksheesh later), So I was able to climb one of the pyramids! My bedoin guide then led me up into the dunes for a while and then back to the pyramids.Galloping across the sahara dessert towards the pyramids was an incredible feeling. Although my inexperience at horse riding meant I was bouncing up and down in the saddle a lot and was left ‘walking like an Egyptian’ afterwards. Even though my rider had been friendly all trip – they always get insolent and angry when it comes time to pay them. It’s a strategy which is supposed to make you feel like a tight arse no matter how much you pay them. And I was not immune to it – paying far to much for my horse trek.

Again the disparity between the arabs which work the tourist traps and the everyday arabs was clear as I was swamped again with friendly Egyptian children and teenagers on an excursion to the pyramids (see photo of them running towards me). I took a typical Egyptian taxi back into town and had a typical Egyptian ride home – which consisted of the driver pulling in for petrol (i gave a stern word and we moved off again), getting a flat tire, and the driver picking up another passenger which he said was ‘on the way’ to where we were going and then not dropping me off where I had asked to go. If you didn’t make an effort you would think that all Egyptians are caniving, machiavellian weasels.

Also saw the sphinx which is cool.

That night whilst walking to the train station I met an interesting guy. At first I thought he was just like all the other merchants – who try to get you into a conversation so they can lure you into there shop. Whilst walking down the street I am constantly assailed by phrases like "Excuse me, where are you from?", "Hello, nice watch. How much it cost?" etc. anything to make me stop and if I do stop they immediately try to suck me into their shop. Its annoyin not firstly because of its shallow duplicity but also because it’s so repetitive – the questions and conversations always follow the same monotenous pattern and I usually ignore anyone trying o start a conversation with me on the street walking straight past them as if they didn’t exist. This is the most effective way to get them to stop heckling you down the street. If I did stop I’d never get anywhere in Egypt. Anyway I entertained this guy for a minute – thinking he was another tout and as the typical conversation starts he says he lived in Melbourne. ‘Oh that’s nice’ I say, not bothering to hide my cynicism. ‘Listen mate, I lived in broady, western suburbs – not everyone in Egypt is out for your money’. … I went with him suspecting a scam but taking a punt that I might get to talk with some regular Egyptians. He introduces me to his cousin who as soon as he says ‘hi’ I can tell grew up in Melbourne. I chilled with Wahid and Sherif these guys and chatted to them about what it’s like to live in cairo as compaered to Melbourne. Both of them wanted to go back to Melbourne but for different reasons it wan’t going to happen. Walked around town with them, smoked some sheisha and drank hibiscus tea and talked about Melbourne and cairo.

The next day I went out with a Hungarian bloke to the walled enclosure that represents the Coptic christain section of cairo. Was interesting to see an Arabian take on Christianity. The architecture of the churches was reminiscent of the Moorish splendour of the alhumbra (spain) but the figures were of Christ and his disciples . I was just walking down the street and this old guy was walking down the street and everyone who past him would cross themselves and kneel or kiss his hand. I was just going to politely slip by as I didn’t know who he was and definetly didn’t practice his religion but as I got closer he held out his hand expectantly looking at me. I didn’t want to offend him (or his body guards who were packing H&K sub-machine guns) so I took his hand and kissed it also. Later when I went into the hanging church (so called because it is built off the ground) I saw all types of paraphernalia with this holy guys mug on it. You could get post cards, posters, stamps, mugs, clocks and assorted other paraphernalia with this guys face on it. Turns out he’s the Coptic Christian equivalent of the pope! Also saw a number of other Coptic sights and the oldest synagougue in Egypt. And something which gave me pangs of homesickness – the aussie gumtree! These were growing in a number of places, though they look different over here, with a lot more foliage than they have at home.

That night I caught up with wahid again and we went out to the market so he could help me buy stuff – as he’s Egyptian he wouldn’t get screwed on the prices. In retrospect I suspect he still took a cut from what we bought – but the prices were still cheaper than I could of got on my own, so I was happy. Then I went through a massive hassle trying to get a ticket down to aswan. It’s a long story (I may elaborate later) but to cut it short wahid and sheriff really helped me out and I was able to get a sleeper train to aswan. After the massive hassle of getting down to aswan I didn’t want to go through the hassle of organizing public transport for myself for the next few days – I boked onto a tour from aswan to check out the sights. Note to travelers: If you are going to get a tour it is much cheaper to do it at the actual location. The same tour which companies were trying to sell to me for 800 egyptian poundsi was able to get for 260.

So The next morning I got up at 3am to make the voayage down in a police convoy to Abu Simbel and the temples of Ramses II and Nefertiti. Unfortunately as you have to get there by police convoy and this only leaves once a day, it means you arrive there at the same time as copious busloands of package tourists….

What a wonderful blessing these people are, nothing enhances the experience of being in a 3000 year old temple like the cacophony of their loud and insightful proclamations, such as the following:

< Near blind old lady>" these hieroglyphics are so much easier to see in real life then the are in the books!"

<american lady>"Oh wow look at that duck hieroglyphic! Isn’t it cute!

<her oh so knowledgable partner>"Oh Yeah! It’s really rare too. I’ve seen a few goose hieroglyphics but the ducky ones they are rare! Yup that’s one cute ducky!"

<aussie bimbo 1>" Oh my gawd! – check out the cellulite on her! Nefertiti had one fat ass!"

 <aussie bimbo 2>"Yeah these aren’t as exiting as the ones we saw yesterday, where she had nipple errections"

 And any number of other brilliant comments which I unfortunately couldn’t understand because they were in Russian or Japanese.

And of course there was no shortage of tourists who like to show just how knowledgable they are to their equally ignorant travel partners by loudly proclaiming their (often pathetically inept) interpretation of every Egyptian scene they see.

Fortunatly these had been herded together out the front of the temples to receive the spiel on what they were about to see, so I’d been able to duck in before virtually anyone and have about 10-15 minutes in the temple of Ramses II by myself. And the feeling of being in this temple on my own was one of awe and delight. The temple of nefertiti was also grand.

 I then got back on the bus to ….. where I joined up with a few people and hired a boat across to the island where.. resides. Many less tourists here and was beautiful.

Given the late night and early rise I was knackered, but packed my bags and set out on a cruise up the nile. I was to travel for 1 night and 2 days aboard a felluca – the vessel Egyptians have been traveling up the nile in for thousands of years. The captain and ship hand were native bedoins, who didn’t speak much English but were pleasant enough.I had been hoping to travel up with a bunch of Spanish and aussie backpackers but they had left a day earlier for some inexplicable reason. So I was on the boat with two plump American women both probably in their late 40’s early 50’s. I introduced myself to them and as the felluca cast off from the jetty, I started making small talk. I asked nancy what she did.

 " I create gateways to other universes"

"Oh….. that sounds interesting"

"Yeah I bring the good energy from other universes into into this one and then I send the bad energy from this world through other gateways to empty universes"

 "I see…" i said, casting a whistful look back at the jetty which was receding into the distance.

"Oh I create stars too.. Magenta ones of course because they have the best energy… I’m working with some others now to create a second sun in this world"

Goody gumdrops that was an interesting ride! The other woman was her acolyte – she was working on bringing her ‘secound soul’ into her current body. She didn’t say much but then she did it was equally insane and some of the things these women did…

I will eventually write a few interesting stories about my travels with these ladies. But to do them justice they deserve their own entry at a later date. I just wish their had been someone else on the felluca to witness the absolute ridiculousness of this cruise. That will have to wait for another time though as this is enough writing for today. I’ve tried to give an overview but still haven’t told what has happened in the last day or two. Apologies for the rushed and shoddy writing – i’ll probably revise and elaborate it at some point soon.But the sunny beach of my current location is calling and I’m going to go for a walk along it and then perhaps hire a horse to ride along the beach and then out into the mountains….

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4 responses

2 12 2005
Bonnie

wow… the adventures are just never ending! If I didn\’t know better I\’d have to say that you somehow involuntarily ATTRACT these weird and wonderful happenings… makes for an interesting life at least! Your travel companion had a pretty random response to "what do you do?"… \’I create gateways to other universes\’… (oh, of COURSE you do, silly me, I should have guessed!)And I have to agree with you about the sheer frustration involved with being in remotely near proximity to middle-aged American tourists! My casual job is in Tourism-Retail, so most of my customers are American… A favourite: *American hands me US dollars, matter-of-factly*Me: \’Um, sorry, we don\’t take American dollars\’American: \’What? You mean i cant pay in American money? How am I supposed to pay?"Me: *breathes deeply and recites a line which has become a daily occurence* "Here in Australia, we have our very own Australian currency, which we use to exchange for goods and services…"American: "So, if I pay by credit card, they\’ll charge me in Australian dollars?"Or, another good one, \’Will my sister-in-law like this?" *holding up disgustingly kitschy souvenir item* (think kangaroo scrotum coin pouch)Anyway, really glad I have the opportunity to read such a well-written travel blog… it motivates me to travel…. and is a far cry from all those blow-by-painful-blow accounts of a boring conversation…Thank you Tom!Bonnie*

3 12 2005
Scott

that is awsome man! I would have loved to have been there with u, in a situation such as that u need someone to make snide remarks with, otherwise the stupidity and lunacy of certain people loses its power in translation! although i did get a giggle out of it imagining u sitting there watching this and attempting to look interested and polite! sometimes getting urself into a conversation at the beginning of a long trip can be painful if the person is strange or will not shut up, i know my 11 hour plane flight could have been better!!!anyways man, i love hearing about retards such as that so bring on that entry! PURE GOLD!

5 12 2005
Unknown

hey tombo, damn you! That blog entry was awesome, I just popped online to see if you had a new one, but i got fully into that long one which was reeally interesting, but now my night\’s turned into a late one! when i got an early start! grrr. Anyways, i cant believe u tombo, learning so much and doing such cool things- even chatting to those american nuts is an experience that other ppl mite\’nt ever kno. Keep up the good networking and stuff, enjoy urself and take care. Love pen

7 12 2005
Raymond

I imagine if your job was to, er, create gateways to other universes, Egypt would be ideal turf to do so. The pyramids sound incredible! Sigh, maybe one of these days I\’ll get to see \’em myself. Knowing me I\’d probably get scammed by one of the tourist-trap guys, though. I\’ve been home for almost a week and have done little, but have been enjoying myself just the same. Keep me posted when you\’re in the States!Dana

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