Upper Egypt And Mt. Sinai

Gus Mattammal

Hello All!

I hope everyone is well… I am in Israel, a refreshingly modern country, with modern prices to match.

Here’s what’s been happening to me since Cairo…

Executive Summary

Part I, Aswan: really hot. Temples at Abu Simbel spectacular.

Part II, Luxor: really hot. Temples at Karnak, Luxor spectacular. Tombs in the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens also spectacular.

Part III, Edfu: Temple of Horus a personal favorite, even in 131° heat.

Part IV, Suez: Late bus + poor planning = night spent in the park.

Part V, Mt Sinai: all alone on the summit early in the morning worth climbing the Steps of Repentance to get there.

Postscript: Egyptian intercity buses

The longer version of events

NOTE: the following is in parts to facilitate not trying to read it all at once. For crying out loud, don’t try to do it. You’ll end up resenting me. I really got out of control with the length on this one, but Egypt was such an adventure, I could have written much more….

Part I: Aswan

Took the train from Cairo to Aswan; an overnight trip in a dingy, smoky railcar, but at least it had A/C. My hotel in Aswan cost $3 a night, which was cool, but there was no A/C, and so I slept on a wet towel. Daytime highs minimum 120° (somewhere between 50-55° for those readers on the Celsius scale).

Explored the Tombs of the Nobles across the Nile one morning. They were neat, and quite bearable at 630am before it got too hot. But I was having so much fun exploring bat-filled cave tombs that I didn’t emerge until 1030a, by which time it was already 113 (50° C). Then I had to hike back in the heat. I took lots of cold showers in Aswan.

Food was slim pickings… got used to fried pigeon. Not bad tasting, but a lot of work to get the minimal meat off the many bones.

Flew from Aswan to Abu Simbel, 300K away. There is a road, but it is closed to traffic since the terrorist activity in Luxor a few years back. Now there are police everywhere in Upper Egypt and it feels quite safe, really. Abu Simbel is huge and grand, as is the Temple of Hathor that Ramses II also built right next door in honor of his favorite wife, Nefertari. One of the most interesting things about the temples is the graffiti… the temples have drawn tourists since Alexander the Great’s time in 300BC. In one of the Tombs of the Nobles I got a picture of some graffiti in Greek from 1159AD.

Part II: Luxor

After a few days of sweltering heat in Aswan I took a train to Luxor, where I spent 4 days. I got out of the train and started looking for a place to stay. I saw signs to the Happy Land Hotel, but it was quite a long walk and halfway there I saw a sign for the “Grand Hotel”. I decided to give up on the Happy Land and I was on my way inside when I saw the sign by the door, which said, and I am not making this up:

“I always kill people for money but because you are my friend, I kill you for nothing.”

If I had bothered to buy the textbook for my marketing class, I would mail it to the Grand Hotel. So I continued on to the Happy Land, and I am glad I did because it’s been the best hostel I’ve stayed in by far. Dorm bed rooms with A/C (A/C!!!) were only the equivalent of $2.15, and that included a nice big breakfast.

Like every place I stayed in in Greece and Egypt the bathroom was quirky. This one was so small, I couldn’t lift my elbows up from my sides without bumping the walls, before they got to shoulder level. The small size of the  room meant that you either had to sit on the toilet sideways, or with your knees splayed out. I employed both methods, depending on how much water there was on the floor.

Why was there water on the floor? Well, the room was so small the showerhead was almost directly over you when you were seated on the toilet. In fact, to stand under the water you had to put the toilet lid down, put one foot on it, and scoot the other foot along the wall. But, for $2.15 what can you really expect, and anyway the A/C made it all OK.

I visited Luxor Temple, the Luxor museum (jointly designed by the Brooklyn museum and hence a much much much better experience than the Egyptian museum in Cairo), the Temple at Karnak, and the Valley of the Kings, the Temple of Hatshepsut, and the Valley of the Queens.

The valleys are on the west bank of the Nile, and it is an 8K walk just to the Valley of the Kings. I thought briefly about walking it, but even if I went early in the morning, I would be stuck walking back midday, and again with highs over 120 every day, and no shade at all over there, I gave up and took the hotel sponsored tour, even though it was more expensive. And that’s how I met Hadi, the crazy tour guide.

Try to imagine a chubby, 5 foot 4 inch (151cm I think), 50 year old dark Egyptian man with the most cartoonish, stereotypical Arab-speaking-English accent ever (the narrator character from Walt Disney’s Aladdin is almost exactly right). Throw in a bizarre speaking rhythm where he would at times stre-e-e-e-e-tch out one word, and then say a bunch of words reallyquicklywithoutstoppingforair.

There were 14 of us crammed into a little minibus for the tour. The bus was supposed to be A/C but it didn’t work well and we were like sardines in there so it was utterly ineffective. Hadi the crazy guide (henceforth referred to as HTCG), started by asking us what we wanted him to call us.

HTCG: “You want that I call you what? Friends? Best friends? Foreigners? Aliens? What?”

Aliens, someone said.

HTCG: “Aliens? OK, you see I choose be democratic. It’s all up to you. Whatever you want, it’s al-l-l-l-l uptoyou. Now, you know that ‘aliens’ is an Egyptian word meaning ‘best friends from another planets’, so when you hear me say ‘ALIEN-N-N-N-S!!’, then, best friends, aliens, you will please to follow me.”

Now, Hadi had it in for 2 groups of people: religious officials of any religion whatever, whenever in history, and the Japanese. All the funny stories he regaled us with involved Japanese that he had led on tours (he evidently speaks some Japanese). He also had an impassioned belief that virtually all groundbreaking concepts ever developed in civilization were developed by the ancient Egyptians and then copied or developed later by everyone else. So all of his explanations during the tour incorporated surreptitiously anti-religion and blatantly pro-ancient Egyptian rhetoric, eventually culminating with him shouting, with fists raised in the air: “… and so you see this was developed by the ancient Egyptians SEVEN THOUSAND YEARS, AGO!!” Then he would pause a minute as the flames of passion receded, and he would add, in a soft, speculative voice, “maybe ten.” (Evidently the archaeology is unsure exactly how old the Egyptian civilization is). Then he would take out a crumpled white handkerchief and dab at his forehead (dab dab) to remove the sweat that impassioned pontification in 120° heat inevitably brings.

Our tour started at the Valley of the Kings, where we visited the tombs of 39 Ramesses. They all had very well preserved hieroglyphic art. In one, HTCG was explaining a picture showing the pharaoh just after death confessing to the gods.

HTCG: “…so you see, here, Ramses IV going to afterlife, expresstrainonewayticket, and confessing before Osiris. He was expected to confess that he did not spoil the Nile. We think we are very civilized, but today, every day we spoil the Nile. So you see, environmental movement originated in ancient Egypt, SEVEN THOUSAND YEARS, AGO!!!”

“Maybe ten.”

(dab dab)

Next we went to the great Temple of the queen Hatshepsut. She was the first female pharaoh of Egypt, and after a short sermon by HTCG lamenting Hollywood’s obsession with Cleopatra, instead of any of the other great queens, especially Hatshepsut, he explained:

HTCG: “…so you see here the great Temple of Hatshepsut, Egypt’s first female Pharaoh. Pharaoh!!! Kings of Kings! Child of the Gods! She made a great step for women. The first feminist, no? You know what I mean, feminist? Women’s lib, womensrightsERASusanBAnthony Mar-ga-ret THAtcher? See, feminism, invented right here in Egypt, SEVEN THOUSAND YEARS, AGO!!!!”

“Maybe ten.”

(dab dab)

Finally we went to the Valley of the Queens, which was a bit of a walk from the parking lot, with no shade whatsoever, and Hadi explained that there was nothing in there that was markedly different from the Valley of the Kings and he didn’t want to bore us with the same information, so he would just wait in the bus (the A/C bus, probably quite comfy with just him and the driver, Uncle Nagar) while we looked around the tombs: “Remember, best friends, aliens, noflashnoleaningonthewallstakepicturesbackonthebus!”

I was lucky: in the nicest tomb I attached myself to a tour of Russians, and the tour guide was working hard to speak in Russian, which means he spoke slowly enough to understand. In HTCG’s defense, there really wasn’t much different information imparted.

It was in Luxor that my facial hair finally grew long enough that my chameleon act became perfect. One night I went out to dinner with some Europeans from the hostel, and our menus of course were in English. The next day I went to the exact same restaurant by myself for dinner, and the menu was presented to me in Arabic. The guy was shocked when I ordered in English. All the annoying hustlers on the street and the millions of annoying 16-year-old felucca (sailboat) captains peddling rides on their rickety boats passed me right over when I walked along the river. And, if I kept my mouth shut when I purchased snacks and drinks from the streetside kiosks, I was given the local prices on things (at most 12 the price charged to tourists).

Part III: Edfu

When I finally located the bus station in Luxor, (see attachment for all comments on intercity buses), I took a bus to Edfu to see the Temple of Horus. Buses to Edfu only run a couple times a day, so I ended up at the Temple, of course, during the hottest part of what was eventually a 131-degree (55C) day. It’s hard to walk more than about 20min in that kind of heat before you need to rest in a little shade. But the Temple is enormous and fabulously well-preserved, and honeycombed with hallways and stairways and subterranean passages and secret passages in the walls.

In one room toward the back they had discovered a secret passage behind the wall and had removed one of the stones to get to it. That left an opening around chin-high, about 5 feet deep, that allowed access to the passage. They hadn’t blocked it off yet, and as the tour group in the room with me filtered out, with the security guard following, I think because there was a Scandinavian girl in the group in the smallest shorts I’ve ever seen on a human being, and so I stayed in the room. I really really wanted to see the inside of the passage.

So, I climbed into the wall and scooted along with my flashlight (thanks Laszlo!) until I got far enough into the wall to be able to see down the passage. The passage looked like it probably went the length of the Temple, but just as I was thinking about disappearing into it I heard the security guard coming back, and I had to scoot backwards fast and climb down and look innocent and bored just as the guy came back in the room. He was clearly bored too, and not paying attention, or he would have noticed the dark black dirt on my white T-shirt which could have only come from the passage. I had to wipe it off in the next room. So alas, I did not get to explore the hidden passage. Maybe someday.

Upon trying to get out of Edfu, I had the usual disaster trying to locate the bus station, and I was under some time pressure because I wanted to get back to Luxor in time to catch the bus to Suez. I was running out of time, and getting desperate, and then I made the mistake of asking a group of cab drivers hanging around smoking a sheesha (Egyptian bong). I was herded into a cab, saying “bus, bus!!” and the cabbie saying, “Yes, bus, bus!!“, and then we drove out of that part of town, which didn’t seem like it could possibly be right, and then we ended up at the Service taxi station, far away from any part of town I had been in. I kept saying, “no, not a taxi, the BUS!!!”, and he kept saying, “Yes, bus, BUS!” and pointing at the Service taxis. Then he basically threw me out of the cab and drove off.

Service taxis are little 1960s era Toyota minivans that are the other form of intercity transport. They line up by destination, and when the driver has accumulated enough people, he leaves for his destination. This means his economic incentive is to load that minibus with so many people that not even another one of those cursed flies is going to fit on it, and it also means he doesn’t operate on any kind of schedule, as you and I might think of a schedule.

If you’ve been reading these updates for a while, it’s time for a quiz. Did I:

a) get there just in time to catch a full taxi that left right away and got me to Luxor in time for my connection,

b) get there when the thing was half full, forcing me to wait a while and barely getting me back to Luxor in time, or

c) was I the first one lined up for an empty one, forcing me to wait for an hour and a half in the heat while we accumulated other people and leaving me stuck with 6 million flies and a bunch of crotchety old Egyptian men who spoke no English, thus getting me to Luxor just in time to miss my connecting bus, the last one of the day.

If you guessed a or b, stay away from multiple choice testing.

At one point this crazy old man walked up to me and said something which sounded like: “aghabahdgbahdhaflakagid!!”, and made a stirring motion with his hands. Of course, I had no idea what he was saying so I said, “I’m sorry, no Arabic”. This seemed to upset him, so he repeated whatever he was saying, only louder: “AGHABAHDGBAHDHAFLAKAGID!!!!!” and made more vigorous stirring motions. Conversation around the area has stopped, and all the other Arabs are watching this with interest. So I employed my other defense, which was to look at him stupidly and blink. I guess this was the height of insolence, because he lost it and started screaming: “AHGFHANDHAJFANSHOHAGADNAHARAHAG!!!!!!!!!!!”

Evidently this was quite amusing, because all the other Arabs burst out in laughter, one guy actually spilling his drink on himself. This had no effect on the crazy old man, who continued to scream, and so I just retreated to that quiet mental place I used to go when Mr. Becker used to scream at us in the fifth grade. (His face would go from white to red to an amazingly deep shade of purple.) Finally the driver, Samir, decided to help out the poor American a little bit and physically dragged the guy away, still screaming. I don’t know where he took him.

In retrospect, I imagine that situation is really funny if you understand what’s going on, and you aren’t me. The lesson here is that in Egypt, you have to be 110% assertive all of the time, because the second you give in you end up with something other than what you wanted, like a service taxi instead a government bus, or a hotel you didn’t want that is now practically stealing money from you (thank god that one didn’t happen to me).

Part IV: Suez

I took the first bus to Suez, at 630am. I used almost all my Egyptian cash, because I believed the guy when he said it would only take 9 hours to get there, and Suez is a big city, with plenty of banks. The Luxor ATM was temporarily out of service all 4 days I was there, so I had burned through most everything. Of course, it took 12 hours to get there, on top of leaving at 7am, and then after a 6 mile hike down the town’s main street, I still hadn’t found a bank that had an international ATM, and I was down to 3 Egyptian pounds, and it was getting dark, and I was lost in the port area. I stopped at a kiosk, and decided I would spend half my remaining money on a large bottle of water, because I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink since a rest stop at 1030am. After some conversation with the guy, he realized my predicament and so he sent his two sons, Muhammad and Ahmed, to take me on a bus to a bank with an international ATM.

I was so excited when we got there, and I was dreaming of a big hot meal and buying dinner for these two nice boys who had shepherded me, and then the ATM card didn’t work, because Bank Boston’s system was not responding.

“Try again later,” the ATM suggested.

I was so dejected, I just slumped against the wall and sat there.

“What are you going to do?” Muhammad asked.

“I don’t know, stay here I guess and wait for the ATM to work.”

Suez is not a tourist town; there is literally nothing at all in it to see unless you want to look at the 3 Israeli tanks Egypt captured in 1967. All tourists go to the town of Ismailia, which is several miles up the canal. So of course I was looking at a long long walk since I didn’t have money for a cab fare. I was resigned to using most of my emergency American $$ on cab fare to Ismailia when Muhammad suggested I go back to the kiosk and sleep there, because it is open all night and someone would watch over me. I was so exhausted, I said fine. I used the last of my Egyptian money to go back to the kiosk, and the guy said it would be fine if I slept next to his kiosk.

And so it was that I spent a night homeless in the park. It was quite warm, but I still had to cover myself completely because of all the mosquitoes. But it was surprisingly comfortable, since there was some grass and I was really tired, and in the morning the guy had apparently instructed his other two sons (Weliad and Mustafa) to feed me, because they brought me bread and biscuits and tea. I tried to refuse, since I didn’t have any money, but they said no money was OK. Eventually the guy drove me back to the bank, my ATM worked (thank God, because it was now Friday and the Islamic workweek is Sun-Th, so I wouldn’t have been able to go inside the bank to draw against my credit card), and then he drove me to the bus station (different from the bus station I had been dropped off at).

I had them write their address in Arabic so I can send a thank you letter; I hope it gets to them because it would have been a lot harder to survive the night without them.

Part V: Mt Sinai

I arrived early in the evening to St. Catherine town, and then hiked up to the monastery, where there used to be a youth hostel but now there is only a regular hotel, so I had to pay nearly $40 for a room. But dinner and breakfast were included, and the room was in really good condition relative to anything I’d seen in a month. The only quirky thing about the bathroom was the usual lack of a shower curtain (this technology does not exist anywhere in Egypt as far as I can tell), and the section of the plaster ceiling that fell down on the toilet about one minute after I took a nice shower.

I stayed in a room next to Father Avros. I met Father Avros at the reception desk. He spoke only Russian, having come from Moscow, and was having a hard time, so I helped and then we ended up having dinner. It was great practice for me, especially because he could not ever remember to speak slowly, and so it really forced me to work. And his only English was the numbers 1–5, and “dollar”.

He and I got up at 4am to climb the mountain, but he stopped at the monastery and was sucked into the monks’ morning routine while I waited outside (the monastery is closed to the public except M–F 9a–12n, unless you happen to be a Greek or Russian Orthodox priest, in which case it’s pretty much always open to you). After a while I set out around the back of the monastery without him to find the path up. As I rounded the monastery I heard a voice calling to me from the heavens, and I thought that was kind of weird because I expected God would at least wait until I got to the top of the mountain before making an appearance, but it turned out to just be Father Avros on the roof, saying he’d be in there for a while and wishing me luck getting to the top.

I hiked up the camel path to the top, because it was still somewhat dark and I couldn’t find the hidden trail to the Steps of Repentance. The sun started to rise about halfway up, and I got a wonderful view of the sun rising over the Sinai Mountains and the desert plain below. The camel path ends 34 of the way up, leaving you to walk up the last 750 of the Steps of Repentance.

The story goes that the Steps of Repentance were carved by a single monk as penance for some sin, whatever that could have been. After walking up those steps, I can say with confidence that there is an additional part of the story that they don’t tell you, which is that the idea of carving steps all the way up the mountain (3750 total) was not the idea of the monk who actually did it, and furthermore he wasn’t totally on board with the idea, because a lot of those steps are 2–3 times the height of the steps that sinners like you and I like to use.

Most people hike up at night and watch the sunrise from the very top, and as I approached the top they all came streaming down. It gets hot quickly in the desert, it turns out, and so they all wanted to get down quickly, before it got much hotter. I of course was still climbing, but it meant I got a couple hours completely alone on the summit.

I went down the entire length of the Steps of Repentance, and found that I did not repent taking the camel path on the way up. Got more good shots of the Sinai Mountains, and some places along the way where Elijah supposedly hid (1Kings) and where Moses hid as God passed by (Exodus). I was in a bit of a hurry to get back down because I wanted to catch the 11am minibus to Cairo. The driver had told me he was leaving then the day before. He actually left around 1015a, because apparently he filled up, which left me stranded another day, and I had to take the 630a govt. bus back to Cairo the next morning.

Consequently, I had only 1 day back in Cairo, which I used to see the Pyramids, so I didn’t have time to go to the post office, so everyone’s Egypt postcards were mailed from Tel Aviv yesterday.

As far as Tel Aviv goes, it was so nice to be in a place where I could drink the water and eat in any restaurant. I even went to the beach. THE BEACH!!! It was glorious. Though I must say, after 2 weeks of seeing women wrapped in acres of cloth, seeing them testing the limits of spandex technology is jarring. Fashion here is very different….

HTCG (Temple of Hatshepsut): “… and here we see the fashion of Egyptian women. They shaved their heads and wore wigs. You know what I mean, fashion? London Fog, GianniVersaceTommyHilfigerDonnaKaranMark…and…Spencer? Fashion, right here in Egypt, SEVEN THOUSAND YEARS, AGO!!!!”

“Maybe ten.”

(dab dab)

I hope everyone is doing well… I am including as a postscript my thoughts on Egyptian intercity buses, which I spent a lot of time on but are really their own story. So I will say goodbye here… continue on only if your curiosity about Egyptian culture has not yet been utterly completely fully satisfied.

Cheers, Gus

Postscript: Egyptian intercity buses

In update #2 I shared thoughts about the intracity bus network. The intercity bus network achieves the same service quality level but does so rather differently.

Step 1: finding the bus station

This is the hardest step by far. I took buses from Luxor to Edfu, Luxor to Suez, Suez to St. Catherine, and St. Catherine to Cairo. I could probably find the bus stations again in St. Catherine and Luxor. I have a vague idea of where the Suez one is. I still have no idea where the Edfu or Cairo bus stations are.

This is due to the fact that Egyptian intercity bus stations are like the intracity bus stops: they appear to be points in space which recent history suggests a bus might be inclined to stop or at least slow down if it passed by. There are no signs or other features to distinguish these points in space from any other points in space. This complicates locating the station immensely.

It took me 3 days to locate the bus station in Luxor. It turned out to be a kiosk, on a street lined with thousands of kiosks. After passing through the area 3 times a day, on the 3rd day I saw a faded handwritten sign in a window giving a price for a ticket to Dahab. The bus stops in front of this kiosk. In St. Catherine, the bus makes a slow loop through the central square; if you want on, you run at the bus waving frantically.

Initially I thought I would be clever by noting where the bus let me off, which I did in Edfu. But, that plan was defeated because buses don’t necessarily let you off in the same place as they pick you up. In the case of Edfu, the 2 places are on opposite sides of the river. The 2 places aren’t the same in Suez or Cairo either.

As we arrived into Cairo, the bus driver’s sidekick (all intercity bus drivers have a sidekick who issues tickets, chain smokes directly underneath the no smoking sign, and decides through some process known only unto himself where the bus stops are) tricked us by asking who would be using the metro. I and many others raised hands, and then we were summarily kicked off the bus into the middle of traffic on a large busy street with a helpful gesture in a direction and the word metro shouted to us as the bus drove off.

Step 2: Figuring out departure / arrival times.

It took a couple of trips on the bus to realize that when you ask an employee of the bus system when a bus will leave or arrive, and he gives you an answer, he’s making it up. It is a terrible mistake to plan based on these answers. You can ask other riders… they will give you an optimistic scenario; adding an hour to their estimates puts you in the ballpark.

There are several reasons the buses run on such a wildly unpredictable schedule. The first is that the buses must pass through several police checkpoints along the way. When the bus reaches a checkpoint, an army guy will get on the bus and do something which ranges from going to the back to chat with some army buddies who happen to be riding the bus, to checking each and every person’s identification card / passport & visa.

The second is that along the way people will be hanging around the side of the road, hoping a bus will stop and pick them up. Sometimes the intercity bus does, sometimes not. I still don’t know what the decision rule for picking people up is, but as a general rule of thumb, the more in the middle of nowhere you are, the more likely the bus is to stop and pick up random people.

The third is that sometimes the bus driver will see someone he knows on the side of the road, and will stop the bus to get out and say hi, and have a quick smoke, talk about the recent soccer games, etc., while everyone else sits on the bus and waits. And, in St. Catherine, a fairly small town with exactly one road leading out, the bus driver stopped to talk to a friend of his, and then they both got on the bus. Then, as near as I can tell, we gave the guy a ride to work (the opposite direction to the way we needed to go). All this stuff adds substantial delay.

Step 3: Riding the bus

On the plus side, relative to all other internal combustion machines on Egyptian roads, the intercity buses are surprisingly modern. All the ones I was on had at least mildly effective A/C. For multihour trips through the desert, this may in the end be the most important thing.

On the minus side, the intercity buses are the only places outside of Cairo I’ve seen any roaches. And, unfortunately, the buses are modern enough to include video monitors, which leads to the worst thing about the Egyptian Intercity Bus Network:

Arab Television

Arab television comes in a few forms, listed here in order of decreasing watchability:

1) soccer (only shows in the Cairo subway stations; most watchable because the announcers only raise their voices for goals, which there are blissfully few of in soccer)

2) Arab music videos (beat is usually tolerable, singing usually not)

3) Arab movies (more on this in a moment)

4) Arab soap operas (all characters employ incessant banshee wailing apparently only comprehensible if the show is played at rock-concert volume levels)

All shops and some subway stations use type 4. Intercity bus TV uses primarily types 2 and 3. On 4 bus trips, I saw “Girl From Israel” twice (consecutive days), Jean Claude Van Damme in Universal Soldier 2: The Return (I don’t know how that got in there), and some 80’s Arab movie that looked like a cross between Rocky, and Fame. I saw that one twice also: twice in a row, in fact, the morning of the 9 hour trip from St. Catherine to Cairo.

It was difficult at first to figure out which of the movies was the worst, but I gave it some thought (not much else to do on the bus), and here is the ranking:

least bad: Arab Rocky/Fame. I was able to ignore large portions of it, making it the hands down least offensive.

worse: Universal Soldier 2. In spite of being in English, the plot was actually less comprehensible than:

the worst: Girl From Israel. This is the story of a man who is the younger brother of a guy killed in the 1967 war with Israel. While on vacation with his family he meets and falls in love with a Jewish girl, to the marked disapproval of both families.

I would like to say that at the end of the movie a compelling lesson is learned about the power of love to transcend petty human conflicts. But, I can’t. The lesson appears to be, and I’m going to tone it down so it’s readable for you, that over the years, no matter how many Arabs the violent, cruel, cowardly, rapacious Jews kill, rape, beat and threaten, they will never be able to break the sacred bonds of Arab family. The happy ending occurs when the guy abandons the trampy Jewish vixen, jumps overboard, and swims back to shore to be with his family.

It was so awful, I could only watch half each day.

Notes on the driving

The Egyptian equivalent of interstates provides unparalleled freedom for the driver to play around. The drivers seem to like to experiment with driving on the left side, driving in the middle, and driving on the right. The experiments take place completely independently of other activities, like passing slower vehicles or watching for oncoming traffic.

One time the Luxor-to-Edfu driver was experimenting with driving on the left side of the road, and a large pickup truck was approaching, also on the left side, and so rather than ruin the experiment by moving back into the completely-empty-for-miles right side, the driver simply pounded on the horn and forced the pickup to pass on the left shoulder. I was astounded, mostly because our driver looked really irritated at the other guy, who had the gall to interrupt this scientific endeavor.

And I wish my camera hadn’t been in the belly of the bus for the moment where our driver made a passing maneuver on a blind curve around a tractor trailer, when a tractor trailer came around in the oncoming lane. For one moment in time, the oncoming truck was straddling the left shoulder, the other truck the right shoulder, and we straddled the middle of the road. Incredibly, all 3 drivers appeared to execute this maneuver, with no more than a foot’s clearance on either side of our bus, while pounding on the horn with one hand and waggling the other hand furiously in the air and shouting at the other 2.

This moment also stands out as the moment when the little part of my brain that worries I might die in a fiery crash on the road gave a last little exhausted whimper and went catatonic. I haven’t heard from it since. It made the trip to Cairo a lot more bearable. Imminent head on collision? Yawn. Driver falling asleep, waking only occasionally to pull us back on the road when we’re drifting off into the sand, or to further crank up the already ear-splitting volume on the video we’re watching for the second time in succession? Whatever. Wake me when we get there, man.

Wow, if you have gotten this far, welcome to the end, and official membership into the overachievers’ club. Bye for now….


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