Live from Egypt

by: Sara Bozich
May 5, 2004

4/28/2004
I should write now before I fall asleep. It’s 11 p.m. Cairo-time, 5 p.m. Harrisburg-time. Upon our arrival here today, most of the group headed to the pool bar. I had a couple Stella Lagers, an authentic Egyptian beer, and swam around talking to new people.

Around 4 p.m., we went to the Bazaar — a 24-hour street fair, or market. The very first thing I saw here was a literal cat fight. Cats roam the streets here, skinny and scruffy looking. It’s kind of odd.

I began shopping by looking at some figurines. Here, you have to bargain for everything. We were instructed to only pay 1/3 the seller’s original asking price, but it’s hard. I made friends with the seller (probably because I was overpaying), who then took me around to other vendors, whom he called his brothers. I met a few other men, all quickly smitten with my blonde hair. I was asked if I wanted an Egyptian husband or boyfriend. I appropriately turned them down.

Once I escaped these admirers, I met our tour guide, Hani Michael, at a cafe where we smoked honey-flavored tobacco from a water pipe (same as Mars’ hookahs), and I had a warm Diet Pepsi. It cost me a total of $2.

As we gathered to meet our bus, children swarmed around us, begging, as well as the handicapped and disabled. Security and our tour guides shooed them away, but they were rather persistent.

On the return trip to the hotel, we discovered how how huge the marketplace was. I had barely made any leeway at all, hitting a mere fraction of the street.

Driving here is ridiculous, and I am quite happy to be transported by bus. Our guide informed us that there are 17 million people in Cairo (70 million in Egypt). I swear all of them are on the road trying to get in the same lane, or brazenly crossing to the other side.

Later that night, we ate dinner at Japanese restaurant in the hotel. I had sushi and hibachi-cooked food. Excellent friend rice, its secret ingredient was garlic butter. I drank another Egyptian beer — Sakara. It is much taster than Stella, and comes in a larger can.

April 29, 2004
I almost missed our tours today by oversleeping this morning. We saw the Pyramids, which are just immense. We got to go inside one of them (as long as you didn’t have a bad back, bad knees, asthma, heart problems, or claustrophobia). We crawled deep below the pyramid to see the tombs. All of the artifacts have been moved to the Egyptian Museum, so they are rather bare.

After, we drove to another spot to ride camels, which was a trip. It was scary at first, but ended up being fun. We only paid $3, plus a one dollar tip, but I thought the ride would last a bit longer. They led us one way, and then our bus picked us up, rather than having a roundtrip camel tour.

Following, we saw the Sphinx, and from there it was to Memphis, Egypt’s first capital. There we saw a large statue of the King Ramses II.

After lunch was the Egyptian Museum. It was interesting, but we were all wearing down by then. Some people went to the jewelers, and they rest of us were transported by taxi to the hotel. Did I mention there are no speed limits in Cairo? It was exciting, like a roller coaster, only there weren’t tracks to assure we wouldn’t hit something or someone. I saw merges like no other. I can’t decide if these drivers are crazy or talented.

I met some of the guys at the pool bar for beers and chips (yep, regular potato chips). They were all going to the sound and light show (which I hadn’t signed up for), and we made plans to go out later and hit the Egyptian nightlife.

I sped off to the Internet cafe around the block — $1.50 an hour to check email.

Later, I met the guys in the bar, and we discussed with a man from across the street where to go. He drove us to a few “casinos” as they call them, but they were dinner and a show kind of spots — not exactly what we were looking for. As it turns out, nothing really starts happening until 11 or midnight at the earliest. We had to leave the hotel at 2 a.m. to catch our flight to Aswan, which was an hour earlier as we have just observed daylight savings time, so we bagged the idea and went back to the hotel.

April 20, 2004
Well, we’ve been up all night, not counting snoozes on the plane and the bus. We’ve already done some touring and before and in-between, a whole lot of waiting.

We arrived on the ship early (no one could stay awake on the bus during our tours), and I, of course, wasted no time shimmying up to the deck, bikini-clad and all.

The ship is fairly nice, but I pictured the deck to be more exotic looking. It has a very small pool, no bar, and almost too many chairs.

Same day, 9:37 p.m. Nile time
I just came from dinner, a barbeque on the sundeck. It was nice to dine in the open air, in the middle of the Nile River.

On this evening’s tour of the Ptolemaic Temple built for Horus and Sobek, our guide showed us a wall inscribed with the Egyptian calendar. She explained how they came up with it and taught us our to read it. It was quite remarkable.

Before sunset, we were given shopping time again, specifically to buy a “gallebia,” a long dress worn by men and women, in this case for our upcoming party on Saturday night. Women’s gallebias are more ornate, brightly colored and decorated in sequins, coins, etc.

I also saw a snake-charmer. You often have to tip people to take their picture (or for them to take your pictures, which they’ll often offer to do — you have to refuse because some of them will demand more money from you), and I was out of ones, but fortunately a fellow traveler paid him for me so I was able to snap their photo.

May 1, 2004 10:24 p.m. Nile time
I woke from a wonderful sleep at 6 a.m. (the bed and sheets in this cabin are great). We had coffee, then toured the second largest temple in Egypt, the Temple of Horus. We took a horse-drawn carriage to the site, where we were greeted by another marketplace. It was a good tour, and I think I got some good photos. Afterward, we boarded the boat for breakfast.

We had the rest of the day free so I spent it appropriately sunbathing by the pool.

We spend many hours docked today in order to wait our turn to pass through the “lock.” First, we had to pass through an opening in a small bridge (not a drawbridge, but similar) that was only open a few hours per day — and there are a number of similar ships doing the same thing we are. Then we had to wait to go through the lock. I wasn’t familiar with the process, but what happens is that the following part of the river is apparently lower, and we sale into this “lock,” and water is pumped out to lower the level to that of the proceeding portion of the river.

While we were docked, I could see Egyptian children playing soccer in a nearby field, and some of them came over to the bank and threw film canisters filled with stones. We were to put money in them and throw them back. Children beg everywhere here, and we were instructed to bring pens to give them when we see them in the street, as well. I threw a dollar back in the canister once, and one boy thanked me, while another called, “One for me pretty lady,” while blowing me a kiss.

Tonight we all wore our gallebias to dinner and to the party that followed in the lounge. After dinner, most people went to the deck to watch us go through the lock, and I am missing the party since I came down to work on my column.

Tonight the housekeeping staff folded my bedspread into the shaped of an alligator. They are very creative. This morning my towel was a snake, and yesterday a swan.

5/2/2004 5:38 p.m. Luxor-time
As of deadline, I am writing from an Internet cafe in Luxor, Egypt. We are docked here for the remainder of our trip, until we leave to fly back to Cairo at midnight tomorrow, then out of Cairo to JFK the following morning.

This morning we toured the Valley of the Queens and the Valley of the Kings. We also stopped at a market where they make alabaster figures by hand. I again spent the day by the pool — these final days have been relaxing like that. Tonight, belly dancers will be our entertainment following dinner, and tomorrow we will go sailing.

While I am having an amazing time, I cannot wait to have a hamburger, french fries and an ice-cold Diet Coke, servers that speak my language and stores with price tags on the merchandise (rather than bargaining on the street — things the good ol’ American way.

May 2, 2004
Around 11 p.m., we went to the lounge for tonight’s entertainment. The first was a bellydancer, and Hani pulled people up to dance with her. Eventually my turn came, and I impressed everyone with my hip moves. But much more spectacular than me or the bellydancer was the whirling dervish, who spun in one direction for nearly 15 minutes, allthewhile doing tricks with hats and shedding his colorful layers until he appeared like a spinning top.

Hani pulled me out to dance again to “regular” (old American) dance music, and a few people got on the floor for a song or two.

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