Saturday, June 20, 2009

Random Travel Update 44

Last locations: Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, Alexandria, Sharm El-Sheikh Egypt
Arrival Date: June 2, 2009
Departure Date: June 13, 2009

Current location: Dahab, Egypt
Arrival Date: June 13, 2009
Departure Date: June 21, 2009

Next Locations: Jordan
Arrival Date: June 21, 2009
Departure Date: Undetermined

My favorite thing about Egypt is the ubiquitous reply to being American: "Obama! Number one!", sometimes repeated many times in a row in order to make sure that we know that they know that Obama is in fact "number one". It was particularly nice that Obama decided to come to Cairo the day after we arrived, presumably to thank us for all of our hard work on his primary campaign. I am going to return the favor by visiting him in DC this August.

With the exception of Dahab, Egypt is a chaotic place with an overwhelming presence of ancient and contemporary historical value. A recent resurgence of Islamic conservatism has many women walking the streets in black niqabs which revel only the eyes of the wearer and only a handful of local women choose to go bear-headed. The vast majority wear a hijab, and despite the near oppressive heat, no female goes anywhere wearing short sleeves.

The male culture is like that of undersexed adolescent boys and men have a difficult time vocalizing their appreciation of the opposite sex in an appropriate manner, an unfortunate phenomenon that even Islam and five prayers a day is apparently unable to remedy. Otherwise, Islam has done wonders here. Despite a high poverty rate, theft is almost unheard of and you can get out of most tourist scams and heckling by making an appeal to religion (helps if you speak Arabic). Though worlds dirtier, hotter, and louder than anywhere we visited in South America, Egypt is also worlds more interesting.

The cheapest flight out of Tucson was, unusually, a Sunday flight on the 31st of May which, to my delight, makes the dates of our trip very neat to work with. Day 1, June 1st, was spent on a long layover in Amsterdam which allowed us to arrive in Cairo on Tuesday June 2nd, exactly six weeks prior to our departure date from Istanbul on Tuesday July 14th.

I had meant to write this two weeks into our trip, but that goal has been delayed due to my inability to spend much more than 15 minutes at a time in the internet cafes which, like most places in Egypt, blatently encourage cigarette smoking by hiring only chain smokers to work the counter.

Our first week was packed with us getting out of the way all of the things that one must see when on a visit to Egypt. We spent three days in Cairo, couchsurfed in Maadi, checked out the famous Khan El Khalili market, killed time at the Ahwahs (traditional Egyptian coffee houses) playing backgammon and reminiscing over Jon's old Egypt days, and of course hung out with Barack Obama during his visit to the Pyramids of Giza.

On the night of day three, we hopped on an overnight train south along the Nile to Luxor where we saw all sorts of impressive Egyptian sites before heading further south to 47 degree Celsius Aswan where we floated along the Nile on lazy Feluccas, rode Camels to ancient Christian establishments and perused the Nubia Museum which was surprisingly worthwhile (and air conditioned). From Aswan, we took the uncomfortable 15 hour train back up to Cairo where we spent the morning before connecting with our afternoon train up to Alexandria.

We spent another afternoon in Cairo, where I visited the overpriced and under air conditioned Egypt Museum while waiting to catch the eight hour overnight bus to Sharm El-Sheikh, our first stop on the Sinai. We spent US$100 on a hotel room, $15 on lunch, $30 on dinner, $15 at the coffee shops, $30 to go dancing and left the next day to avoid blowing through the rest of our Middle East budget in a single weekend. Best thing about Sharm: The Hard Rock Cafe in Naama Bay which serves up a delicious Veg Burger and almost equally delicious frozen drinks in an air conditioned non-smoking section. Extra bonus: there is toilet paper in the bathroom. Truly incredible.

Better than Sharm, is the smaller and more authentic-feeling Dahab, just an hour up the East coast. It is a budget divers paradise, where you can strap on your gear and head straight to the ocean from your hotel at $25 per dive, gear, guide and tank included. An air conditioned room for two costs less than $10 and a candlelit waterfront meal adds up to $5 per person. It is about as idyllic as it gets.

Tomorrow we leave for the ancient city of Petra in Jordan and from there head north to the Dead Sea, Amman and Jeresh before crossing into Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

I was able to post the first set of Egypt photos to Picasa which I will attempt to edit and caption when I am reunited with my Macbook. For Jon's take on Egypt, visit sometime next week. I have been going through my emails to make sure that I haven't left any unanswered, often the consequence of my leaving the internet cafe abruptly due to cigarette smoke or computer failure. Please help by resending any emails that I may have missed.



1 comment:

Jewlicious said...

Nice randomly meeting you guys at the shuk. Let me know if you want to see off the beaten path bits of Jerusalem! You have my number, don't be shy.