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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

CAIRO - BITS AND BOBS




MUSINGS

So at my hotel I'm at, the manager apparently didn't like the books saying I was paying 50 EGP (a bit less than ten dollars a night) for an air conditioned double that other people pay two to three times that for. I had repeatedly told the manager that I would be staying indefinitely and I said "Do not rent out my fucking room" to him. Daily. Today, I am told that this room is already reserved for tomorrow. But they can move me to a worse room. There is a saying I learned awhile back "Fuck me once, shame on you. Fuck me twice, shame on me." So, I bent all of my efforts into finding a different place to stay. Found a room in a different hostel for tomorrow night (the day I must vacate) for 60 EGP (about eleven dollars). I reserved it. Break a deal, face the wheel. There should be a wheel. So, I was going back to the original hotel and the rather snooty desk lady said "What did you decide to do?" I replied "Not tell you my plans." She asked again, I repeated it slower - no problem, English isn't her first language. She said, "OK. Let us know what you decide to do." I gave her a great big smile that she apparently correctly translated as 'Eat shit and die', judging by the look on her face. Major rule of traveling: Keep your own council till the last minute. They'll know tomorrow when I flip last night's stay charge at them as I'm walking out with my pack on that I won't be here any more. That saves on shenanigans now.

After being a day to 'get out' by the bitchy niece of the owner, I found the 'Australian Hostel'. Since it had a picture of a kangaroo in the logo, I figured I'd be OK there.

If you are going to fail, fail up!

The Australian Hostel has much more of a 'hip' feel to it. The internet is also literally two or three times faster. Although this isn't good by American (or South Korean) standards, it is much better than what I've been dealing with.

In talking with various Egyptians, they are all expressing a lot of optimism about the future. They think the new government will help correct many of the problems caused by the old. Something I've been curious about. Mubarek (old president) has apparently stashed billions away in assets which are now 'frozen'. Other dictators in the past have had their assets 'frozen' in the past. I'm guessing at some time, something happens to that money - right? I mean, the bank doesn't get to keep it all, do they? I am sure they carve off as much as they can, but what happens to the billions and billions of dollars at the end of the day? Does the new government 'put it toward public works'? By that, I mean "Does the new government steal it?" You never hear about that money unless it is 'frozen'. Curiouser and curiouser.

The other night, I played dominoes for the first time with three Egyptians who work at the hotel. They were very surprised that I won. Because of this odd happening, they all asked their names NOT be put in the blog. Oh, the shame! As a side note, I haven't won a game after that but I'm not really into dominoes. For those curious about it, it seems to have a healthy amount of luck involved.

Some people at the hostel had told me about chicken prepared in an unusual way. Basically, they squish it flat then grill it. I tried it out but it wasn't anything really special.

So I'm talking to an Indian guy this evening. He is talking about the difficulty of being too nice to people and getting taken for his money and how he is learning to be more 'hard nosed'. I told him about the 'dicks, pussies and assholes' theory from the movie Team America. I told him that I had to learn to be nice because my default setting is 'dick'. I also revealed that while many people have the 'nice' label on their foreheads, I have the 'seeped in old evil' on my soul. At the end of the conversation, he thanked me and said the conversation was 'very enlightening'. His body language said "We are done here." I smiled with the "I'm happy to be a dick smile" and went back to what I was doing before.



THE QUEST FOR THE THAILAND VISA

I will be telling the full story after I disappear into Thailand. This is a bit of a parallel story.

Outside the Thai embassy, they have guards that are from the Egyptian army. While I was waiting on documents and people, I decided to go have a smoke with these guards. After checking with the guards and discovering they all liked Pepsi (beb-si), I got the three of them Pepsis. (4xsoda=10EGP). These guards used very old Romanian assault rifles of some sort though I couldn't pinpoint exactly what kind. They asked me not to take pictures of their weapons. Given the shape they were in, I can understand that.

For now, lets just say that the Thailand embassy has all of my paperwork as well as my passport for 'processing'.

Which makes it a bit awkward for me if I am asked for my passport by the Egyptian authorities - since I am required by law to always carry it in foreign countries as are all tourists...



CAIRO NOTES

Although I've really had no interest in going to the pyramids or big museum they have here (did that twenty years ago, don't feel the need to go again), I do like the energy of Cairo. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of Terry Pratchett's 'Ankh-Morpork'. You can see the gears of the machine as it works. It is one of the grittiest, dirtiest cities I've been to. I've walked quite a lot in it, down forgotten (well, I forgot them anyway) byways and alleys. Through bazaars where strange goods are sold. What also helps in my comparison of Cairo and Ank-Morpork is that both cities have a river that you couldn't easily convince someone to swim in.



EGYPTIAN CUSTOMS

I've been told that the police here have very little firearm training. The weaponry is just basically part of the uniform. Given how they seem to handle them (as well as 'gun safety' and 'gun security' (keeping them out of reach of civilians) I can certainly believe it. The Muslims think there is nothing worse than a godless man. I think there is nothing worse than some heavily armed guy who doesn't know how to use his weapons. Note, I'm not sure if this generalization applies only to soldiers, police or the bank guards with the triple clip in their MP-5's.

Mohammed quote: "Human life (in Cairo) is cheap. We have a lot of spares."

On Friday (the Islamic holy day) voices can be heard coming out of the loud speakers literally all day long. Sometimes, it is so long and rapid you wonder why the speaker doesn't pass out from lack of air.

Hissing. This is an interesting custom. As you are walking down the street, if you hiss at people they take this as 'pardon me, coming through'! It is not seen as rude and you don't have to do it very loud. It isn't seen as rude. It does work. Good to know on the busy, crowded streets where the sidewalks are people who are selling unneeded shit.

Like propane? Have you ever wanted to buy a rusty tank of it without the need to leave your home or place of business? In Egypt, you can. People ride around bikes with four rusty tanks strapped to the back. In order to let the customers know they have it, they like to use a metal wrench to hit the tanks. It gives off a distinctive sound. Not so distinctive as the explosion I had expected, well hoped for. But a distinctive sound, nonetheless.

The depths of my ignorance often astound and distress me. There was a brown smudge on many men's foreheads as they were wandering around. I noted it but didn't remark upon it. It turns out these are rug burns. Really. While it is true that a hat or bandanna or something could be worn to prevent this, if you did, how would people know how devout you were?



MEDICAL

Eventually, I broke down and had Mohammed the taxi driver take me to an eye doctor. Doing two short trips with him (to the Thai embassy then the eye doctor) enraged him. He told me not to call him again. Apparently, his help and friendship are only available when I am paying a high rate for them. Fuck him. This was distressing only because he was the only person who seemed able to find the Thai embassy. Fortunately, because I am a distrusting, suspicious and paranoid person, I talked to two different people and got directions - one to the embassy and one that is to a famous restaurant within walking distance to the embassy.

After getting dropped off at the medical clinic by my disgruntled taxi driver, I managed to get one of the eye doctors aside to quiz him to see if he knew what Iritis is. If he didn't, our conversation would be over and I'd move on. Fortunately, he did know all about it. I turned over the 150 EGP ($30) and they did some looking and such. He then assigned me two drugs. One of which is my old friend Pred Forte and the other one is some weird shit he described as a 'condom'. Normally, he would take a look at my eye in a week to see if the pressure was building on the eye from the Pred Forte then tell me if I needed this other stuff (Cosopt, for you amateur pharmacists) and then have me take it if it did. He said to pick it up now. If my eye hurt (from pressure) after a week then start using that. In the states, he explained, you couldn't assign drugs like this due to liability and such. Here in Egypt, no problem - everything is 'take at your own risk'. I left happy. The Pred Forte, so expensive in America is 15 EGP here. The Cosopt is about 85 EGP. Not happy about such an expensive condom, but what the hell, I'll have it with me just in case. I might pick up some extra Pred Forte for the future but it is strong, nasty shit so I am wary of it.

My having no permanent address, cell phone, giving incorrect and untrue personal details (like name, birth date) on the forms they had me fill out seemed to stress them a bit but the money the understood perfectly. It turned those frowns upside down! Aside from my various internet connections and reliance on my bank account for my meager funding - oh and of course crossing borders legally and needing to show my passport - but aside from all of that - I am now living mostly 'off the grid'. Nifty.



CLOTHING COUNT

For those who have been asking, the clothing count. All of the clothing I own amounts to the following: Four shits, seven underwear, three shorts, seven bandannas, two badly custom made long cotton pants suitable for desert wear, twenty socks (don't give me any shit about that number - good sports socks are impossible to come by in some parts of the world and are amazingly expensive in others) and two keffiyehs. One microfiber towel.



FACEBOOK FOLLIES

Thanks to Behzad on Facebook for this gem:




MOVIE REVIEW

Bridesmaids. I'd give this a six out of ten. Although there were some good jokes in here, the main character (right up to the end) was such a douche-bag.



TRAVELER'S TIPS

No rubber bands. I'm not sure if it is age (4-6 months doesn't seem long), heat or other conditions that did it, but mine melted. I now have an interesting, sticky mess to clean out of my backpack. You don't really use rubber bands later anyway. Cord is your friend.

Thinking you are going to wrap up your business to an embassy (any embassy, any business) in one trip is not clever. Don't have anywhere urgent you need to be on the day of your visit to an embassy or consulate.

Everything is negotiable. Unless they are booked full, you can negotiate with almost every hostel owner - unless you book on Hostelworld (etc). Bookings are for 'gaspers' (people who are taking their gasp of life on a short vacation) or people who like to pay full price or people who absolutely positively must stay at that hostel. The price shown for rooms and such in hostelworld is often simply not true. If you have time and flexibility, you can haggle. If you come stumbling in at 3AM and desperately need to sleep, just give them the money and go crash.



YUMMY




COSTS

Shitty meal in a cockroach infested restaurant that Mohammed my taxi driver took me to against my better judgement, 30 EGP

An interesting looking drug dispenser (pill holder) that has a design which hopefully won't spill out my medicine all the time. Bought two at 15 EGP each.

Meal: 5-25 (on up) EGP. Note, the food isn't really anything that special in Egypt. Not good, not bad - middle.

White rum. Like Egyptian food, it is neither good nor bad but somewhere in the middle: 55 EGP.

5KM cab ride, 7 EGP

Cigarette lighter, 2.5 EGP

Medium sized spaghetti with some sort of strange meat, 7 EGP

Flat chicken meal, 35 EGP

Airplane ticket to Bangkok. Despite all of the sites saying it is only $377, when you dig into it and actually try to buy it - oh, gosh, that ticket has just sold out. Sure, it is still showing this price but we are full of shit! The actual lowest price (via Egypt Air) turned out to be $463. Beware of buying tickets for the old 'bait and switch' routine. My method did involve finding everyone I could who was traveling between Cairo and Bangkok which (for those interested) included Qatar, Royal Jordanian, Gulf Air, Kuwait Airways and Emirates.



CAIRO VIDEOS

Driving fun
From the Lips of Mohammed

Hot Chicken Soup
Sweatin with Hot Chicken Soup

Elevator
Kurgan
Only five Egyptian pounds

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PICTURES

{{2011}} London, GB | Rail N Sail | Amsterdam, Netherlands | Prague, Czech Republic | Budapest, Hungary | Sarajevo, Bosnia | Romania | Chisinau, Moldova | Ukraine: Odessa - Sevastopol | Crossed Black Sea by ship | Georgia: Batumi - Tbilisi - Telavi - Sighnaghi - Chabukiani | Turkey: Kars - Lost City of Ani - Goreme - Istanbul | Jordan: Amman - Wadi Rum | Israel | Egypt: Neweiba - Luxor - Karnak - Cairo | Thailand: Bangkok - Pattaya - Chaing Mai - Chaing Rei | Laos: Luang Prabang - Pakse | Cambodia: Phnom Penh | Vietnam: Vung Tau - Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City

{{2012}} Cambodia: Kampot - Sihanoukville - Siem Reap - Angkor Wat | Thailand: Bangkok | India: Rishikesh - Ajmer - Pushkar - Bundi - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Jasalmer - Bikaner - Jaipur - Agra - Varanasi | Nepal: Kathmandu - Chitwan - Pokhara - Bhaktapur - (Rafting) - Dharan | India: Darjeeling - Calcutta Panaji | Thailand: Bangkok - again - Krabi Town | Malaysia, Malaka | Indonesia: Dumas - Bukittinggi - Kuta - Ubud - 'Full Throttle' - Gili Islands - Senggigi | Cambodia: Siem Reap | Thailand: Trat | Turkey: Istanbul | Georgia: Tbilisi

{{2013}} Latvia: Riga | Germany: Berlin | Spain: Malaga - Grenada | Morocco: Marrakech - Essauira - Casablanca - Chefchawen - Fes | Germany: Frankfurt | Logan's Home Invasion USA: Virginia - Michigan - Indiana - Illinois - Illinois - Colorado | Guatemala: Antigua - San Pedro | Honduras: Copan Ruinas - Utila | Nicaragua: Granada | Colombia: Cartagena | Ecuador: Otavalo - Quito - Banos - Samari (a spa outside of Banos) - Puyo - Mera

{{2014}} Peru: Lima - Nasca - Cusco | Dominican Republic | Ukraine: Odessa | Bulgaria: Varna - Plovdiv | Macedonia: Skopje - Bitola - Ohrid - Struga | Albania: Berat - Sarande | Greece: Athens | Italy: Naples - Pompeii - Salerno | Tunisia: Hammamet 1

{{2015}} Hammamet 2 | South Africa: Johnnesburg | Thailand: Hua Hin - Hat Yai | Malaysia: Georgetown | Thailand: Krabi Town | Indonesia:
Sabang Island | Bulgaria: Plovdiv | Romania: Ploiesti - Targu Mures | Poland: Warsaw | Czech Republic: Prague | Germany: Munich | Netherlands: Groningen | England: Slough | Thailand: Ayutthaya - Khon Kaen - Vang Vieng | Cambodia: Siem Reap

{{2016}} Thailand: Kanchanaburi - Chumphon | Malaysia: Ipoh - Kuala Lumpur - Kuching - Miri | Ukraine: Kiev | Romania: Targu Mures - Barsov | Morocco: Tetouan | Portugal: Faro

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