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Thursday, September 15, 2011

DESPITE SHITTY INTERNET

ISRAEL STAMP

I had mentioned before that you don't want an Israel stamp in your passport. When I was going through the Israel customs on my way back (with the fancy Egypt stamp) I had asked if the lady at passport control could please stamp a separate piece of paper. She decided to play it hard with me and say in a aloof tone "Why wouldn't you want an Israeli stamp in your passport?" I smiled at her and said "Because your neighbors suck." She started to do the restraining laughter thing, stamped the separate piece of paper and said "Thank you for visiting!" Humor - the cure for what ails you.



MAGIC BUS

Back in the 1960's there were a lot of wonderful things about buses. They even made songs like Magic Bus. The bus I got on was not fucking magical. If the bus I was sitting in was anything to judge the general transportation by, you want to get a cab. For the love of god, if you are in a group or can afford it, get a cab. If you try the bus, you will agree unless you are really macho.

The bus vaguely smelled of mold and piss. The more destitute a people are, the more religious they get as they hope God will get them out of whatever bad spot they are in. In Egypt, they are pretty religious. There are television shows where you can watch and listen to the Koran being read twenty four hours a day. On this bus, you can hear it pipped into all of the speakers right above your head. The speakers with no off switch or volume control. Dust, cobwebs and dirt adorn the crumbling and faded surfaces of the bus.

The bus ride is grim and a bit depressing though not as slow as I'd thought. Although I was getting of at Suez, I had to buy a ticket all the way to Cairo. Since it was a total of $14, I didn't bitch.

I'm hoping this is my last long trip in this mechanized torture device. I was remembering talking to Mustafa (aka Roy) about this twenty five years ago and I asked him if we should take a bus. He asked if I was crazy. We took cabs everywhere. I know why now.

The bus driver seems upset that all of his childhood hopes and dreams have been shattered and he must now drive a bus. All that keeps him going is the thought that the next revolution may put a gun in his hand so he can shoot up his bus and passengers.

While we were on this bus ride, I dozed off many times. I was having really odd dreams of the road and would jerk awake when the bus did something that didn't really fit in with what my dreams of the road were.

There was a big checkpoint near Suez where they brought out the bomb sniffing dogs. They forgot to look at my passport. I was really glad I didn't pack all of those dog treats I was thinking about earlier.

Regardless of the bus driver - whether it is the life hating wants to take you out with him one - or the good natured ones I got later - you want to watch them at the rest stop. When they start heading back to the bus, you want to be right behind them. When they get in the bus and sit down, they will sound the horn. The bus will be in motion about 15-20 seconds after that horn sounds. Within thirty seconds of that, full speed down the road. Yeah, I timed it. At one stop, I counted eight people who got on while the bus was in motion because they didn't pay close enough attention to the driver.

You know the netting on the back of the seats? You are suppose to be able to put things in it. Normally. Silly me. I didn't check to see if the bottom of the mesh was attached. Hence, a whole can of coke went right on through and quickly burbled out of the can. Naturally, the bus driver noticed the brown flood in his bus. Our eyes locked. At that point, I understood that if the revolution he had been hoping for happened, I'd be the first with my back to the wall.

Good times.

When we got to Suez, the word that springs to mind is 'dump'. When I looked at the internet, I found that others described it in the same way - so it's not just me. Also, there is no cheap place to say listed on the internet though there are plenty listed in Luxor.

Fortunately, there was only an hour delay in Luxor. After that delay, I got onto a nine plus hour bus ride to Luxor.

In all of the buses, it is too dark to read. They have some lights but they are pretty dim if they work. There are dark curtains over the windows. Should you open one, you will be asked to close it by the other passengers. Dark curtains keep out some of the heat and let the feeble air conditioning have a chance. Hence, there isn't really much to do on the buses except have a good shaking and your ass fall to sleep on the hard, uncomfortable seat.

Seat numbers are assigned but can be ignored by ignorant foreigners. If someone really wants their seat, you can move but normally, nobody really cares unless you are in the front row of seats. I typically avoid these and sit in the second row. I want to be able to hear the bus driver yell at me when it is time to get off.

I wanted to comment on the speed of the second bus but since the speedometer always read zero, I really couldn't say.

Normally it is a good idea to use the restroom before getting on a bus. On Egyptian buses I've seen, this is doubly so. In order to avoid needing to clean the restroom, they padlock it. I am not joking. They will offer to pull the bus over to let you piss on the side of the road, so better to torture the rest of the passengers and cause them to hate on you.

You may find that the bus will break down and stop from time to time. I've been told this is uncommon but judging by the age, service and quality of the buses I am somewhat dubious. The bus is stopped until the driver repairs it.

In America, the bus driver has only certain hours they work per day and per week to keep them mentally alert for safety. This is not the case in Egypt. Here, they substitute loud music and smoking to try to keep up. Since real sleep is impossible, everyone else slips into some sort of half waking coma.

If you are dumb enough - or poor enough - to travel by bus, keep your bus ticket handy. It will be checked repeatedly by the same person as well as by a slew of different people including some you suspect may not work for the bus at all.

As we continue to the south, the people are becoming darker and darker. Here, we have blacks. There are no 'African Africans'. Only the US is silly enough to use a term like 'African American'. Here there are blacks, whites, browns and who knows what else who all hate each other not based solely on race but a wide variety of things such as what tribe they are from, which religion they are and what the other people said about their Mary.

I was thinking about that Swiss girl's old bag backpack cover. Should I ever find one, I would like to get it Good camouflage.

Anyway, you have two main choices of seats. You can either choose to get squished in near the window or sit in the isle to be buffeted by an endless horde of portly Egyptians.

Enough about the bus - I think you get the point - it sucked. I wrote a lot about it because I had the time and was trapped.

So, I eventualy arrived in a completely deserted area in Luxor. The bus literally dropped me off in what looked to be a completely abandoned area and drove off. Fortunately, there was a military checkpoint nearby. The intercity mini bus didn't really want to stop for me - you could read that on the driver's face - but they did. I think it was the guy motioning with his assault rifle that got the compliance. It is like Al Capone said "You can go a long way with a smile. You can go a lot farther with a smile and a gun."

So, I took the minibus until they felt like dropping me off in a place that was so deserted it didn't have a military checkpoint. Even less around than the first place.

After they had driven off, the Tourist Police showed up. Tourist police are who the tourists go to to bitch they've been ripped off because they didn't know to read my blog ahead of time. So, the guy in the passengers seat talks to the driver - the driver gets out and sits in back with the other men. The highest rank guy takes over driving and gets me into the passenger seat. I show him the address in my book and off we go.

To the wrong place. They dropped me off at some fucking posh hotel on the same street. Note that Egypt doesn't have proper street addresses. Theirs are more like "Happy Street near the McDonalds". If you want to be a postman in a neighborhood, you pretty much have to be born and spend your life there. No, I'm not kidding.

So, I found a taxi who took me to the Oasis for 20 EGP. It was either twice or possibly four times as much as I should have paid but it was something like five in the morning. We managed to rouse the caretaker who was asleep in the lobby on the floor.

He took me to a room and charged me sixty EGP per night up front for two nights. After testing the AC and hot/cold water, I sent him away as he was making no sense to me and couldn't understand me either. I then paid off the cab driver by throwing money down three floors to him.

Yes, I'm on the third floor with a lot of stairs. Fuck stairmaster - I'm in a five floor building where I reguarly need access to the roof (it is the hangout place) and have to go up several flights just to get to my room.

Up next, Luxor!



POLITICS

I never bring up politics with Egyptians directly for four very important reasons. First, I don't want anyone to think I am more than a simple tourist. Second, it is a controversial subject. As Terry Pratchett said in one of this Discworld books, declaring and fighting a revolution is relatively easy compared to governing. Everyone knows how to shoot the bastards that got us to whatever bad place initially but after that, it all gets rather confused. I don't want to argue about politics because I am not a politician. When Egyptians ask my opinion, I tell them Egypt will (and must) figure it out. It is their problem. Lastly, I don't care. I don't care about American politics - I care little about other countries politics unless it is directly threatening my life at that particular moment.

I do feel that many Egyptians are torn between fearing and hoping that someone from 'outside' will come to solve their problems. Also, many Egyptians are blaming the Jews and 'Zionist Conspiracies' for their problems. I'm really not sure how they were keeping this country dirt poor but many of the people who have talked to me about politics bring this up. It is very strange to me.

We continued to drive along with the unrelenting holy music blasting in from above us. You have to be really religious to like it. I detested it. Since it may have been all that was keeping the driver from deciding to drive the bus off of a nearby cliff, I didn't say a word.

I was quite surprised at just how many military checkpoints we went through. There were three I had to show my passport for and at least that number again that I didn't. Considering what an economic mess the rest of the country is in, it strikes me as curious that the Egyptians are so worried about losing the Sinai. I think this goes back to the Zionist thing, see 'politics' section.



PHILOSOPHY

Are they called 'sandals' because they always get so much sand in them?



TRAVELER'S TIPS

As with pretty much every country I've been in, knowing some of the local lingo - especially greetings and the return phrase (such as 'salem ma lekum' and 'malekum al salam') scores high points with the natives, even those who speak English fluently.

Avoid chocolate in Egypt. I'm not sure what they do to it, but it is something bad. I'm guessing that it is to avoid it quickly melting in the hot sun. It reminded me of wet cardboard.



TRAVELER'S LORE

A buddy of mine who is another permanent traveler had something interesting to say about India. He called it a literal 'shit hole' because he said you could watch people shitting in the streets. He had quite a list of towns he had visited and he said that one month there was way too long - he should have left after a week.



COSTS

Newiba to Cairo via hellish bus, 80 EGP.

Cab rides seem to be roughly 2 EGP per kilometer.

Cost breakdown in Luxor not including 'tourist stuff': Lodging is (after haggling) 50 EGP ($10) per night. Food I can get for 35 EGP or less per meal hence a total of under $20 per day. That's roughly $30 per day - I can hang out here for awhile. If I can keep my food costs down and sit still for awhile, I might even increase my severely depleted money stash. Read some books, that sort of thing. I've got plenty to read.

At bus stop, half a chicken, sides and two cokes, 45 EGP.

At bus stop, at god knows what, 20 EGP and drank a thick mango drink with the consistency of motor oil, 7 EGP.

Bus from Suez to Luxor (hellish), 65 EGP.



EGYPTIAN CUSTOMS

You can wear whatever headpiece you want. Instead of being angry about it, people seem to think you like whichever tribe it came from.

In Egypt, they apparently don't dub movies as it irritates people. Instead, they use subtitles. Good. I may take in a movie sometime should I ever discover a theater.

Should someone open a door for you, you owe them money. Should they tell you directions to where you are going - you could owe them money. Should they point out anything of any dubious interest that you weren't looking for but were standing near enough to hear, you owe them money. Keep a lot of one point coins handy to pay off these 'backsheesh beggars'. One or two usually does the trick. If you are paying more it is because you have 'sucker' or 'stupid, gullible tourist' written on your forehead. Although some Egyptians have told me they also get charged, I have yet to see one pay another for something similar. Remember, tourists are seen as walking cash machines. Act appropriately. If you are not wanting to pay for a dubious service, do not let them perform it. If possible, just leave the area. Or act crazy.



VIDEOS

Sorry for the lateness of posting these, but internet speed in the Arabic World sucks ass.

From Amman, Jordan we have me wandering around a Roman theater: Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5

Amman shoe repairman
Amman supermarket
Bus from Amman
Wadi Rum intro
Wadi Rum
Thomas Hasselhoff
Bedo Vehicle
Faster than a speeding
The Gang
Sand Dune a
Sand Dune b
Lawrences House a
Lawrences House b
Bedo with ute
Rocks with holes
Gimme food
Trapped in Sinai

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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

{{2017}} Portugal: Faro | USA: Virginia | Michigan | Illinois | Colorado |

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