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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

EGYPT - LUXOR TO CAIRO

OASIS HOTEL

My overall feeling on the Oasis Hotel as I'm getting ready to leave it. It wasn't a bad deal for $10 US (50 EGP)/night.. It has a lot of frustrating parts, five flights of stairs - some of which are uneven and slippery.

Some of the staff wanted to be helpful but didn't speak much English.

I would stay there again if I was in Luxor.



LOOKING BACK ON LUXOR

The Sinai was a very different place. Only the cab drivers were a menace there. I didn't have some crazy cat lady chase me down the street waving Bast figurines. No horse drawn carriage drivers stopping in the middle of a busy street to try to lure me into their carriage - their shouts drown out by the cacophany of outraged honking. No small boys attempting to surround me yelling "Money, money, money!" Clearly, they have been taught by their parents that tourists are walking ATM's - they just don't know the code word "My friend!" which actually means "Hey, sucker!" Aside from kids in Luxor, I really haven't seen many outright beggars. Mostly 'baksheesh beggars' or people who were trying to sell small things of tissue (which Jana would approve of as she is a tissue fiend) in order to get some money.

It is sad to compare this to the Egypt I recall from twenty plus years ago where people would wave at you as you drove past in a cab just to be friendly

It makes me want to leave Luxor.

I had thought about 'What is it I'd like about a country' and come up with a list. I'd like inexpensive (by my meager standards), good internet, moderately interesting (doesn't have to be highly interesting - anything above 'fucking dull) area to wander around in sometimes (and my standards are faily low on this) and people who aren't looking to fleece me. In the winter, I'm happy to go to an area that doesn't snow. I don't care if it is lashed by a monsoon to start with (as this is interesting).

That should allow me to save up some money and get some options. I haven't seen some parts of Europe and such yet. I'd like to get above the 'magic number' of dollars in my money and only spend down to that. But that may take awhile of hard saving.

We'll have to see how it goes.



THE NEXT STEP

One of my buddies (we'll call 'Bill' because he likes his privacy) who lives in Thailand has convinced me to come visit him while I sit to recharge my money. He has also pointed out that there are five or so countries in easy distance I can explore.

I had pondered of going to explore the rest of Africa but the countries either look expensive or dangerous. There is a few countries that aren't, but they seemm to be islands in a sea of shit.

Hence, at last I will be off to south east Asia.

I don't know what awaits me in Cairo, but if it is more of the same as from Luxor, a speedy escape will be my goal. If I like it, I may dally. I think partially it will also depend on if my visa starts when it is issued or when I arrive.

Fortunately, 'Bill' has lived i Thailand for ten years. I can get some tips from him. This will also put me closer to Pete's neighborhood for a possible part two to the vacation. Matt - you blew your chance - I'm now getting further away for right now. Though next summer I might be back to visit Poland - I've heard excellent things about it.



NARRATIVE

Today, I'm off for a hellishly long nine hour [it turned out to be over 10] train ride to cairo. I've got to find a place to camp out for awhile the set about finding the Thailand Embasy. I have to get my extended visa (per 'Bill Blogs' instructions the leave the country.

If all goes well, I should arrive in Cairo by ten at night or so. This is well after I want to arrive. Never arrive in a strange place after dark. But it seems to be the only option as train tickets were sold out.

When I got to the train station, I had my first big stroke of luck. A train pulled up when I got to the station at ten in the morning and I asked a guy (in Arabic) if the train went to Cairo. To ask in Arabic if the train goes to Cairo, you point at the train and say "Cairo?" He responded that it did indeed. I got on the train. Officially, due to a combination of silly rules and massive corruption, the train stations are not suppose to sell tickets for anything to foreigners other than the wildly overpriced night train. They will always claim that the train is sold out for the next five days. I'm not sure what they'd do if you said "And on day six, bitch?" but it is worth pondering. I did try following their 'fleece the tourist' rules and get the sixty dollar night train ticket but it was also sold out. Hitchhiking in Egypt totally doesn't work - the locals will demand money for taking you for a lift even if they are going that way anyway - at taxi cab prices.

Hence you may as well just get a cab.

I don't want to pay for a cab, so I just got onto the 'verbotten' (forbidden) train and decided to see what would happen. I reasoned that I could buy a ticket enroute. I sat in second class and got a second class ticket for 52 EGP. They have three classes of cabins and the tourists are only suppose to ride in first class due to the 'fleecing policy'. Apparently, the conductor that sold me the ticket didn't know or care about that. I got sold the second class ticket for under $10 USD, saving me about fifty dollars.

I sat around and periodically dozed or went into 'long travel comas'. I couldn't see out the windows for part of the time because there was a guy asleep against the screen that was pulled down over it.

Nothing is fast in Egypt and travel reflects this.

Periodically, beggars would shuffle through the train attempting to beg money off of the passengers. In most countries, this is not permitted. Here, I think in the Muslim religion, you score points with The Big Guy for helping out beggars. The train staff wanted everyone to have the opportunity to score points. Hence, the beggars as well as the people who sold shit went back and forth working the passengers. I don't mind the people who are selling stuff - I even bought some fairly foul sweets off of one of the guys. This ended up being my only meal for the next half day.

I had been told by the Kiwis that the trick is to never leave your seat - even if the guy with the ticket turns up. This didn't work. The conductor got involved and suddenly everyone could speak English. I got moved to a different seat. Upon my getting moved the second time, the kindly conductor decided to bump me up to first class since I was a foreigner. This is my second big stroke of luck. A procession of railway employees materialized, grabbed my pack and gear and we then marched through about six or more cars of the train. I don't think this is just my uncanny luck - I think it is also the innate kindness of the Egyptians manifesting itself. But the luck doesn't hurt.

So, then I was in first class. I paid the conductors some baksheesh (expected tip) and sat down with the amazing leg room. The seat was much like being in a first class seat on an airplane. The car was filled with the usual mix of the 'lets listen
to my radio' people and those with kids who were bored out of their minds and Completely out of control.

I had a different conductor materialize and tell me that I wasn't suppose to be in first class. I told him in a loud voice that I had been happy in second class but had been moved by another conductor and please go talk to him. He wandered off, angry that he was trapped in his own life. Later, he decided to exercise his power over me by giving me the 'if the person comes whose seat it is, you must vacate the seat. Buying a ticket on the train does not guarentee your seat' talk. Because I was bored, I was very bored on the train ride, I was playing the "I do not understand your horrible English" game and stretching out our time together. Unfortunately, an Arabic lady who had the Innsmouth look (which included not only bulging eyes but both eyes were 'lazy' and 'wandering') came to translate. This ruined the game and I returned defeated to my seat.

The person who actually owned the seat either never made it to the train or had already disembarked. That was my third stroke of luck on this trip.

One thing I found odd was how possessive I got about a seat that I didn't pay for and was there only by the grace of the kindly conductor. I think I am wired in a very odd manner. I will have to give that more thought and perhaps learn to 'let go' more. Life is a lesson combined with a test. But you get the test before the lesson. That is what makes it a pain in the ass.

So, the amazingly long trip continued. I got plenty of nicotine. Despite no smoking being allowed on the train, this does not deteur Egyptians. They figure between the cars and outside of the seating areas is OK.

Despite the rattly often neck snapping bumpy ride, I really enjoyed getting to travel across the country for $1 per hour.

The train ride had gotten rough enough that nobody was trying to lean their head against anything. I'm not sure if the heat messes up the tracks or if they just don't maintain them but it is neck snapping excitement. Since the sunscreen was free of head, I was able to raise it to observe the landscape. Sugar cane looks like corn from a distance and everyone seems intent on growing it. Not many other crops in evidence.

I've also noted that where humans live is a huge problem with litter. In Egypt this is extremely pronounced. It is like living in a landfill in some places. I was told that pre-revolution it was much cleaner. Apparently, revolutions make a lot of trash.

As I pass houses, I think 'no matter how rude the dwelling, how decrepit, how messed up, they all have a satellite dish sticking out so they can get their TV fix. I remember something similar in Korea in the 1980's but with TV antennas. I do wonder if the satellite dishes make it more difficult to 'stop the signal'. The 'signal' (internet) does make it harder for despots who prefer to work in the shadows.

I believe that Muslims believe helping beggars somehow builds you merit with God. The people on the train wanted to give us plenty of opportunity to score points with the big invisible man in the sky because first class got worked by at least five beggars.



ARRIVAL AT CAIRO

I met up with a nice guy on the train who helped point me in the right direction to get out of the train station and over to the area where I thought (ha!) I would be staying. I had considered going to a place a nice couple had told me about called Arabian Nights Hostel but it was too far away. It was late night and I was exhausted. I was already in downtown Cairo so I went for the 'Wake Up! Cairo Hostel.' I talked to their extremely cool desk guy who told me they could give me a bed in a dorm for 50 EGP. But only for one night because it was booked solid after that. I really wasn't interested in paying the same rate for a bed as I'd been paying for an entire room in Luxor. Ah, but this is Cairo, sir. I thanked him politely for verifying that I was indeed in Cairo (I have my moments!) and asked him to direct me to another hotel.

Cut to, the Arabesque Hostel. There was a guy named Tiger at the desk and we fell to haggling. I got the room (twin) for 50 EGP. The next day, Tiger tried to explain that it was actually 70 EGP and I hadn't understood him. I firmly explained this was not the case and if you 'break a deal, you face the wheel'. After enough Logan had been done to him, he whited out seventy and wrote down sixty. After more than enough Logan, he whited out sixty and wrote in fifty. He had enough Logan served to him.



AROUND CAIRO

I like this city feel a lot more than Luxor. Here, tourists are such a small piece of their income I haven't been hassled in days. Nobody cares! They are too busy with their own shit to follow me around in a horse drawn cart, or talking about their boat or holding up lots of traffic to try to talk me into their cab.

Hanging out here for a few days shouldn't be a huge problem. Irritating, as I'm being forced to do it rather than by choice, but not bad.

So, I decided I wanted to hire a cab for a day. I picked up a cab driver named Mohammed. Everyone here is named Mohammed. They are all very happy the big prophet had a cool name rather than something very silly.

Mohammed took me to the Thai embassy. I explained to the guy I wanted to stay for an extra sixty days and got grilled. Eventually, he acquiesced to give me the list of the paperwork I would need. After I repeated it and asked if there was anything else, he figured out some other stuff. Not a really professional place. It seems though that it is all based on 'how do they feel about you' so I've got a decent chance. I used what training and know how I possessed to try to get around some of the paperwork but there was too many and too crowded to even think about bribing him. And it didn't feel like that was what he was looking for. So, I have some stuff I needed to get and other stuff my Thai contact (Bilbo Baggins) needed to get. So, it will be some work.

I then had Mohammed take me shopping. This is always a mistake as I do much better alone than with someone else. Although he was impressed with my bargaining skills on one item, he felt I paid too much on another. The item I paid too much for was some blank books. I got a couple shitty ones that maybe should have cost 5 EGP for like 30 EGP. Never bargain when tired, bored or 'just to get it over with'. And these books suck - basically I can toss them and be happier. Fear not, I was alone later that night and passing a shop. I saw some books like the ones I want and said "Ah, I was at a place and wanted to get these earlier but didn't have any money on me. I was going to go back tomorrow and get them. They were 15 EGP there - how much are they here?" The merchant quickly responded they were 15 EGP. I picked up five and left. I may have slightly fibbed when I said 15 EGP at the other place as they were actually 50 EGP each. My bad.

The place Mohammed took me to eat was literally a cockroach infested dump.

This tells me that I really don't need to hire cabs for the day any more unless I'm just wanting a driving tour.

But Mohammed was good company. He had a lot of interesting tidbits about the country. One thing he mentioned (no idea if it was true or not) is that the pistol/weapons some of the cops have is merely part of the uniform. They don't really know how to use them. For Muslims, they can imagine nothing worse than a godless man. For Logan, he can imagine nothing worse than a man with a firearm and no training. A good quote from Mohammed, "Life is cheap here - we have plenty of spares."

Eventually, my back started hurting really bad so I had him return me to the hotel.

Later that night, I went to Abu Tarek's restaurant. I went looking for miscellaneous Egyptian food. I found a very Egyptian restaurant - high volume place, packed with Egyptians. Aside from drinks, they only have two things on the menu: Koshery, large and Koshery, medium. There is no small. Koshery is a starchy, cheap noodle dish served with tomato sauce and miscellaneous other shit. This is one of the things that makes Egyptians look more like Americans (portly). It was a cheap meal for around $2 USD and very fast. Also, there was no 'upcharge the foreigner' thing - same price as the locals. I managed to eat half a medium and was full for the night.


The only thing irritating is that the internet here is the same 'oh my god this is worse than fucking dialup' (it's not but I'm still hating on it) style I have experienced elsewhere in Egypt. Another couple of decades might be required to get an upload speed that gives me more than 1 MB per minute. This will displease TJ who wishes me to record longer videos in order to catapult myself into TV stardom. With my own 'beeper' for when I talk in American.



PHILOSOPHY

Although I don't consider traveling as 'glamerous' and I often talk about the hard and or shitty aspects. These are something NOT talked about in normal travel stuff. I am covering them simply because they are often glossed over by a starry eyed traveler who wants to see yet another big pile of old rocks. Despite this, I do enjoy a change of scenery. Some people (including my wise mentor) lament after the fact that I haven't found anything I seem to like. I decry this. I am finding it all vastly interesting. Sometimes though, after the fact. In some cases, it might be long, long after the fact. I can honestly say I am having the time of my life right now, going to foreign countries and bitching about them.

This strikes me as strange, but very American.

Something I am not putting in the blog is my endless, long, rambling strolls around the places I'm at. Stopping for tea and playing backgammon with the old men. And getting beaten. Take it for granted that I'm usually doing this kind of shit. Or, sitting in my room and writing this blog.



TRAVELER'S TIP

Sort your money in private. Big bills inside the fold, small shit on top. This will help reduce the number of times you have to fan out your money and scream "Gosh I hope I get robbed!"

When traveling in Egypt, do what the locals do. At a minimum on trains bring a roll of toilet paper and a big bottle of water. At a minimum.



TRAVELER'S LORE

In India, check out Goa and Kerale - they don't try to sell you shit.



COSTS

Breakfast sprite at Oasis Hotel, 3 EGP
Koshary (starchy, fattening dish of all noodles with some chilli stuff on top and red liquid you can pour on for some heat), 4 EGP

Hiring a taxi for the entire day to do your evil bidding, 200 EGP

Shitty meal in a cockroach infested dump, 30 EGP

Medium Koshery, 7 EGP

Fanta, 4 EGP

12 pieces of laundry in hotel at 'I can't believe I am fucking paying these prices', 30 EGP.



HEALTH WATCH

This exciting report is brought to you by the COTFSM. Worship their noodly appendages!

For the last two mornings, I've woken up with one eye red, bloodshot and a bit blurry. It went away after a couple hours. I'm going to monitor it closely to see if I need to go to the doctor. Explaining iritis to someone who doesn't speak English is a real bummer. Fear not those who want to give me dire warnings. I don't want to end up on the floor in pain for three months. Again. Especially in a place where I don't speak the language, etc.

Remember that something similar happened when I was in Georgia. Since the doctors here really don't understand me (or perhaps what is going on) it is pretty hit or miss.

So, it will either get better (yea!) or worse (doctor time).



VIDEOS

A Kiwi buddy of mine (AKA Thad) suggested I make some videos on what I keep in my bag.

Here you go!

Small bag
Big bag

Ninja spotting
Market
Safety Warning
Cairo driving

Children's Video

2 comments:

  1. Yeah, thanks for the vids. I did wonder about the litreage of bags. (And that blue card thing you didn't know about at the time is an SD card which can probably go in your camera and increase the storage capacity.)

    Good to see you're still having a fun time with it all.

    ReplyDelete
  2. More camera storage eh? I pick up some weird shit. Well, it doesn't weigh anything or take up space - I guess it can stay for awhile.

    Yes, I am enjoying myself.

    ReplyDelete

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

For videos with a Loganesque slant, be sure to visit here. You can also Facebook Logan.

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