Get Me off this Camel

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By Liz Mack

Hubby and I are travelling – if it makes any difference to how you interpret this story, we are 46 years old and no, we still have our brains and bodies intact!!

Arriving in Cairo at 2:00 a.m. was extremely tiring so nerves are frazzled and tempers are short. Armed with passport-size photos ready for the visa – long queue (who would have guessed) and military people all over the place (with guns of course). Trying hard not to look guilty – not that we were but guns make you feel guilty, get the picture? Get to the guy at the end and he says we must get our visas elsewhere before going through (of course!!!!). We go to the ‘bank’ (why didn’t I think of that??). Four banks and they all want you – all I want is a goddamm visa!!! So, we go to the first one armed with the right Euros (we were told they accepted this currency) but no, somehow along the way we were exchanging money into Egyptian pounds – that was such a quick transaction, I was totally stunned how we got sucked in so fast. He charged us 100 Egyptian pounds to exchange to 120 Egyptian pounds but we were too tired to care and Egyptian money is worth very little, so we walked away with our visa stamps, no photos required!

Cairo - get me off this camel, now!!!
Cairo – get me off this camel, now!!!
Back in the queue and we got through. Found our taxi transfer to the hotel instantly. Quite funny seeing your names on a piece of paper on the other side of the world (we are easily thrilled). He took us to his car which had more dents in than a demolition derby vehicle and put our bags in the boot. Hopped in the back and he turned this neon blue light on…felt like our own little ‘blue light district’ right there in the taxi!!!. Mark got the giggles but I made him stop in case this was culturally insensitive. Arriving late in the night makes you crazy I guess.

It was a real hoot as we proceeded to travel to the hotel – 3 lanes in the motorway, but this is ignored – at least 6 cars across most of the time – this WAS a demolition derby!! We followed cars so close you could have kissed the bumpers – speed wasn’t an issue – there was plenty of it. They beeped their horns CONSTANTLY. They only put their lights on when they want someone to get out of the way and the whole road is one big race track for them. Hard not to laugh.

Our trip thru Egypt was with Intrepid Travel. Tour leader was a female Australian – the group consisted of 6 more Australians and 4 Canadians. All girls except for Mark and one guy from Canada. Lucky I’m not a jealous person!!!

Went out for dinner the first night to a typical outside restaurant. I ignored all meat and went for rice and veges (have stuck to this most of the way through). Mark ate everything. Yes, he has had some side effects of that, but not too bad. I had a touch of stomach trouble. After dinner we were taken to this ‘coffee shop’ and given the traditional Egyptian ‘sheesha’. For those in the know it is like a bong, for those not in the know, it is a big pipe thing with water in the bottom and flavoured tobacco in the middle which is lit with embers on the top. You put this long pipe in your mouth and inhale. Very relaxing.

Culture shock is an understatement here, if Cairo is anything to go by. Without sounding snobby, this place is one grubby, smelly, hot mess. Not awful, just different. We visited one of many ‘souks’ (markets) where the dirtiness is abundant. Flies all over the meat and food, all types of animal shit everywhere you walk, mozzies in force every night, animals everywhere looking underfed, overworked, flea ridden and mangy. Sometimes you just have to close your eyes and mind to how they live etc. The traders are like leeches so you don’t really get too much of a chance to shop, or at least look, in the markets as they are all fighting for your money and they don’t give up, so you tend to move very quickly around. I learnt the word for no very quickly (la’a).

You can be ugly as sin, old as the hills, but if you have blonde hair, you are very desirable and constantly stared at. Being a Westerner alone is an attraction for these people – we are their life bread I suppose. The young kids (around 8-10 years old) come up and say ‘Hello’ and then a few seconds later say ‘Money?’ If you don’t respond it becomes one sentence ‘Hello Money?’ – funny.

Saw the pyramids and sphynx, which were awesome. So many tourists there at the same time, it is hard to get the real feel but hey, we were tourists too. There was a bit of a dust storm which was very hard on the eyes, let alone the hair (straw by the end of the day).

That night we got on a local train which was comfy enough but smelt really bad, especially the toilet. Mark used it (as men are lucky enough to carry their own pointer), but I hung on for the 13 hour trip (use your imagination for my arrival position!!). This was to a place called Aswan which was further south (hotter, yee ha). The hotel here was smaller and you could not swing a kitten, let alone a cat!!! The toilet was so close to the shower you could have done both at the same time. The toilet was clean so that was a small mercy. The bed filled the rest of the room and that was it. Anyway, moving on… we hit the markets again, same shit, different place.

Next day a ferry to the other side of the Nile to a Nubian village (look like black Africans as opposed to Egyptian). We met our host for the day (JJ) who showed us into his house which was the best house in the village. He gave us drinks and told us about his upcoming wedding and all the traditions that go with it; including the fact that he must live in his mother-in-law’s house for one month after the wedding (a fate worse than death???) and on the honeymoon night he has to keep paying his new bride money/gold until she smiles (big cheer came up from the girls on our tour when he said this; males moaned and said yeah right). Once she smiles, the honeymoon begins. My type of honeymoon!!!! He has also been given some goat’s milk stuff from his mother-in-law so that his performance is great for his new bride – much like Viagra.

Mark boogieing on down with the locals in a Nubian village
Mark boogieing on down with the locals in a Nubian village
Camels next… I freaked at how high they were off the ground – not big on heights. No choice but to get on. We were told that the camels have their own mind and may suddenly gallop (over my dead body!!). We were all lead by village boys – I told mine to not allow my camel to gallop (like he understood me!!). At one point my camel decided to gallop but it wasn’t as bad as I first thought. We were a bit sore and very sticky/wet from the ride when it finished at a village – the local women had cooked up a storm. We ate the dinner. They waited till we finished before eating themselves. Then they entertained us with a ‘band’ where some of us danced with the kids. Awesome!!!

Next day, up at 3:00 a.m. to travel to a place called Abu Simbel which has a big temple (or two). Left early because of the length of the trip there and back, and also because we had to travel in a convoy of buses/vans due to someone having been killed on the way here back in the 70s. This was one hot day – at least 40C+. Some were pretty bad tempered by the end of this, because the bus driver decided to be late – the rest of the convoy was ready to leave without us, but we made it in the nick of time!

This day was also our 23rd wedding anniversary so Mark and I went for a drink up on a sort of a terrace/hill thing that was called the Old Cataract Hotel (nothing to do with eyes) where we could look over the city and Nile River. Unfortunately I was a bit dehydrated and my feet had swollen to the size of melons, so we didn’t stay as long. Caught a horse/cart ride back and were ripped off, but what the heck – the travelling game that we play!!! One of our group is a pharmacist so she managed to tell me what to buy to get rid of the body fluid. Took this and it was gone by morning (from places I didn’t know even had extra fluid).

Took a felucca down the Nile for 2 days. It was awesome (there’s that word again). It had a roof for shade and no sides, so the breeze, when there was one, came through the boat. All lay on mattresses side by side and played cards, talked, bonded, slept, relaxed, laughed and generally had a good time. The skipper cooked as well so all food was supplied on board. Awesome (sorry).

The toilet stops were many and nasty. The first one I didn’t use cos there was shit everywhere. I let my kidneys do some overtime. The next toilet stop was among the bushes which was much better (the animals had done it there, so must have been a good spot!!!). The natives around had a good look and probably a good laugh at our white arses, but hey, we knew we would never see them again. Stopped for dinner at a beach/sandy side of the Nile where the guys set up a tent toilet (dug a hole in the sand, put a toilet seat on top and a covered tent around). First pee landed on my leg due to bad aim. Mark fixed it for next time and put the toilet seat back a bit for everybody. Had dinner on the boat by candlelight and mozzie atmosphere – real good. An early night for most, telling stories about ourselves before shutting our eyes. Good bonding session.

Next day I woke up with a fat eyelid (one of the many mosquitoes I put with all night). Carried on down the Nile – slower trip due to lack of wind. The first toilet stop was by a river bank that had flea-ridden donkeys, shitty cows, farmers and kids. I passed on that one – Mark attempted the bush but it was not very private. Had lunch here as well so you can imagine the fly-infested boat by the time we finished – open rubbish bin!! It was extremely hot, no wind, so all in all, a very unpleasant stop on the Nile.

Slow sailing all day but we were close to our destination. Banked up again that night on the beach. Mark didn’t give us a view of his white arse this time when he put the toilet up. Show off!!! He played the part of plumber – found a board to put in front of the toilet hole so that us females wouldn’t splash our legs as we peed. We had a campfire with the other crew member playing the African drums while we sang – awesome!!!

Next morning, left the felucca (more mosquito bites on my face, starting to look very pretty!!!). Got in a van and headed to Luxor. This was one clean city for Egypt – they had cleaners always sweeping up. The bus driver nearly had my fist in his face on this trip as he was inches away from a very big bus and travelling very very fast (as all Egyptians do). We made it but not without a whole lot of stress.

Cairo - typical souk selling fresh food
Cairo – typical souk selling fresh food
Mark is coming down with something at this stage – flu or food sickness? Went through another big souk (market) here – Mark was envied by all the guys because they thought he had a large harem of ladies. He played the game and offered some in trade for camels!! One offered his mother-in-law to join us!

Went by ferry across the Red Sea to Nuweiba. We were told that it sometimes gets rough. Well, rough was an understatement. We were rocking!!!! Mark was okay as he took motion tablets. I did too but it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t sick but couldn’t take my eyes off the horizon or I would have been (couldn’t go outside). When the sea got really bad there was a sudden influx of people going to the toilet and being sick. One of our group had food poisoning before going on the ferry so spent the whole time in the sick bay. As if we weren’t feeling bad enough, we got off the ferry to only spend another 3 hours in a very small van to the next place. This driver decided to catch up on his sleep during the drive. Luckily I noticed this in the rear vision mirror and alerted our leader. She sat beside him and made sure he stayed awake. Another van in front of us managed to lose most of their backpacks from the roof of the van, all over the desert highway!!

Our destination more than made up for all this. Arrived at a beach on the gulf of the Red Sea with a view of Saudi Arabia across the way. The next 2 days was at this beach in a camp. We had beach huts, open-air restaurant, open-air toilets/showers with salt water, plenty of outdoor furniture to laze on – what more could you want? So, it was out with the suntan lotion, swimwear and a good book. Need I say it… awesome!!! We even had sheesha with the owner and some other people staying there from Israel. Got a cockroach for company instead of mosquitoes but hey, this one didn’t bite my face at least.

Egypt is pure culture – you gotta go at least once in your life.

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