13 November 2007

Walk Like An Egyptian

Walk Like An Egyptian (The Bangles)
You Make Me Wanna Walk Like A Camel (Southern Culture on the Skids)
[Insert Desert Country Mantra Here]

Blaspheming at the temple at Sakkura.

All three of us, walking like Egyptians at the Sphinx.

Soon after the adventures at the local hospital (which, by the way, coincided with the first week of school, sweeet!), I was off on a vacation. Well-deserved? Not really…I’d been sitting around on my tush for the better part of two months. No matter, my friend Ari was in town, and we had PLANS. Here is the story of my whirlwind weekend in the more friendly neighbors of Israel.

Wednesday night, after Ari’s arrival, and Allison’s rental of a Hyundai Getz, the three of us were off to Eilat. After a quick stop at the 101 rest stop, with dis-gust-ing sandwiches, we made it to Eilat, where we hung around on the Red Sea shore, and then crashed for a few hours in the maximum-kitsch Corinne Youth Hostel.

The lovely decorations at Rest Stop 101 (101 KM to Eilat!) This picture tastes better than the sandwich I purchased.

Ari demonstrates the tough life at the hostel.

At 5:30 in the morning, we were off to the Taba Border Crossing to Egypt. The hired guides from both sides of the tour company – Israel and Egypt – facilitated the crossing. Getting a visa to travel into Egypt beyond the Sinai requires two weeks of paperwork, something that we had gladly handed off to our guides. Crossing the border, we were immediately entered into everything that Egypt isn’t – clean, smoke-free, Israel...People were smoking while operating the x-ray machines, while stamping our passports, while driving, eating, whatever. Smoking is all about population control, I decided. It's so gross, and it makes me sick, as I am allergic to tobacco (really, SBB, you're allergic to something ELSE?), but I guess I have to be Darwinian about it.

After the border crossing, where for some reason Ari took about $400 in Egyptian Pounds from the ATM (thereby becoming the Sugar Daddy of the trip), we boarded our own, personal minibus for our roamings around Egypt. First stop? Breakfast! And what does one have for breakfast in Egypt? Why, FALAFEL of course! Who doesn’t eat falafel for breakfast at 7 in the morning!? And not just any falafel. No, this was the GREATEST falafel EVER created. Egyptian falafel is the best falafel ever. Sorry, Israel. We also got guava nectar (an Egyptian delicacy I now notice they sell in the Rothberg cafeteria at Hebrew U) and bottles of water. Then we drove for like 6 hours to Cairo.

Guava Nectar in a cute little glass bottle. This stuff is the PERFECT solution to low blood sugar!
Falafel. The best falafel EVER! This picture is timestamped at 7AM, just as an FYI.

When we arrived in Cairo, I thought we were going to have lunch, but it was a fast day (Not fast as in quick, fast as in “lunch is for losers.”) for our tour guide, so there was no lunch. Instead, we went to the Egypt Museum. The first thing I noticed about the museum, other than the great camera confiscation, was the upkeep. It was similar to the Met in size and stuff to see, but the paint was cracking on the walls and it seemed kind of dirty. We had fun learning about King Tut-Ankh-Hamen, and although the fast-breath was fierce, we went along with the tour, enjoying it. I even identified the largest underwear I’ve ever seen! We paid extra money (well, Ari paid, and we batted our eyelashes) to see the mummies. Here’s what happened in the mummy rooms:

ME: You are a bad, bad man.
Mummy: [Silence]
ME: Bad man, Raamses II.
Mummy: [Silently summons a jackal to attack me from beyond. Fails.]

I was bummed when, the day I got back, King Tut’s mummy was moved into these rooms, but whatever. I could’ve checked for myself to see if he looked like a man-woman. I still got to see what mummies look like. I also learned that some religious ideas about the dead are just too ridiculous for me to comprehend, but seeing the riches and pyramids was pretty sweet, so I’ll stop judging.

After the museum, we visited the oldest church and synagogue in Cairo. We even took a picture on the steps to the Cairo Jewish library (not the Geniza for the burial of old books, sadly) just behind the shul. Pretty cool.

Anat looks on as Ari, Allison and I enjoy the Jewish library's porch

After that we visited / learned about the Citadel, also known as the Muhammed Ali Mosque (now I know where Cassius Clay got his name). They even let you go into the mosque, as long as you take off your shoes and put on a lovely, green, locker room-smelling drape. The Citadel was incredible, with really special views, and we had a crazy fun time, after which, we FINALLY had lunch (at like 5pm). Lunch was lame, but dessert was good, AND I took more bottle-and-can pictures, as I’ve developed a thing for documenting product labels in languages other than English.

The Citadel. Pretty impressive.

We look pretty in shapeless capes.

The views from the Citadel are pretty awesome, and great for photographers to get Cairo shots.

Me blocking the view from the Citadel.

Soda Cans in Arabic. This makes me happy, for I am a simple creature, simply documenting labels in the Middle East...even if the cans are all Pepsi products. Bleh.

Then we were off to one of our many I-introduce-you-to-my-“friend”-and-then-you-buy-some-crap-in-his-or-her-store trips. Here’s the thing about guided Egyptian tourism: it consists of your guide taking you to the Number-One-In-The-Whole-World-Store-Of-[Insert souvenir item here]. I was interested in the papyrus-making demonstration, but I sincerely doubted that this was the one place in Egypt where they make good papyrus. Later, when we went to the carpet school (Motto: Getting Kids Off Of The Streets By Engaging Them In Child Labor Since 1924!), the perfumery, and wherever else, I was annoyed. Bored. Sweaty. Hungry. [Insert adjective that indicates displeasure here.]

Child Labor.

After the papyrus pusher, we were about a block from the Sphinx, so naturally, our guide whisked us back into the van to go to our hotel, in Giza. We settled into our hotel rooms, and decided to roam Giza to see what Egypt was really like. The answer is: Gross, but funny. A hotel employee befriended us, and joined us on our trip to Giza, in a cab and then a shared-cab-thingie where he paid off cops to watch over us, as we embarked on our little outing, which in hindsight was not the best idea. But I did manage to purchase castanets and a jangly scarf – instant Purim! Also, Egyptian taxis all seem to have been created in the early 1900s. It’s a miracle they still move.

Amil, who took us to this tourist trap shop. I did not get the dress, just the scarf around my waist. Thanks for paying off the cops, Amil!

Dinner was gross, and with the threat of shellfish lurking at any corner (however unlikely), I stuck to bread, butter and dessert. No big deal. The food was like this through the whole trip. The only food I liked that was to be found sometimes was rice and tzatziki. I had discussed the shellfish issue with Rafi the week before:

ME: I need to learn how to say "I am allergic to shellfish" in Egyptian.
Rafi, smirking: You mean Arabic?
ME: NO! There is an Egyptian language! It's written in birds!

In the morning, we visited pyramids at Sakkura and at Giza. Amazing stuff. I recommend to you go to Egypt. I also learned a few lessons, so I’ll include them here:

1. Pee before the pyramids. They may be a wonder of the world, but they have no plumbing anywhere.
2. If you want to pay 25 Egyptian pounds to go into a pyramid, knock yourself out. Just know that the power supply snaked into the one tunnel at the foot of this monstrosity will give you a tiny bit of light and NO air. About 10 feet into the tunnel, you can really feel the heat, and at 20 feet, it’s worse than a July day in Gainesville. Also, the amount of light snaked into the pyramid does not fill the tunnels, and as a result, I had somebody grope my chest, and another grab my tush, in the time I was in the tunnel. Most likely, this was the best 25 Egyptian Pounds I’ve ever spent.
3. Pyramids were originally houses for the dead surrounded by benches of decreasing height (see Sakkura). That’s how the structure was first used.

The Stepped Pyramid at Sakkura.

SBB takes on Egypt! Here I am at Giza!

Ari's camera has this neat fast-shot feature, which is how we got my exuberance for visiting the pyramids in this shot. This is at Giza.

We finally got to visit the Sphinx and the Cairo Shuk (soooo gross!), and then it was off to the Sinai for the night! Another 6-hour drive with our driver, Dale Earnhardt, Junior, Junior. Did you know that Egyptian highways are the perfect place to maintain a speed of 100MPH? I sure didn’t! I didn’t feel safe until we were out of that van and at our hotel, which was pretty on the outside, gross on the inside, but came with a sweet view. And that, my friends, was Egypt.

The Cairo Shuk. Yhuk (sic).

I had a conversation with the tour guide about driving in Cairo. Cars weave in and out of globs of other cars, as there are no real dividers between lanes. It went a little something like this:

ME: About how many car accidents do you have a year?
Osama the Tour Guide: Well, we don't really have that many.
ME: But driving here is intense.
OTTG: We don't drink here.
ME, under my breath: Ah, yes, as 100% of accidents are alcohol-related, I should know because I am an alcoholic American Jew.

I have a theory that hieroglyphics are really an ancient comic strip about a character named Sphinxy.

Petra later.

1 comment:

Leah said...

I just read all your blog posts. This one is my favorite - love the pictures!!!! It sounds (and looks) like you're having such an incredible time. Is it bad that I think the child laborer/slave is adorable? Can I get one? Pleeease?