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Egypt (concatenated)

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Note in Dec 2009: This entry from August 2006 was originally written as three entries, but since they are one story I have concatenated (posh word #1) them into one entry:

Honeymoon Crazyness… (Pt 1)

Ok, where do I begin. I started noting down things on our honeymoon in Egypt that were worth reporting here, but they became so numerous that I gave up in the end and just hoped they’d come floating back to me. As such, I expect there’ll be several entries about the wedding and honeymoon as my bruised and abused brain cracks the egg of recollection. This will in no way be chronologically correct, as it’s an off-the-cuff collection of rambling memories.

For the record we arrived at Luxor on 7th August and cruised down to Aswan until 12th. Then stayed at Aswan until the 14th when we moved to Luxor until the 16th. From then on we were at Taba Heights on the Red Sea. Thus you can see how I leap around the temporal scale as things return to me.

Firstly, let me tell you about the taxis. I have external experience of the taxis in much of Egypt now (in terms of leaping out of the way of them, watching them weaving towards me with vicious intent, exploding into shards of ruined metal mid-journey etc.) Luxor, however, is my personal experience of the interior of Egyptian taxis. There is clearly no control of motor vehicles in the country, such as test certificates and authorised mechanical checks. All of the taxis in Luxor (which much number at least a thousand as they seem to constitute every other vehicle you see on the road) are Peugeot 504 Estates painted blue and white (often with a thick bristled brush and emulsion!) It would appear that Luxor imported around a thousand of these early 1970s objects from France at just around the time they became obsolete. They were then pressed into service in the town to transport unwary tourists. If you are very lucky, one of the 5-door taxis will have three opening doors with the other two jammed, rusted or welded shut. Usually only 2 doors are actually accessible. The interiors appear uniformly to have been savaged by giant leather-or-fabric-eating moths and sometimes you can see road passing by beneath you. The smell of diesel in these ‘vehicles’ is almost overwhelming, but since they are as likely to have air-con as they are to have, say seatbelts or Booster Rockets, you can roll the windows down (should they actually have a handle and open freely) in which case the diesel smell can be tempered with horse dung. Aforementioned Seatbelts are not standard, or even luxury extras. In fact even the drivers don’t seem to have them, which makes me chuckle since there are signs inside each taxi about the Egyptian mandatory seatbelt laws. We had a taxi for almost half a day on Luxor’s west bank and had the most astounding experience. For £15 Sterling, this taxi driver would keep us going from temple to tomb to statue on the west bank and wait for us in between. He even showed us a good cafe to stop for a drink. We travelled along the west bank and were stopped by the Egyptian police (who appear to stand at every minor juntion, corner and ice cream stand with their automatic weapons defying folk to leap up and down and shout “There is more than one God and Mohammmed is one of his prophets!”) – A short aside here… I am not anti-Christian, anti-Jew, anti-Moslem, anti-body or anti-anything. I believe in live-and-let-live and that everyone should respect everyone else’s beliefs even if they don’t follow them themselves. This is just to point out I make jokes, not religious slurs – Anyway, the Egyptian police are everywhere. You buy a souvenir and they’re there watching you enter and leave the shop; you enter a hotel and they inspect your bag on the way in; you want to take a crap and they expect a 20LE note for handing you two pieces of toilet paper etc. I personally think it works. Watching police with live ammunition on every corner makes you think twice about complaining that your bottled water is a little warm. Criminals and Terrorists must need to change their trousers at least every street (unless they want to blend in with the horse dung smell). While I abhor guns, I prefer police with guns to terrorists and loonies with plastique… I’m sure I had a point here some time ago… Oh yes… The taxi driver had to pull over as had every other taxi and mini bus before him. They were going over to the police officers, I would find out after, to bribe their way out of a safety check on their vehicles. This particular driver grinned and showed me the change he’d got from the bribe (or baksheesh) and the unsafe vehicle notification he’d been given. He grinned again, laughed and bashed the peugeot symbol in the middle of the wheel, which popped open to reveal almost a hundred similar notifications hidden from public eyes. With a wink he added this latest badge of courage to the others and then plopped the cover back in place. All this and the strangest thing I can say is that I never felt anything less than 100% safe in the man’s care. Regardless, Luxor taxis are cheap and interesting, but not what you would call an executive ride.

Let me now turn to the matter of the ‘Presidential Nile Cruise’. I am a low-born working-class type with a cockney father and a country mother and am never entirely at ease being pampered. I’d like to think that I can be glib and gilded and jaded and leaded and all these other minerals, but in fact I’m just slightly backwards. As such I get the traditional working-class ‘I can do that for myself’ disease. A member of staff wants to hold the door open for me. He gets paid roughly 1/80th of my salary and his life is opening doors, but I am so uncomfortable with this treatment that I cannot stop trying to hold the door open for HIM. And being insistent. I am so uncomfortable with being pampered that I am making him uncomfortable. Where the hell does this kind of thing end, I hear you ask… You ARE asking, aren’t you? Well it ends with myself, whose frst name is Simon, getting quite chatty with a barman whose name is Ayman, because it rhymes, which he thinks is great. He’s a REALLY nice guy. I cannot fault him. Unfortunately, he will not let me carry a drink anywhere. After an entire night of trying to teach him that I can take care of my own beer, I ended up racing for the door from the open deck to the bar with an empty glass to try and get it back before he could take it off me. He physically stopped me entering the bar and almost rugby-tackled me to get the glass off me. I could understand this if he were doing it for a specific tip, but this boat has a specific tipping system that shares it all out equally, so he was not winning. He was just so damn GOOD at his job. And I cannot be pampered. I may just be a touch communist I suspect. On the other hand there are people that just make me feel all the more independent. Such are the Airport porters at Aswan who took our cases off the coach, would not let us touch them, rolled them 80 feet to a counter and hold out their hand for baksheesh! Hell, I’m not giving you money for that. I can wheel 2 st, 3 lbs of suitcase 80 feet on my own without rupturing myself! Similarly, at every temple you visit, there is a local guardian who follows you round trying to tell you the history of the place and point out things of interest. This is his job and I don’t really mind that, despite the fact that I prefer to look myself and am a historian with a better working knowledge than him. What irks me is that at every temple, these people wait until they are out of sight of the obligatory police guard at the gate and then ask you for a bribe?!?! They must be mad. They want to be paid for pestering us for the last five minutes and leading us to repeat “we want to look on our own” a hundred times in the same 5 mins. Bastards. I read someone’s comment on the net that he begrudges paying these people bribes for doing their jobs and I’m right behind him! Solidarity brother!!!

Then there was the ‘ride a camel and have a Bedouin dinner’ night and the dreaded H.A.B.! I have ridden a donkey once in my life and a horse twice I believe. The donkey dropped me at a young age ignominiously onto the Scarborough beach sand ass first, creating a precedent for my life in general. The first horse disobeyed me but was generally calm. The other used it’s gait and saddle to make blue, bruised gooseberries out of my testicles. I like horses. I am not afraid of touching them or even riding them, but they seem to have a general desire to do me physical, often genital-based harm. As for Camels??? I’ve always known them to be distainful, bad tempered, spitting brutes who suffered humanity only until something better came along. Surprisingly, the camel we rode on that particular night was peaceful and lovely. Which lulled me into my false sense of security. Let me elaborate: I am allergic to some fish and because of that do not eat any fish just in case. In fact, the mere thought of shellfish can make me retch without any physical presence. Fish just have that effect on me. Good for the fish I suppose: at least I’m someone who won’t be trying to ingest them as a species. I also do not kill. It’s kind of an almost-Buddhist thing. I loathe spiders with every ounce of my being, but I will emigrate rather than kill one. I have been known to live in a cupboard for six hours because of one. I do not even kill mosquitos and in that case it’s a them-or-us thing. And so you can see two things I dislike… two things that can give me the heeby-jeebies: Shellfish and dead animals. So when I sat down in the Bedouin camp area and put my hand IN a dead crab, you might get some idea of how I felt. It took an hour for me to stop hyper-ventilating. It also staved off any hope I had of eating for a day or so (I don’t eat a lot anyway). The Bedouin meal was delivered for just the two of us. There were: 2 plates of salad, 2 bowls of rice, vermicelli and chick peas, 1 bowl of tomato, 1 plate of hummus, 1 plate of something resembling a cross between hummus and wallpaper paste, 1 bowl of beef and onion, 2 bowls of Moussaka … (there were probably others, but that’s what I can remember – it would probably feed 15 westerners or maybe Somalia for a couple of years. And I couldn’t eat a thing because I’d put my hand through a crab! Phobias coming out to play no.1 Number 2 would occur at Luxor… I also suffer from Vertigo. Yes I am a mass of insecurities held together in a loose fleshy bag. At least I’m unlikely ever to hurt anyone!!! But still Mrs Moosehunter (who actually IS MRS Moosehunter now) made me go up in a hot air balloon. I have difficulty describing how I felt about this trip but for the fact that I was still trying to climb out of the balloon when we’d reached 50 feet up! I shudder and shall mention it no more.

Done: taxis, baksheesh, Cruise, camel, balloon.

Do: englishisms, flight back

Honeymoon Crazyness… (Pt 2)

Ok. More stuff leaps to mind about the honeymoon.

Firstly, there’s the heat. You just wouldn’t believe the heat. Since I am generally a pale blue colour and even the moon throws off enough heat and light to bring out freckles on me, Mrs Moosehunter tends to make sure I’m slathered in Factor 4million sun cream before I go out in any weather hotter than February in Lapland. The only problem I discovered with this in Egypt is that I tended to sweat constantly and furiously. I would be plastered in lotion and then forty seconds later I would be sweating so much that the sweat ran down and carried all the lotion with it. In other words, my forehead remained unprotected from the sun, but my eyes filled up in less than a minute with salt and sun lotion, which is not a comfortable combination. I spent a lot of the holiday with pink eyes, squinting at everything. All hotel rooms are air conditioned and remain at a temperature you could store white wine in. This is lovely except for when you step out of the door, say onto the balcony for instance. The sudden transition from 40/50 Fahrenheit to 120 is something that has to be experienced to believe. I’ve never been so hot.

Then there was the room at the New Cataract Hotel in Aswan. Since we were on honeymoon, the management upgraded us from a normal room to a Nile-view suite. It was quite impressive, with a dual-sink bathroom, bedroom with king-size bed, lounge and two balconies. In fact it would have been absolutely perfect, but for one niggling thing: A curious smell. There was a smell emanating from the air-conditioning that permeated both the lounge and the bathroom, but managed to dissipate before reaching the bedroom that God. Now, I’m not saying that I have any familiarity with any kind of narcotic hemp-based substance that gets added to tobacco for illuminating experiences, but let’s face it, most people know what it smells like, yes? Well that was the smell coming from the air-con! Ganja!!! What the hell? I could only assume that some hotel employee spent an awful lot of time getting very high among the air vents of the hotel. Honestly, the smell was that strong I had to stay out of the lounge as it was giving me a headache! Of course, that could have been because I was leaning over the air-con grille and breathing in heavily with massively flared nostrils!!!

Then there was the episode of the curry. In the Luxor Sheraton we ordered two meals on room service. I ordered a chicken curry. I’m never entirely sure about what you’re going to get in non-English speaking or non-Indian countries when you order ‘curry’. It’s a very broad-spectrum, miscellaneous food, covering all sorts of sub-curry groups. In my experience however, things described as curry are varying degrees of sweet and/or hot. This one wasn’t. The rice was perfect. I have no argument with the rice, though in my experience, chicken should not bounce. The chicken was so chewy I considered asking them to send someone up to chew it for me. Still, I could cope with the extraordinarily chewy chicken in a light, vaguely spicy sauce if only it wasn’t also crunchy. Yes, in order to give it extra body, the chef appeared to have merely ground up the bones and mixed them in with the chicken. After the third chewy, crunchy, non-currified mouthful I gave up on the dish altogether and decided to forego the meal. Mrs Moosehunter, on the other hand, is not the sort of person to let anything lie. If an angry rhino pissed her off, she wouldn’t let it lie. So she rang room service and complained about the meal. I, on the other hand, am very much a let anything lie/path of least resistance sort of person, so I dutifully hid and felt guilty. And so they offered to send an extra fruit basket up to apologise. Mrs Moosehunter then had another go at them because she didn’t WANT another fruit basket. Then, some time later, the room service people caught her in the hotel lobby and apologised embarrassingly and profusely and told her that the chef had been told and had promised to change his recipe and never make it that way again. In short, she ruined a chef’s career in a low-paying country where he will be unlikely now (due to Egypt’s strict tourist quality rules) to get a job fishing faecal matter out of the Nile with tweezers now. Moreover, any time I had cause to talk to the hotel staff after that, they all asked me if my wife was ok. Perhaps they were hoping not?

I have no idea where the Egyptians pick up Englishisms that are very much in-jokes to our coutry (kind of like Jay Leno jokes for the US). For some odd reason, urchins trying to sell you papyrus made from banana leaves that will crumble in two days or granite statues made of painted plaster that would dissolve in the bath, continually used phrases such as ‘luverly jubbly’ or ‘Asda price’ or any number of other English colloquialisms. Moreover, despite the fact that Egypt are big football (soccer) fans, have their own teams and have won the African Nations cup more times than any other team, they still all seem to support the Arsenal. It’s all a bit strange. Anyway, finally for now, onto the subject of our return flight:

Astraeus airlines from Taba to Manchester. The plane was fairly small and extremely cramped. To add to that we were in the very rear-most seats. This means that the people in front could recline their seats rendering us more squished and our trays useless, but we could not recline ours. Also all our hand luggage had to be under our feet as the lockers at the back above the seats are for cabin crew usage. Still, I don’t really care. After all, it’s just the journey home. Even if it’s a 5 and a half hour flight in such cramped conditions with no in-flight entertainment. But there were two other amazing things. Firstly we were given a ‘meal’, if airline food can actually be called that. This was a cottage pie. I will challenge you all with this. The cottage pie (and I’m assuming everyone knows what cottage pie is) had a list of ingredients on the back and a second list warning for allergies which said (and I kid you not): CONTAINS FISH. What sort of Cottage pie contains fish??? Here’s my challenge. I looked up the recipe for cottage pie on Google and the first four results I found… didn’t contain a trace of fish. Feel free to take up my challenge and find a recipe for it that DOES contain fish. Bet you can’t. Why then would Astraeus airlines ones contain goddamn FISH? Finally, as we sat waiting to taxi to the runway, the intercom came on and we were informed that on these flights it was currently regulation that the interior be sprayed with insecticide before departure and that we should all lower our heads and cover our nose and mouth. This I’ve never heard of before and added to the general surrealness of the whole flight. So three stewardesses walked up and down the aisle with spray canisters, while I kept my head down. I happened to glance once briefly to the right, only to see Mrs Moosehunter gazing at the ceiling, with her face tiled back and her mouth open as if in astonishment. Upon later quizzing her over this behaviour, it turns out that she was wondering if they’d started spraying yet, so had a look (for some reason with her mouth open). This explanation was made all the funnier when she mispronounced the word and called it incesticide. Ah I laughed.

More if it leaps back to mind.

*****

It’s late at night. I’m not quite ready for sleep yet and am filling in the time with Google Earth. Egypt is a fascinating place, but all I can really think of is how much I love my wife.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I married her.

*****

So. The few things I haven’t told you yet then…

There’s the mad service guys at Taba Heights. Every day, if you are out of your room for any length of time and don’t hang the ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door, the cleaning folk come in and clean and tidy with an absolute vengeance. These guys are the Gods of tidy. They even arranged the rechargable batteries I left on the surface into parallel lines! The first time we happened to leave a used towel and a dirty t-shirt on the floor (a beach towel that was ours, not a hotel one) and when we came back they’d made a very artistic fan out of my t-shirt and a SWAN out of the towel! Hell that was impressive, but they did this every time they were in with different shapes and anything we left on the floor – sometimes three times a day! I was very impressed until we got back from a day out and Mrs Moosehunter was looking forward to the somewhat over-priced Mars bar that was sat in our refrigerated mini-bar. And it was gone. I can only assume the room cleaners took it as payment for the artwork. In fact when we left we were charged for 6 chocolate bars, when I had not had one and Mrs M had had only 2. Hmmmmm. The place was great, but the staff perhaps need a bit more training. When we left the porters picked up our suitcases to put them on the coach and simultaneously broke the handles on both of them! Grrrr.

Then there was Masada. The name may be familiar to you. As a Roman Historian, Masada is well known to me as the last stand of the Jewish rebels against Rome in the 1st Century after which the Jewish people were broken and scattered until they were resettled after WW2. It may also ring a bell as a rather good mini-series from the early 80s starring Peter Strauss and Peter O’Toole. Either way it’s the strangest place. Although archaeologically it’s not on a par with other places we visited, it stands by the Dead Sea on a massive plateau of rock. The Dead Sea is roughly 1300 ft below sea-level, which is odd enough for me, but to then use a cable car to climb to the top of a mountain, only to find yourself at sea level is mind-buggering. It was also 120 degrees up on the top according to the guide. I do know that I have NEVER sweated like that in my entire life. You could have wrung me out and filled a swimming pool. And, of course, I had to go up a cable car, which tested my bravery to the limits again.

We discovered, to my disappointment though not to my surprise, that there are no longer crocodiles or hippos in Egypt, as they’re all beyond Lake Nasser in the upper Nile. We read in a guide to Egypt, however, that you should not go swimming in the Nile. Somewhat frighteningly, it actually said that if you fell in the Nile you should immediately seek medical help. That worries me. Apparently it’s a foreigner-o-centric problem, as plenty of Egyptian kids swim in it. I have to say it certainly looked considerably cleaner that the river Trent, and I’ve fallen in that before. And there’s NOTHING wrong with me, so that can’t hurt you (twitch!)

Shops in Egypt interest me. I believe there are four levels of shop in the country. The first is the homing-bastard. These people are often as young as five years old and hang around on the street outside tourist sites with a handful of badly-made crap, shouting ‘Asda Price’ at you and chasing you down the street. They are pushy and dirty and make you feel bad if you don’t give them money. I still don’t. The second level is the kiosk-owner-on-elastic. These guys have something that looks like a small lock-up or garage full of crap on shelves and hangers. They leave their little treasure caves as soon as they see you approaching, make a bee-line for you, try to shake your hand or give you a scarf, and then seem to be pulled suddenly back into their booth as if on a rubber band, trying to drag you with them. Some of them have ceiling fans in their little room that makes it almost worthwhile, but not quite. Thirdly, there’s the Mantrap Shop. These look deceptively like western shops with no elasticated owners outside. They are air conditioned and entering is entirely up to you. However, once you’re in that door you become fair game and the owners will not let you browse without their constant badgering attention. A wolf in shop’s clothing, so to speak. And finally there’s the Emporium. The high-class stores. These are apparently government controlled, no-hassle places with air con. You only find these by the directions of a tour guide. And they are fine. They often give you a cup of Turkish coffee with the consistency of wet sand or Hibiscus Tea (which tastes suspiciously like sick to me), and give you a little order-pad to write down anything you feel like buying. However, this does not mean that they will not pursue you. In fact it steps up a level here. They are more like personal-shoppers on amphetamines. They follow you round almost leaning over your shoulder and try to tell you the complete history of every piece of garbage they sell. And get very hurt if you’re not interested in something. So, as you can see, the higher the quality of the sale experience, the nature of the shopping or salesman does not change, just the environment in which your will to live is slowly dismembered.

Oh, and it occurs to me that I didn’t actually say much about the Hot Air Balloon flight. Note two things then in particular. Firstly I was still trying to get out of the basket until we were about 50 feet up, gripping the side with white knuckles and repeatedly jabbering ‘gottogetout… shouldn’thavecome’ to the extent I was making the other passengers nervous. I actually really enjoyed it while we were up there, but then it came to landing. I thought I was prepared, braced as I’d been told. Nothing prepared me for it. Nothing! It felt like a head-on car crash. I swear I felt my teeth shattering and my legs driving up through my torso. After I checked to make sure I could get my eyeball back in the socket and I had the requisite number of limbs, I began to relax a little and that’s when the pilot shouted ‘BRACE’ again. And we took off again! Only this time, it was sideways and at about 100 miles an hour. And then we hit the floor again much like the first time. I think I whimpered a little. Then I realised we were still moving, but this time along the ground, sideways, with the basket at 45 degrees and the balloon itself catching the wind to propel us. After another crippling bump we finally came to rest in a field and waited to be picked up by the ground crew. I still had the horrendous scab on my leg from the injury I received two weeks before and we’d hit so hard it had torn the scab clean off one side!!! Now that was a landing. Pray God I’ll never have to do it again.

That’s it for now.

Hang loose.

Moosey.

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Written by SJAT

December 20, 2009 at 1:48 pm

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