Feb. 12th, 2011

webcowgirl: (Travel)
I have been getting a lot of use today out of my stock phrase "I don't speak German." Swear some wag answered back, "But what are you saying? You speak German perfectly well!" though of course I'm not sure.
webcowgirl: (Reading)
Well, it's almost two weeks since I've back and really amazing to see what has happened since I've left Egypt! Let me be clear - EVERYONE wanted to talk about the political situation. Sunday we had a young man in a beach-side coffee and dive equipment rental place talking our ears off about how Hillary was going to give the Egyptians the answer, the VP was a good guy who would make everything better, and how if there were any problems the Bedouins would all come to our hotels to protect us and make sure people like him stayed outside. He also said that a few years ago he wouldn't have dared talk about something like this in anything other than a whisper - and to close friends - for fear of being arrested. (This guy was good for checking in on what was going on in Sharm - "The army is there but there is no shooting.") He also said that the army was seen as being on the side of the people - as it was made of the people - whereas the police were on Musharraf's side. This was all _very_ interesting to me - especially in light of what happened with the paid thugs coming into town.

Meanwhile, the cabbie that took us to the airport Monday was betting me (100 Egyptian pounds to my 100 English pounds) that they'd have a new president by Thursday. It didn't happen quite that fast but I think he reflected the sentiment throughout Egyptian society that this government was kaput. Will the secret police go away? I suspect not. The whole thing reminded me of what I read about in Palace Walk, as all of Egypt aroused from its torpor and shook off its chains. Making a stable civil society is a long process, and, while Egypt has the raw people-power, they haven't built up the culture of political involvement by the masses that is needed to really take back the reins from the centralized power-brokers. I guess this is all wait and see, though, huh?

Anyway ... Sunday was the day I decided we needed to chill out and do something fun and not exhausting. We'd booked with Soso at New Sphinx Safari (soso_diver at hotmail dot com) for both the "Take camels to Ras Al Galum and go snorkeling" tour and the Jordan tour: the camel trip, which came with lunch, was twenty quid a piece, embarrassingly cheap given that the hotel wanted 55 euros for the same thing and wouldn't guarantee it as there weren't two other people to go). For this price, we were picked up at our hotel at 9AM, driven out past the Canyon dive spot to the Blue Hole, kitted out with snorkels, fins, and masks, and handed over to Insert Name Here (we were never introduced, I'm afraid I couldn't get my eyes off of his camels) who walked alongside us north up the rocky shore of the Red Sea, past plywood shacks, lost shoes, and big buckets of nothing (I loved the intense desert terrain) to this curve of flat land with tents on the edge - the Ras Abu Galum national park. There's a lot written about it, but I'm convinced the various places that said there were manatees there were dreaming - there wasn't enough vegetable life to support them as near as I can tell. There was, however, a fabulous shelf of coral surrounding the beach that just begged for some attention.

We were settled in what became "our" tent (it could have held 20 easily), served some mint tea, offered wares from the people who lived in the shack behind our tent (all rather embarrassing, really, I wish I had more money with me - turns out it was our guide's family running the tent, cooking the food, etc., and living behind the tent in what seemed to me live extreme poverty), then warmed up enough to go do some snorkeling. The fish life was great and really easily accessible, but it was crazy how deserted the whole place was - clearly we were there in off-season. (You can spend the night there in one of the tents - which didn't seem to be too bad but not really my bag.) J got cold after not too long - the wind was kicking up and cooling us off fast - so we stopped after about half an hour and settled back down against the blanket-covered palm tree trunks to warm up (and chase off the beggar cats).

Lunch was pita bread, tomato/cucumber salad, baba ganoush, hummous, and a fish (for J) that I suspected might have been Nemo. After we'd done our best with the food (and given in and tossed the fish skeleton to the cats), we went beach combing rather than go back in the water, as the wind was discouraging. It was all just gorgeous and I found some really spectacular shells I tucked into my pockets to take home with me. I also found a red scarf blowing in the breeze, burnt and worn - and fell in love with it. It looked abandoned, and it became mine. By 2ish, it was time to get back on the camels and our trip back; my ass was pretty damned sore by this time, but I figured out how to ride a camel right (leg around hump and foot tucked under leg) and it did a lot to shift the discomfort to less bruised parts of my body. We had a long visit with the host at the dive shop (we were supposed to be doing more snorkeling but the wind and J's lack of fat put us off - I mean, it was winter after all!), then got a lift all the way back into town, where we attempted to get some cash together to finish paying for the Jordan trip. The bank wasn't having anything to do with giving me money off of my cash card, and J wound up taking out his daily max - after being turned down at one bank, were were just relieved to get anything, though we wound up having to make up the gap between what we needed to pay and what we needed to owe with the remaining pounds we'd brought over from England, leaving us with about 25 pounds for the whole day and a certain kind of uncomfortable "We're running out of money" edginess.

The next morning we were up at the harrowing hour of 4AM for our 4:45 pick-up and drive to the boat launch. Fortunately, our hotel packed breakfasts and lunches on request, and we took full advantage of this, heading out completely loaded with rolls, apples, cucumbers, cheese, and mystery meat. Our other Dahab traveler didn't have this, and given that we didn't get lunch until 3:30, we were immensely grateful for the ability to eat when we wanted to (more so because our $5 wasn't going to get us much in the expensive kingdom of Jordan). We had a two hour drive to the boat launch at the other far-north Red Sea resort (name?). We did customs before we got on the boat and finally took off at 8AM for Jordan.

The rest of the day ... what can I say? 45 minutes or so on the boat, Jordanian customs, then a long (90 minutes? two hours?) drive up the hills to Petra with a little break at a craft shop with a great view over the Badlands/Painted Desert landscape. Petra had a parking lot with, I don't know, twenty buses in it at least, and the ticket to get in was 50 pounds. Damn! Suddenly I understood why this trip cost so much - it wasn't our driver, or the guide, or the boat, it was getting in the damned park that was the big, inflexible money suck. There was a free horse ride included in the ticket price, but, man, pricey! And it was colder in the mountains than it had been next to the ocean - suddenly the cheesy red and black capes for sale at the tourist tat shop were looking really attractive - "20 pounds!" said the man at the shop as I fingered one ... "15 pounds!" he starts unpinning it from the mannequin as I heard J calling me to catch up to the group - "But I have to leave!" and the man thrusts it at me ("No no red!" and gets red) and tells me to pay when I return ... so suddenly I have a souvenir. And who wore it? Skinny boy. He looked a bit like a tall bandito Jawa but I think it was really helping keep him warm.

Oddly, I actually felt a little rushed through it all. It took about half an hour to walk to the site, through a slot canyon with old carvings and tombs in its sides, horse drawn carriages trotting past with less able or just richer visitors constantly. It was kind of crazy to walk on a road that was 2000 years old! When we got there, we only got about 10 minutes at the main building (the Treasury, the one that's in all of the pictures) before we were walked off to the rest of the site ... which went on for at least another half mile (and then clearly more as we were only in the tomb area and the "living" city, which had been totally destroyed in an earthquake, was still further down the road). J and I had some mint tea (it was a must, really) then scrambled up to a tomb way up in a wall and poked around, and then ... well, it was 15 minutes before the time the guy said we needed to be back at the slot canyon to walk out, and we still had to get down from our perch and walk past all the other stuff.

On our way, a man passed us, on camel back and leading two camels. Then he got a call on his cell phone. I looked up, and he was off in the distance, on his phone, with the two camels standing around looking bored, their lead on the ground. "Hmm," I thought. Then another guy came trotting from the opposite direction, saw the camels, and did a double take to the other guy, who continued to recede into the distance. "Hey Frank!" I think he said. "Did you forget soemthing?" I thought it was time to do something about it and, not being too scared of the camels after the day before, I grabbed their lead and walked them up to their owner.He was pretty impressed - but, you know, it's just what you do when people have loose animals.Petra. Caption: Me to camel driver: "Did you forget some... on Twitpic

Anyway, we got back to the hotel (after bus, then food, then bus, then boat, then long car drive) at 10:30 PM. That day was done! And so were we, pretty much. We slept until a luxurious 9AM the next day, had breakfast, made sure we were actually going to have someone come pick us up at the hotel (hadn't been able to get email the whole time so not sure), made sure we still had flights to catch (ditto) then went snorkeling for about half an hour in the beautiful reef just in front of the hotel. Then it was noon and lunchtime (they were nice and agreed to let us have lunch even though we were officially "off all-inclusive), which was extra great because it was free and we had no more things to worry about for the rest of the trip. The car showed up on time, we got in, and the worst thing that happened after that was discovering I wasn't allowed to take seashells back with me to the UK. Only ... "Where are you from?" "America." "Okay. No worries. Have a nice trip." and me and my shells were through! Yay Egypt and yay for nice Egyptian people and HURRAY for all of you, may you get a wonderful new government and never again fear being imprisoned for stating your political views to a stranger in a coffee shop.

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