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.
webcowgirl: (Travel)
Well, five days after returning, I have to say the continuously unfolding political situation in Egypt is still blowing me away. I saw hints of it when I was there three years ago - basically, any country where people felt it was so expensive to live and so hard to find a job that you just basically couldn't afford to get married ... that's the kind of things where you would expect people would consider it worth laying their lives down to make it change.

A bit about Dahab, Egypt: I'd originally thought I was going to go to Sharm El Sheikh, despite the fact it had a rep as a party town. Instead, solely based on hotel reviews on TripAdvisor, I wound up picking a place further south north, though I hadn't realized we were going to be an hour drive via occasionally sand-covered highway from the Sharm airport. But Dahab was extraordinarily pleasant and utterly worth the drive and extra cost and hassle (70 quid RT transfers via TravelRepublic.co.uk, SO HAPPY I set this up before we left, they met us perfectly upon arrival and we wound up traveling in a private car each way) to get to. It is a small town, seemingly of 5-8K people and a similar number of goats, rural enough that our first sight the morning after we arrived was of a young boy running down the road chasing after his camel. The people that stay there are mostly divers, I think, and thus not prone to getting riotously drunk - can't do that when you're going in the next day. There is a nice beachfront promenade with restaurants where for prices about 30% less than the UK you can eat on cushions while looking at the ocean. The view is pretty spectacular during the day, too: on the horizon across the waters you can see the red mountains of Saudi Arabia looming like the walls of a forbidden desert kingdom. Which, you know, it kind of was. It felt intimidating, somehow, having this place that is now in my mind like the USSR of old staring at you. But Dahab itself is low key and pleasant and lovely, just a small market area and full of tourists but still utterly Egyptian when you take three steps away from the strip.

J decided to come with me rather at the last minute, but I was able to change my one person in a double to two people in a double reservation at the Tropitel Oasis with a minimum of trouble. This turned out to be a really nice place to stay despite my fears of "all inclusive:" the food was good, if not outstanding, we got free drinks all day (not that I did much of that), the gardens were lovely, and the people that worked there actually seemed genuinely friendly. The night we showed up, they did a singing and dancing and presentation of cake thing to a table of three girls; apparently it was the fourth return for one of them, and if she comes back next year they will name one of the trees in the garden after her. And then there was the gorgeous water full of colorful fishies right of the dock, a perfect place to snorkel. There was a dive center on site, but I'd made reservations elsewhere. Ultimately my two complaints were too many mosquitoes and too short of a massage; the lack of internet turned out to not be their fault. The distance from town - about four miles - was more than I wanted to walk (especially after a day in the water), but the hotel ran a shuttle five times a day and we could cab it for four quid. My vote: awesome hotel, great town.



Anyway, our activities pretty much followed exactly the plan I'd laid out before I left, when I was thinking it would just be me, but with additional flexibility about the ordering of options and the eventual decision to bag on further scuba diving due to it being not available for J and me kinda getting my fill the first two days. So what we did was as follows"

Day one: We are picked up at the hotel at 8 AM by the dive company and go into town to get our equipment, then are dropped off at "The Lighthouse" to do our dives. I spent morning doing the first half of my PADI open water dives (writeup here if you missed it) while J did a "try dive" and succeeded in 1) making my instructor wish he were teaching J instead of me 2) getting a nosebleed in his mask, causing J to decide perhaps he wouldn't be doing anymore of this diving thing. J wound up lounging under an umbrella and drinking mint tea while I finished my second dive: he clearly had more fun than I did. I think we finished fairly early in the day, but most of the afternoon is a blur as I was really stressed out. We went for a walk to see about pricing for trips to Petra afterwards, then went back to the hotel for free lunch and a major nap. The evening was also a blur. I blame stress and cold.

Day two: we are picked up at 9AM and taken AWAY from town to a walkable dive site called "The Canyon." I finish my two final dives, while J snorkels and does some water colors. We go back into town to pay up (requiring a bit of a scramble as they want cash and due to lack of internet can't figure out the exchange rate for pounds), then head out for a walk on the promenade. We find a guy with affordable trips and set up for two - he allows us to pay him "on a promise" for the expensive trip to Jordan since we are low on cash - and get into an extensive talk about the political situation in Egypt. We then have an ultra-leisurely lunch at the "Bedouin Lodge," stew for me and grilled chicken for J, while we watch the ocean and laugh at the four black cats who are trying to scam our food. We go back to the hotel, nap, then get up in time for lovely massages, dinner (this time with wine!) and a few rounds of cards on the patio.

And ... well, I'll tell you about days 3 and 4 later.
webcowgirl: (I Miss America)
Everyone in Dahab was jubilant about what they saw as the impending regime change; my cabbie on Tuesday bet me 300 pounds they would have a new president by Thursday ("I win, you pay in English; you win, I pay you in Egyptian").

I wonder how much what is going on in Cairo is affecting them on the Red Sea side? I hope they're okay. It seems like a lot of people are willing to put their lives on the line to see this happen. I wish my cabbie's optimism had proven true; everyone I talked to seemed to think it was just inevitable.
webcowgirl: (Travel)
As our flight was running late - I kept looking to see if Hosni Mubarak had snuck on the plane - I got home too late to write on LJ last night and it's actually too late to be writing on LJ this morning as it's time to go to bed. I'll do two writeups of the trip soon, one of the trip, one of the political situation.

I had NO internet connection whatsoever for six days and Facebook and Twitter were utterly blocked (this before I had left but on Friday the authorities cut off the internet altogether). The only thing I got were some texts from [livejournal.com profile] wechsler which were REALLY useful.

If you want to read about how things went with my trying to finish my open water PADI scuba certification, I put a post up (back dated) here - when you get to that post click next to see what happened afterwards.

With that, I need to get dressed and get to work. In short, WE ARE TOTALLY FINE. Fine fine fine. No chaos or anything in Dahab other than food running low in the grocery stores and difficulty getting money from the banks but that was only on the last day.

Oh yeah. And I totally made it to Petra! WOOOO!

webcowgirl: (Kayak)
Yesterday was the second day of the open water dives I needed to complete my PADI "open water diver" certificate. I'd done such a poor job with the mask removal that I was actually waking up over and over worrying about what a mess I was making of the whole thing and how lame I was. I'd "failed" the task because I'd inhaled water through my nose; not only was this wrong, it made me feel pretty panicky and made me want to call it quits. I had spent the evening chilled and feeling that all-body exhaustion that comes with having buckets of adrenaline pour through you; I thought of calling the dive center and just saying, "It ain't happening," or sending J out to the dive instructor in the morning and saying I just wasn't going to finish the course. But somehow 9 AM rolled around and I was outside of the gates of the hotel and hopping into Walid's truck, and off we rolled to "The Canyon," a diving area all of 15 minutes walk from our hotel.

During our briefing. Walid explained the exercises we were going to do. For the first dive, we were going to do two things: full face mask removal and "fin pivot" (getting neutral bouyancy while you're stretched out level in the water) using your own air to inflate your vest (you have weights to help you sink and a "bouyancy control device" to help you float; as you go lower and it becomes less effective, you have to add more air to it to keep in the same position). We argued a bit about what had gone wrong yesterday; while I conceded that opening the mask from the top kept the water from filling the nose (and thus causing that "smothering/choking/water going up nose" feeling), I had never practiced opening my mask from the top and thus had not developed the motor skills to manage the flow of water. Plus, I added, it went right in my eyes, which burned like hell and was most unlike what had happened in the pool. I asked to practice mask removal before we went in so that I could "pattern" it correctly, and we did: tuck in my chin, back strap off first, then pull mask forward from the top (with my eyes closed) and full removal; reattach strap first, then get face mask in place. Sure, it all sounds easy, but when you do it under 5 meters of water with your eyes closed while you're breathing through a rubber hose (that makes a horrible brrrrppp noise when you exhale, not sure WTF was wrong with my regulator) it suddenly becomes really fucking stressful. And when we were done with those two things, he said, we would go for a swim to some really pretty places and just spend some time enjoying ourselves. He also mentioned my previous problems, like not swimming from the hips and flailing around too much from my hands, and reminded me that he basically questioned that I had got much of any skill from my earlier course and told me that was why he'd had me do skills that weren't required for the open water cert. Yay Walid, way to build me up.

So we went into the water and while I pretty much fell over before I was able to get my fins on (I hadn't loosened them up beforehand), when we got under the water (swimming through rather a lot of kicked up sand, visibility was about six inches) I was able to get into the "I'm not actually going to choke to death" mindset much quicker than yesterday, although I did need some time to mellow out. We got to a sandy bank before this wall of coral that encircled the beach like a giant bathtub edge, and I got on my knees on the sandy bottom - and took my mask off and replaced it properly, even untwisting it when it got entangled in my hair. And I kept breathing, and breathing, and keeping my eyes shut, and keeping calm although I was actually just waiting for it to be the final moment when I gave up and called it quits; but instead, Walid high fived me and shook my hands. Well. That was a surprise. Then we puttered forward a little bit more and I stretched out full length so I was basically laying on the bottom, and he had me inflate my BCD (inflatable vest thingie) orally, rather than using the pushbutton inflator that's attached to the air tanks, until I got to where inhaling made me float up and exhaling made me go down. The trick to this is that you have to keep taking your breathing tube out of your mouth after you got a lungful, then exhale into a second tube, then clear your breathing tube thing (either with a fast exhale if you had air left or by pressing the button that forces air through it) so that you didn't inadvertently get a lungful of water when you inhaled again. Breathe, remove, insert, blow, remove, insert, clear, breathe. It all sounds so natural, doesn't it, sitting underneath the water in a place where humans don't really have any business being, basically inflating a wearable beach ball with air you're sucking from an aluminum tank?

Anyway, I managed to do that correctly (and no water in my lungs or nose either time) and was tremendously relieved; we then went over the edge of the bathtub and to the rest of the reef. The fishies were beautiful; there's some little yellow kind that likes to hide in the branches of the coral, and they were very cute; also we saw a lionfish! It was very quiet and regal and I kept my distance. And on our way to the bathtub rim, we saw these cute little striped eels that hid in the sand and stuck their heads out and then back in their tubes, and yellow fish with long whiskers coming out of the sides of their mouths they used to kind of poke through the sand; and it was all really very pretty. Apparently we got to about 18 meters but I (ahem, bad form) never checked my gauge; instead, I was trying to keep close to Walid, who said I was kicking too fast, not deflating in the right position, too high, too low, et cetera (and all in divers's sign language). I did nicely clear my mask underwater when the water in my nose area started to irritate me (so there!), but I felt like I couldn't really get my position right. And I saw a very long pointy fish that looked kind of florescent and it was cool. And we went slooowly along the sandy bottom so that we got our "three minutes decompression at 5 meters," waved hello at J who was snorkeling overhead, and then we were out and done. I ran to the bathroom pretty quickly then sat down at the cool beachside "Bedouin tent" thing and ate the hardboiled egg I'd brought along with.

Walid said I wasn't keeping up with him correctly, that I wasn't getting my body in the correct position when I deflated my BCD (fully UP, left arm extended UP) and I kept stopping when he asked me to inflate or deflate; I apologized and said it just hadn't occured to me that I could keep swimming when I was doing that, and also that he was worried about hitting the coral. He told me if I was getting really close, that stopping would cause me to sink; the better choice was to keep moving forward and INHALE. Alright, I said, I would work on those things. Then we chilled (or rather tried to warm up) for a while, fortunately, the weather was better than yesterday, and I had my red polartec with me, so I felt much better than I did the day before and wasn't feeling nearly so apprehensive about going into the water.

Then it was time for the final dive and we only had two things to do; "navigate by compass" and "meditation," which is basically hovering in the water in a sitting position so that inhale takes you up and exhale makes you sink. He said it's an important exercise because it helps you learn how to use your lungs properly; I was not looking forward to it as it's notorious for not working so well for women, who tend to roll over because their center of gravity is in a different position. Compass navigation he had me practice above water; you put a wrist compass on, take notice of the "degree" you're pointing at, go ten paces, then add 180 degrees to what is shown and return in that direction.

To be honest, I kind of felt overly coached through the execution of these exercises in the water. I sucked at the hovering as I thought I would, but got my handshake and pass; for compass navigation, I wound up counting breaths instead of "kicks" for my ten "paces," I suddenly forgot how to do subtraction, yet somehow we wound up in the same place (according to him) as we started and I'd passed the course. We then went over the edge of the bathtub and I tried to 1) inflate my BCD while moving 2) not kick too much 3) slow down 4) keep at the right level 5) keep moving. Aargh. We got to see the "canyon," a cut through the bathtub rim that goes pretty deep; and I got to enjoy all of the corals that were around, purple and brain and fan and pretty pretty and unsurprisingly when I got to the surface in my final debrief I was told off for looking down too much and not keeping up with him. Sigh. Whatever. I was done.

We went back (when J finally returned) to the dive center and filled out my paperwork and took my picture, etc, and paid, and I was done, and we both decided that we were just going to take today to do something mellow, a little snorkeling and a camel ride, no more tanks, masses of equipment, and stress stress stress, and I was glad.

And today we had a nice man meet us at our hotel at 8 AM and take us by truck to the other side of the "Canyon," to the "Blue Hole," where we were given flippers and masks and met another young man who had two camels, which we rode to Ras Abu Gallum, where we sat under a shelter and drank mint tea and decided, when we were warm enough, to go putter around looking at coral and fishies. This we did and it was fun but it was windy and J got too cold, and when we stopped (probably only half an hour later), we were done for the day. We then played cards, were served up some lunch (tahini, rice and vermicelli, tomato/cucumber salad, and pita bread, with freshly caught fish for J), and then I napped and J sketched. We went beachcombing, then at two the camels came back and we rode off on them, returning to the Blue Hole at 3ish, where we drank mint tea and talked politics with the Egyptians, who were very excited about what was going on and wondering what was going to be next and would America get involved. And that was our day. And that was me done with scuba diving for rather a while, I think, I'm just not so sure if I want to continue doing it anymore.
webcowgirl: (Kayak)
Today was the first of two days of "open water dives" I need to do in order to complete my PADI open water diver certificate. I had some wonderful shooting pains in my bad ankle first thing; it's like some piece of it (a tendon? a ligament?) wraps around the bone and doesn't want to go back to where it belongs. It only happened twice, though, and not after I'd left the dive center, so yay for that but boo for my shitty ankle in general.

We were picked up at the hotel by the folks from Big Blue; I was really glad I was running around like crazy on Wednesday trying to fnish getting this set up, as the result was that upon arrival at the hotel I had a message saying the driver would be there at 8 AM the next day - and he was. J decided to go for a "intro to scuba" thing (not the "scuba diver certiifcate" I'd suggested, which meant he didn't have any more things to do after he'd finished his one dive), so we both wound up heading to the same dive site together after our equipment fittings and orientation. My instructor was "Walid," who's a master instructor or some such; I was, to my later relief, the only student. We went over what I'd learned in my class for a while; some of the things I hadn't done, like learning how to figure out how to properly weight yourself. I seemed to remember a fair bit, but there was clearly a lot further to go.

The skills for the first dive were: remove and replace breathing regulator (emptying the water out of it before you breathe); remove the regulator, toss it over your shoulder, and "recapture" it using a sweep; "pivot" (achieve neutral bouyancy so you go up as you inhale and go down as you exhale) in 6 meters or so of water. My problems were that I was using my arms too much, messing up my bouyancy; I kept swimming sideways when I was on the surface; and I wasn't getting into the right position when I was letting air out of my floatation device (I needed to be pointing up so the bubbles came out of it easily). I was also struggling (thinking) about how to get the right amount of air in my floatation device; oddly, as you go lower, you have to add more air so that it counteracts the greater pressure of the water. Boy, gosh, doesn't that all sound so simple, only what was happening as I started was that I was bouncing around in the water desperately trying to maintain my balance as I failed to get my flippers on, then I was freaking out about my mask again and failing to get into a calm headspace. Waves were making a lot of difference (and really, the water was calm, but just being pushed around was really different than being in a pool), but I had another irritating mask problem. This time it didn't seem to sit on my face right, and I felt like it was being blown around when I exhaled. My instructor was saying I was actually doing a good job of breathing well and mostly holding my position well when I was swimming, and I was getting panicky for no reason at all. He said the cure for feeling panicky was to just get swimming, as it gets you distracted and also gets you out of the surf and into the quieter water. He was holding onto my arm for rather a lot of this, and I did really get caught up in the "ooh ahh" of it all when we went through a school of very tiny yellowy-orange fish. I saw, over the course of the day, trigger fish, parrot fish, a black angel fish (I think), a puffer fish (not sure what kind), and lots of other things including loads of beautiful coral (fan, brain, purple, etc). But, unfortunately, I got cold again; not what I wanted.

We surfaced and I felt kind of out of breath and chilly, and even though it's probably fairly warm here it took me forever to warm up after the dive. My stomach felt very empty and I tried to put a little food in it but then it turned out that, er, it appeared to be a lot more nausea rather than hunger. In fact, based on my overall reaction, I seemd to be dealing with a huge blast of adrenaline that had left me chilly, ill, and a little light headed. I think we sat there for an hour while I continued to contemplate just calling it done and waving bye-bye to my 160 euros (as I thought at least three times the first time out). J was just hanging out on a couch under an umbrella in a surf-side restaurant (Bedouinsons) and was happy to sip my unfinished banana shake while I went back in; he'd got a nose bleed on his trial dive (in his mask, yuck) so he wasn't in a rush to do anything much else.

On my second dive I had to redo my other skills as "for reals" for the test part for the certificate, but with some other more active (and new) things. First, I had to show I could blow out a snorkel tube (had lots of practice doing that in real life so easy); then switching between snorkel tube, regulator, and tube again (cleaning the water out of both of them before each try). Then it was "tired diver" exercises, consisting of the tow (which I had done before) and the "push" (with their fins on your shoulders, in both cases first task is to ask them to "inflate your BCD!"). Then we were scheduled for "emergency ascent, share your air, share my air" but I really just got confused about what we were trying to accomplish as we sat under water holding onto a rope attached to a surface bouy; was he saying I was supposed to give him my air, or was he still going over the steps of the emergency ascent (the "CESAR," controlled emergency something something, you have to do it on one breath of air then inflate your BCD at the surface using your breath instead of a tank)? He got frustrated that I'd got confused, but my head was just packed and I didn't really know if we were doing things in order or not. And then after we finally did this one I did the "water in mask when you're deep underwater;" he didn't like how I was letting water into the mask (he preferred from the top instead of the bottom), pulled it so a BUNCH of water got in (eyes ow!) and while I was trying to clear out seemingly gallons of water, I wound up breathing some in. Poor, poor job, me, but I just wasn't expecting what he was doing and it upset my mental picture of what was going on enough that I got a snortful of seawater. I managed to cough myself out without surfacing, which was probably good, but damn I had a good time not just heading for the surface and where my head thought safety was.

After this disaster (I failed that part of the test and have to redo it tomorrow, I will have to ask him to please not touch my mask) we had another swimaround, working on controlling my bouyancy, seeing pretty fishies, and trying to get my head together. I was also getting cold again and keeping my arms crossed over my chest not because it was his recommended position (I prefer to swim with my arms straight down to my crotch) but because I was trying to conserve heat. We then went back to this sandy bank and did the "three minute wait" thing (guesture: flat hand with three fingers pointing up to it from below, kind of like a table), then did "other person out of air, give them your extra regulator" followed by "pretend you're out of air, borrow your buddy's regulator." We then made it back to shore where Jason had just ordered some fresh (and far too salty given what I'd just swallowed) tahini, and after I'd done the "close your tanks" exercise, Walid said he'd clean the gear off at the dive center if I wanted to just leave it as his car was showing up in about 5 minutes. And really, I was more than happy to let him do so (despite feeling like I was lazing out on my duties), as I was just exhausted and wanted only to eat and sit in the sun for a long time.

Oddly the first dive was all of about 40 minutes and I suspect the second one was similarly short. When we made it back to the hotel, we dug into the buffet, showered, and then I collapsed and slept for at least an hour, only really emerging at sunset. Tomorrow I only have four skills (plus one make up) to practice during my two dives, which will take place near the Blue Hole (it's famous). J will come with us and do snorkeling. I'm hoping it's all painless and that I'm mentally in better feather than I was today. I can only think of one of them, which is "remove your mask underwater," doubtlessly something I'm really going to enjoy based on my most recent experience getting shit out of my mask, but, well, at least I know I can work through it this time if I inadvertently get water in my lungs again - which I'd really NOT like to do given it will mean I've failed the certification. Pick up tomorrow is at 9, which means I'll feel like I've slept in.
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I'm off to Egypt tomorrow. Don't worry, I'm not going to Cairo, but rather Dahab. If anyone needs to get a hold of me, when I'm not actually diving or looking for the holy grail with Indiana Jones, I'll be at the Tropitel Dahab Oasis. I'm not worried about student protest as this is a remote town on the Red Sea. Sharks might be a problem but I'm hoping not given there's been no attacks in the last month or so.

In a surprise change of events, J is going with me. If you don't read Twitter, you probably didn't know this. As a result, I've packed playing cards and Carcassonne.

Last night I went to see Love Story, a musical based on the movie. I'd never seen it but had heard enough of the plot to ... well, it's not like they didn't tell you in the very first song what was going to happen to Jenny. It made me want to see the movie, because the male lead was so intensely unlikeable I just have to imagine he was portrayed better in the film. I just wanted to clobber him.

ANYWAY I've got to get out of here early tomorrow so ... see you all next week.
webcowgirl: (Bubble T)
GOD WHAT A FUCKING DAY.

The dumb things to complain about: I'm all wrinkly and smell like a bleached out sink. The air in the pool area was really cold. Chlorinated water in my eyes hurts. There were no showers or hairdryers in the changing room. The taxi to the dive place cost ten quid. The little missing tiles on the bottom of the pool cut my feet (only a little though).

So two months ago I bought this "Groupon" thing to learn how to do scuba diving, since I said I was going to learn how to do it five years ago as a turning forty kind of thing then didn't actually get around to it that year. It was for the "London Scuba School" which is, as it turns out, in Surrey, only in East Grinstead by which I mean train service only every half hour AND you have to take a taxi to get to the school from the station.

After buying it I called to set up a date and discovered that my class was only a partial class, that needed to be filled out either as part of a two day class (extra 40 quid) or by buying a book and video (45 quid) and doing a bunch of self study beforehand. I was aggravated that it wasn't inclusive but also that it wasn't in London, so decided to do the self study route and find my own books to do it with.

I get pinged on Wednesday and told by the school to bring the following X forms to class, as well as a towel, suit, packed lunch, and the 5 knowledge checking exams. Fair enough, I thought, they need to make sure we've read the material.

Now I was good and started in reading the book last week, started in on the videos Sunday, and spent the last several days slowly getting through the videos and the chapters, only of course I had a bit of a rush last night with the last two chapters and the last two videos. While reading chapter four I discovered I wasn't actually able to do all of the exercises in the book because I was missing a chart that explained safe diving times. Ooops. Well, I got through the work I could do and headed off this morning for my train.

I arrived and immediately was given a test to take, about 60 questions. Most of them had been in the knowledge exams (which I'd finished on the train), but I hadn't realized I was going to have to memorize so much of this stuff. I also discovered that in order to answer three of the questions, I was going to need a "dive calculator." What the heck was one and why didn't I have one? It was the chart I mentioned above, but also it existed as a kind of specialized calculator. I told the teacher I didn't have one and wasn't going to be able to do those questions unless he lent me one and helped show me how to use it. "Hmm," he said, "it's going to be awfully hard for you to finish the final exam, then, since 10 of the 50 questions use a dive calculator and I can't really teach you how to do it right now."

Well, fuck.

Then the girl next to me (who'd already finished her test) said, "It's not that hard, here, use mine - here's the instruction manual." And I picked it up and I started from scratch and by God I made it through that test, even before some of the other people, and I got all of the calculator questions right. I reviewed the ones I hadn't understood (i.e. correct things to do in case you have to ascend without enough air, in the order of preference).

And then we were given the final exam. Bam. Like that. Right away. Without ever having touched any of the equipment. Like, wow. I started on the dive calculation questions first, struggling through them until the girl sitting next to me had finished all of the rest of the questions (then handing her back her calculator) and then continued to struggle through them when she was done and able to give it back to me. Net result? Somehow (aiming for 70% and above), I passed the test. I don't know how, I really hadn't studied for it. And of the class, two of the six failed it. They will have to return to retake it in order to get their certificates.

Then it was lunch (at noon), for me, peanut butter and honey sandwiches. And then, in case we were feeling like the morning had been too easy, we had a swimming exam. 10 laps in the pool and then ten minutes of treading water or floating - all this in a rather. chilly room that was not pleasant to be in in just a suit, or EVEN with a shorty wet suit on. Brrrr.

So, exhausted and brain dead ... we started to learn how to breath through a tube with a mask full of water over our eyes and nose.

I somehow made it through. I almost left half an hour in. But it got better, eventually, after I had enough weight to stop floating off of the bottom and was able to slow down my breathing so I wasn't gasping for air constantly. At one point, I figured my trip to Egypt was going to be a total wash. But I did it all. I passed the test. I'll write more about it later. Tonight, I am bone exhausted and going to bed.
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See this picture? Lady Peaceful. Lady Happy. That's who I want to be. Sitting in the sunshine with a cup of tea in one hand and a book I am loving to death in the other. I made it my icon because it's my goal.

I've been completely shit this month - considering it's only the seventh - and have utterly failed to put the brakes on "self-indulgence December." Basically, I spent all of December doing everything I could to have fun, keep it light, "make me laugh," just basically trying really really hard to enjoy myself and keep my spirits up. I read stupid books purely for entertainment value, I went to every Christmas show, I took every opportunity to be with my friends and be out and about and not in my head.

This deliberate focus on being cheerful included refusing to let myself go down the path of exploring thoughts that I knew would lead to me feeling really down; I mean, there's some things that (seriously) you can think about for weeks on end and not make them any better, right? But they will make you feel black and broken inside. So I stuck those deep thinky thoughts (to borrow a phrase from [livejournal.com profile] butterbee) in a box and said, "You're waiting until January."

Now pretty well as soon as January came around, I popped the lid off of the box, did the equivalent of throwing a scoop of catfood and a fresh dish of water in with it, experienced some trauma, then ... went back to work on Tuesday and hopped back on the hedonism express. I bought books I wanted to read, I booked a trip I probably can't really afford to someplace sunny, I picked up a few things in the sales. I signed up for some things I thought would be good for me but which will empty my pockets (counselling, more Pilates). Today I went to Spa London (with [livejournal.com profile] souldier_blue and friends) which, you know, should have been treat enough ... but no, somehow in my brain the purse strings are still open and I went for a half hour massage, too.

I'm kind of trying to feel guilty about it but what I feel is luxurious and yummy and mmmm boy don't I need another. And when can I go back.

And, looking at this trip coming up, I realize it's probably going to cost me even more money when I get there, since I'm planning on doing the open water diving section of the PADI beginner cert while I'm there. And you know what? I'm excited about it. I'm going to study really hard so I'm ready for my one day pool course a week from Saturday and then BOUNCE BOUNCE BOUNCE I'll be looking at cool little fishies all close up just two weeks later and WON'T IT BE SO COOL!!!

Clearly what I need is some assurance that the magic money fairy is going to pay me a visit in February and just make my problems go away. Or something. I like this distraction thing. If I keep it up, I might just start enjoying my life so much that I'm ... actually enjoying myself.

DUDE. I'm going to see Petra. I'm going looking for the Grail with Indiana Jones. How cool is that?

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I'm still sick, which is boring. On the other hand it doesn't appear anyone wants to actually do any work this week, so the speed I'm going at at the office seems to be about right for the rest of the crew. I busted my nuts getting some paperwork together so I was "ready to go" the first day back to work; the people I was supposed to meet with (from our parent company) didn't have time to bother with me for THREE WEEKS. It both pisses me off and makes me glad I didn't try to work any harder over the holiday.

On the other hand, it has all made it clear that there will be no work being accomplished until after the reorg, which is supposed to officially kick off at the beginning of February. So I've booked a trip to the Red Sea, where I will do the open water diving part of my PADI beginner SCUBA cert, for the last 5 days of January. The first half of the diving certification course I'm going to do here in London, a week from Saturday, as a matter of fact, and as it's a one day course instead of two I'm going to have to pack a bit of studying in over the next several days. I've got the book and DVD at hand thanks to the guy who sits next to me at work, so I'm all ready to go with the home study. I'm also planning on making a day trip to see Petra, the rock city in Jordan featured prominently in one of the Indiana Jones movies. It's been on my life list of places to go for ages, and it's the thing that pushed me to just do this trip despite the fact I am having to go by myself (and I hate travelling alone, it frequently does my nut). But look at this post I wrote in 2008 just after coming back from Egypt and still not seeing everything: I can always go back, after I visit Greece and Turkey and Morocco and ... and somehow I actually have visited all of these places in the last two years! It seems kind of amazing! Anyway, so sunshine and pretty fishies and Petra and rah. :-)

I've also been to two shows the last two evenings, both of which were excellent. Get Santa!, which I seriously went to see because tickets were available for only 5 quid (and still are for tomorrow evening's performance) was a brilliantly fucked up play about how a 10 year old sees Christmas and what they would do if they Ruled The World - or, worse yet, if their TEDDY BEAR ruled the world; it actually wasn't cute at all but rather sinister and completely awesome. Then tonight I went to see this silent live action animated movie musical called The Animals and Children Took to the Streets which also fully inhabited the world of dream logic and was pretty well awesome (though not as good as Get Santa!). It was sold out but we got there at 6:30 and queued for tickets, and I do feel our time was well rewarded despite the very crowded conditions inside the theater. I loved it, but full details will have to wait for my write-up, which I think I will do soon.

Anyway, so that's my new year trying to get off to a better start. Pretty much when I picked up the book of Charles Stross short stories and went to see the Big Sleep (a perfect film) at the BFI, things started improving.
webcowgirl: (Jizo)
The score is now Night Nurse: 1, Irritating Cold: 1. (Yes, I was up coughing a lot last night, and I had dreams about my mom chasing me around the house with a knife while my aunt was telling me what a bad daughter I was to her. At least I could sleep between coughing fits.) I have very charming circles under my eyes now. Clearly the going to bed at 9:30 thing is good for me as it has been giving me enough pillow time to make up for the time lost due to coughing, but my midnight return last night didn't do me any favors. And I think I forgot to take my amoxicillin this morning due to being tired - and I left it at home. Bad, tired, stupid me.

There's a travel article about Cairo in the New York Times today that includes a slide show that has the pictures I wish I had taken of modern life in Egypt. They also went places I didn't have time to make it to, but, oh well, I can always go back, after I visit Greece and Turkey and Morocco and ...

I did make it through Othello last night in one piece but I don't really have time to write a review right now. It was really cool to be about six inches away from Ewan McGregor, but we were both wearing all too many clothes for my taste.
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"I'll take two McArabias and an order of fries."

(They even had matching red hijabs for the girls to wear!)

Note also an article in the New York Times saying that we really need to cut down our meat consumption - world wide. I get the feeling there is much less factory farming in the UK than there is in the US on a per-capita basis, at least as near as I can tell based on the cost of meat here (much higher) and the flavor (way better). But it does make me want to keep with the "eat less meat" plans I started after New Year's. (Anyone want to come over to mine for a vegetarian Egyptian feast on Saturday? Provided J and I are healthy enough to manage, it could be fun ...)

And for you SF or theater buffs (how rarely do these worlds collide), a great article about Patrick Stewart. His Macbeth is going to NYC, and what a treat it will be for them!

My throat is kind of swelling up again and I'm thinking I should do less talking for the rest of the day. Hurray for lemon ginger tea. And note that today I'm wearing clothes that 1) I didn't sleep in 2) aren't muddy or streaked with suntan lotion 3) I haven't worn at least twice in the last week if not three or more times. Can I tell you how good that feels? I can also tell that I'm much healthier than I was when I left, as I was able to walk to lunch (£5 set menu with Josh at the Malabar Junction) and not get the least bit tired, but I would like the coughing to go away. My thoughts in general are that I had a GOOD trip but I did not have a good time as I was not really well enough to enjoy myself or keep up with the pace. So I do very much recommend On the Go for a great vacation, but for heaven's sake make sure you're ready for it!
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Well, here we are at the end of the trip, me on the web in the hotel lobby. Nice to just use a real keyboard for a change; it looks like some of the entries are a bit whacked and need some editing when i get home.

Tell me: what news have I missed out there in the "real world" in the last week? I'll take personal or political. I've completely stayed away from newspapers the whole time I've been here, mostly because I didn't have a choice, but, really, it was nice to just chill out and not worry about it. Oddly, the only good conversations I had with people the whole time I was here were because of my news reading; water policy and the fluctuations of the energy market and benefits of using water/coal/solar, I am well versed in these things. Most people would find them dull, I'm sure.

I have picked up a bunch of nice little presents for people here and there. I hope the people I got them for like them, and I hope that anyone I didn't get presents for isn't too peeved at me.

We are both quite worn out - not worse than we were before the trip, but my cold is still here (it drove me out of the restaurant last night) and J has hardly had a spare moment to rest his foot so it's made little progress either. I knew this pace was going to be a bit punishing but truth be told I had no idea how much so for us, not being at 100% as we were. This morning we couldn't even get out of the hotel to do something fun, but slept for 11 hours (again, the second time we've had the opportunity to sleep past 7 AM and we took the opportunity gratefully) and took it VERY easy. Next week I'll be keeping it as light as I can, previous commitments excepted, and I'm guessing I'll do the same the week after and until this damned cold is finally done and gone.

Miss you all, looking forward very much to being in a place where I can guarantee I can get 9 hours of sleep every night and I don't have people smoking in every public space I step into, but I'll miss the yummy food here rather a lot. See you soon.
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Well, my trip to the Cairo market was very exciting! I was ready to call it a day after we'd spent the hour driving there, post our trip to the Adolino perfume shop (I reek of at least 6 different essential oils right now), but I had a list of things to look for and I thought I'd at least have a peek (especially since our "troop leader" said he was going to take us to a great fixed price souvenir shop deep in the heart of the bazaar - and it wasn't like we could have made it home on our own). I took another caffeinated cold cap (Beecham's for the win!) and plunged in.

First impression: a giant mosque faces a plaza ringed by coffee shops and cafes (with a road directly opposite). At the corner, away from the mosque, the paved road turns, and the view is red skies and minarets. We keep walking away, and the pavement quickly gives way to mud - but on a quite broad road, nothing like the enveloping claustrophobia of Tunis' souk. On either side, men hawk their wares, trying to get you to talk to them: "Jellabah! Do you want a jellabah?" "Where are you from?" "No charge to look, come on in!" "Hey, how are you?" "What are you looking for?" In the mud is a forgotten Tut head and scraps of paper with Arabic on them. We stop for a minute - and suddenly our group is gone we know not where. We plunge into a side alley. Now the press is much tighter and the sales pitches more direct - no eye contact and ignoring everyone is the only safe way to proceed.

At any rate, Sharif found his lost lambs and took us up a flight of stairs to a whole 'nother level of Bizarre and the no haggle shop, where for 12 quid we got: three shell inlay boxes, two Anubis bottle openers, one printed sheet, one t-shirt, and two bags of dried hibiscus flowers. Then I was dragged to an inlay shop to ogle a gorgeous £120 coffee table (tempting but ...), returned to get J, haggled a boy down from E£65 (£6) to 30 for a red Pashmina, picked up some scent in a quantity slightly less than that offered by the perfume shop we visited earlier (minimum purchase about a half pint at £20 for more scent than I've used in my life) while J sat outside in a chair a _total stranger_ offered to him and ... it was cash only and we'd run out of money. Whew! And we'd finally found the phrase that silenced the shills! picture.jpg

We made it back to the plaza and the coffee shop where Sharif was waiting. I was going to just sit, but, enthused by my good haggling and encouraged by Sharif (who offered to lend me money and pointed me in the direction of some items I'd missed from my list), I plunged back in the fray, secure I was no longer torturing Mr. Shadowdaddy with potholes and staircases. I managed to not find my peacock jellabah or the red King Tut teapot I'd seen earlier in the trip, but I found some hand-blown wine glasses that started at E£150 each and ended as 4 for E£120 _with the guy following me to the coffee shop to make the sale_. (What a pest, it wasn't even his shop and he almost made me late for the bus, but I get the feeling they all know everyone anyway as he got someone at the coffee shop to lend him E£10 so he could give me change!)

I was chipper and babbling when we got back on the bus - I was perfectly on time!- but then I kind of collapsed during dinner and suddenly my day was over. I mean, it's not like I hadn't been going pretty damned hard since 6 AM (okay, with a nap, but still, Egyptian museum at 10 AM for three hours!), and this damned cold still has its claws in me and even if I had fun I must must get some sleep! Miss you all, thanks for your texts ... *zonk*
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Well, the 7 hours of sleep I just got were fantastic, well worth (in our terminally sleep deprived stat) the 35 quid (each) these seats cost. They came with dinner (we'd already eaten, alas) and breakfast (yay, tea!). Yesterday was the hardest day for J as every tomb had at least one flight of fairly steep stairs, and he was "feeling it" and moving with pain _before_ Karnak. He spent the two hours we were back at the hotel with his foot elevated (while I bought pillowcases that you'll all soon see on the chairs in the dining room) and fairly collapsed when he got on the train. Odd, my breakfast includes two olives. 15 minutes to Cairo, must dine and dash.picture.jpg
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Also known as the Temple of a Million Years. Awesome!
picture.jpg

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Man, this trip is work. This morning it was a 6 am wakeup call and 7 am on the bus. By 9 am we'd already made it to the Valley of the Kings (tombs of Ramses 1, 2 , and 3) and were on our way to Queen Hapshepsut's Temple (see picture). Then it was the Valley of the Queens (tombs of Amen Khopshef and Queen Titi) and after LUNCH we're going to Karnak. Jesus. All the stairs are evil and are killing Jason. Tonight we're catching the _sleeper_ train (asked early enough this time) to Cairo. We should have a little downtime before we leave; J will be spending it with his foot elevated while I go buy some appliqued pillowcases next door. Seriously, we're seeing a year's worth of sites in a day.picture.jpg

Last night we went to the temple of Luxor, which was one of the coolest places we've been to since we got here. We'd finally made it to a proper "old old" temple (even though, I think, it was "New Kingdom"), not the "new old" of the Greek/Roman (Ptolemaic?) era temples we saw earlier in the day. The pillars were swollen at the bottom and capped with closed lotuses; the heiroglyphs were more angular and energetic, somehow. In front were giant statues carved from single blocks of granite, as was the obelisk (twin of the one at Place de la Concorde). Oddly, there was a (thousand year old) mosque tucked inside behind the left front wall. In the back, behind a Roman emperor cult building, were series of carvings of sacrifices: bound ibex, oryx, cattle; and scenes featuring the one-armed god of fertility, whose "member" was burnished by the many hands of women hoping to get pregnant. The thousand year difference between this temple and the ones we'd seen earlier were noticable; it [text lost here, need to add in later]
was old, at night. I just wish we could go back today and sketch for a while ...
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This morning we had a last breakfast on the boat - hard boiled eggs, salty cheese, pitas, jam, cheese triangles, sliced sweet cake and tea - paid for our drinks, tipped the captain, had one last visit to the sheet shielded hole in the ground (maybe that was just me, most of the girls were holding out for better offerings further afield), tossed our suitcases to land and headed off to the bus at 730 sharp. Our first stop was Kom Ombo, a Roman era temple to Horus and ... someone else. There is still paint on the walls from 2000 years ago. The bas reliefs were much less defaced than the ones at Philae, but it seemed that about half the temple had been sliced off in an angle starting from the back (the altar area), where the gods were only represented from the knees down, while the front of the temple, with 50 foot or so lotus-topped pillars, was still whole. Unfortunately Kom Ombo is set up so the many Nile cruise boats we'd spent the last two days mocking could dock right in front and unload their passengers, so the place was crawling with other tourists - a far cry from peaceful Philae.

After we'd been through most of the temple and peered at the mummified crocodiles and watched our fellow travellers posing with cobras, we sat down in a lovely palm shaded outdoor coffee shop and drank mint tea and thick coffee - it was lovely and I could have stayed all day.picture.jpg

But no such luck - a mere 10 minutes downtime and we were back on the bus for the hour plus ride to Edfu. Edfu was great - a four story slanting front wall decorated with reliefs of the king dedicating the slaughter of his enemies to Horus. Behind was a full temple complex including the very "Raiders of the Lost Ark" holy of holies, a fifteen foot tall, silver gilt, hieroglyph covered, free standing alcove cut from a single piece of rock that, back in the day, would have held a statue of Horus for the high priest and the king to take out to annoint with oils and make offerings to.

And, of course, piles of other people there, and there was only about two minutes allowed in front of the high altar per group before the next one pushed their way forward. We're back on the bus now heading to Luxor via police convoy. My nose is a little sunburned and we're watching "Hot Fuzz" and two hours seems like a long time to wait to eat. Fortunately I've got cheese triangles and pita, which I'm about to offer to the rest of the folks on the bus.
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For you folks with my cell phone number, just a note that texting me is free, I tell you, free! And I'd love to hear from you because even with all of these people here I feel a bit lonely. I guess I don't entirely fit in with "norms" all that well but since I'm usually surrounded by so many lovely people I just don't notice much anymore. But I feel like all of my stories are boring and unless we're talking about international water policy I don't have much to say. At any rate, we're well-fed and docked for the night, andbI got halfway through another Jo Clayton book (Drinker of Souls) tonight, and the trip is halfway through. No running water and literal pit toliets tonight.
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One in the afternoon and we're cruising the Nile on a felucca. A felluca is a medium-sized sailboat with a flat platform in the middle; ours is covered with cushions and manned by a crew of three. Somehow we seem to have landed on the SS Bob Marley; there are two flags with his face on it flying from the stays, reggae on the tape deck, and dreads on the crew. Sadly, we have no toliets at all. We are also quite cold, thanks to the breeze and our inactivity, so we've all got several layers of clothes on. The crew is nice and does make tea fairly regularly. On the banks of the river are donkeys and cows and the occasion al herd of goats; not much to see, really. We sit on the deck huddled under blankets and read and hope we don't get sunburned as the canopy has been stored for the day. J is appreciating the chance to elevate his foot, and I'm hoping my cold will finally go away. I've mostly stopped coughing but my left tonsil is very swollen. Really, I'm done with this cold now, can it please be over?picture.jpg

Yesterday was quite quiet; only two hours of sailing before we docked (as it were) near a farmhouse. Two dogs were enthusiastically holding their own against a murder of crows who'd found a ripe goat carcass on the riverbank. We had a dinner of Mystery Stew then went up the hill under the moonlight to "the Nubian house," a traditional walled compound where we sat by the fire and hung out for a few hours. Some people smoked shisha ; most of the Ozzies got drunk; I had a henna tattoo done on my hand. Later our tour leader gave us a mock belly dancing lesson that had the residents of the house giggling their heads off. J and I were too tired to participate (though we laughed) and happy when it was time to go back to the boat, bundle up, huddle in our sleeping bags and curse our drunken neighbors as they laughed and shouted at each other into the wee hours.

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April 2011

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