We left the hotel intending to take a bus to the Pyramids, but getting to the depot near Midan Tahrir, it was too confusing for that early in the morning, so we relented and paid too much for a taxi. It was an exciting ride, as the drivers in Cairo pay no attention to traffic laws, if any even exist. Lanes, lights, and pedestrians, all are mere figments of the imagination to the Cairo driver. Judicious use of the horn and vulgar language smoothed our transit. We learned many good Arabic swears from Itai in Israel, but are afraid to use them in Egypt, because their use would surely result in our immediate and painful death. Ask me for useful examples, which will pepper my language upon my return to the Western world.
It was hot as ever at the Pyramids, but the excitement of walking around the only remaining ancient wonder made the experience more bearable. We entered into one of the side pyramids made for Khufu’s queen; it was hot and humid, not unlike a sauna, and entirely unremarkable inside. We chose not to stand in line to repeat the experience. A friendly man hanging out with the guards offered to show us some newly excavated tombs, and I agreed without consulting the group. I expected that it would cost some baksheesh, but thought it would be worth it for the experience. He took us far from other tourists, showing us the tomb of the engineer who directed the construction, and that of his family. He reminded us that taking pictures was not allowed, but he would let it be our secret. Then he staged cheesy photographs of us, the Care Bear, and the pyramids behind. These seemed ridiculous at the time, but were totally worth it in retrospect. Then, when we were out of sight of anyone else, he asked for 300 Egyptian pounds, or around $60. This was really out of our price range, and I made a counter offer of L100. He was appalled at my lack of consideration for him and his friends, and he reminded me that this price was for the whole group, not just per person. How generous. We dithered back and forth, and finally convinced him that we are just poor students, and while we appreciated his time, we could only give him L150. He then tried to give us our money back if we were unsatisfied, putting us in the position of demanding that he take at leas some money. Very smart, this guy. We got out of there a little bit poorer, perhaps no wiser but a whole lot more wary.
We had lunch at Groppi’s coffee shop in Sharia Talaat Harb. The food was mediocre and the service painfully slow, but the airconditioning and ambience were wonderful. Then we staggered around the museum, completely exhausted and overwhelmed by the trove of treasures lying about with little explanation. The building itself is from the 1850’s, and the exhibits don’t seem to have been updated since. We did see some excellent animal mummies, including a 25 foot long crocodile, an enormous fish, and a pensive monkey. King Tut’s tomb was on tour, but the man himself and some of his bling was still there. That dude had gold coverings for each of his fingers, putting fitty cent to shame.
After a nap, we went out for dinner. The first place we tried informed us that they only serve liver and brains. I was unaware that such a diet existed; in any case we passed on such culinary delights. The owner did reccomend a spot where we could get some vegetables for Kali. The place seemed nice enough, with clean tables and excellent music videos on the tele. I ordered stuffed pigeon, as it seemed the thing to do, and certainly less adventurous than liver and brains. It was tasty and filling, but my stomach reacted poorly. At least everyone else got sick too, so it was probably the restaurant as a whole and not just my order.
We walked and shopped through the evening, and met a man named Mohammed (it seems like everyone’s name is Mohammed), who spoke excellent English and was exceedingly friendly. He works at the Museum, and offered to help Jared find a phone to deal with the bank that ate his card. After our experience being ripped off twice today, we were understandably wary when he asked us to accompany him to his cousin’s perfume shop. Everyone’s cousin owns a shop they’re delighted to show you. As the cousin put an aphrodisiac perfume on Kali’s arm that is intended to keep the husband up all night (we are married for the week), we decided it was time to go. We extracted ourselves as delicately as possible, but he seemed genuinely offended. I don’t think he was trying to scam us, and really just wanted to practice English, but we don’t have the money to be scammed three times a day. What a city!
We woke in the morning to another blistering day, and made the decision to go further south. We took a taxi to the Egyptian border, singing along with the driver to “Forever Young.” We meant to catch a bus from there to Cairo but were conviced by an official, in his unofficial job as a hotel tout, to take a taxi. After some meagerly successful haggling, we got into his man’s car and sped off. And I do mean sped; we drove through the narrow canyons in the left lane on blind curves while the driver laughed gleefully. When sand covered one lane in the Sinai, we drove in the other. This was not confidence inspiring. He spoke some English, or at least enough to ask for more money, which we did not intend to agree to, but he misconstrued my response. Somehow “we’ll see when we get there” became “I’ll pay whatever you ask.” When we got to Cairo, he pulled aside an obliging police officer to help his side of the argument. We paid almost what he asked, just so he would go away. Welcome in Egypt, as they say.
Hotel Luna is a wonderful respite from the heat and bustle of the city. Situated on one of the upscale shopping streets, nestled between a watch and shoe store, up a rickety elevator, it’s a truly Romantic place. We went to dinner at Gad Diner, which serves excellent fast food, and apparently delivers. An unfriendly ATM ate Jared’s bank card, setting up a whole litany of money issues. The lesson here is, don’t put your card into machines that are not attached to banks, so you always have someone to yell at.
We woke early for our 7:10 pickup to Petra. Crossed the Jordanian border with the pink Care Bear on my back, I dispelled the strange glances by stroking my lush beard. Driving across the Jordanian desert, we gawked at Bedouins and the Lawrence of Arabia-esque landscape. Petra was relatively cooler, perhaps only 40C due to the altitude. It apparently snows in the winter, but no sign of that now. We walked down the narrow Siq, the natural canyon entrance to the city. The way is lined by small altars in niches, and a statue of a caravan that serves as a directional road sign. The architecture is Roman-influence, but uniquely Arab. The whole thing has the same “lost city” feel that Tikal had, although in the desert and not the jungle.
The ingenuity put into defense from enemies and nature was incredible. When the Jordanians built dams to protect the site from periodic floods, they found Nabatean dams in the same spots the modern engineers chose. Also, because the facades are carved from a solid rock face, they have to go from top to bottom. Clear planning must have occured to have a unified architecture. The walk uphill to the parking lot was rather sweaty, but at least we didn’t become the ugly Americans by hiring a horse drawn cart to haul us home. We slept on the bus ride back, and took an exhausted swim in the Red Sea. We had burgers at a British pub for dinner. It wasn’t good, but at least it wasn’t falafel.
Today was the end of the group part of the journey, and the mood was somber. We did one last Kumbaya group meeting, and then went to Independence Hall for a final dose of propaganda. Then to the airport, where we were finally set free. We flew to Eilat, which was expensive but so much better than yet another long bus ride.
Eilat is approximately 47C, which feels like being inside an oven. The town, which my mother described as quaint 30 years ago, is now a resort and strip mall, devoid of any real character. We might as well have been in Miami. However, the mall is air-conditioned and serves good shwarma. We went out to buy beer, but got fooled by Nesher Malty, which is non-alcoholic and tastes like motor oil. Despite the badass eagle label, it appears to just be for small men and pregnant women.
Woke up in the tent, unmolested by spiders, despite Kali’s worst fears. Then we rode camels off into the desert, which was less fun that it might seem. The ride was pretty bumpy, and I actually walked back, letting someone else get jostled for ten minutes. The camel toe jokes flowed freely.
Then we stopped at a crater and Ben Gurion’s grave before we drove to Tel Aviv. Once there we went to the beach, where we ambushed Craig with squirt gunes, and defended our women from the advances of speedo-clad Israelis.