Friday, May 22, 2009

postcard from egypt

With only four days in Egypt, and half of day one spent trapped on the world's least punctual ferry, our intentions to explore the less visited Western Egypt have been scrapped.

Finally getting out of port at 11pm, we barter a taxi driver down from ₤5 to ₤2 (we probably could have got it for ₤1.50 if we had really pushed) to take us the 6km drive to some nearby budget accommodation.

Luckily, it (New Soft Beach Camp in Tarabin, should you ever be in the area) is great. Sleeping in beach huts on a gorgeous beach, with a gorgeous spanish omelette breakfast, and only five guests staying in the whole place? Yes please. And all for about ₤4 each? Idyllic.

The next day we find ourselves in Dahab. The reworked plan for Egypt is now to unwind for a couple of days on the beach to round off the first leg of the trip. For this privilege we are paying the cheapest accommodation I have ever been granted: ₤1.80 for the night. Again, as it isn't peak season yet, there's a feeling of having the town to ourselves.

Cairo, then, has been planned so that we arrive early morning (6:30am) off an overnight coach, see the Pyramids, then fly out again the very same afternoon. Neither of us is particularly keen to see the city, it doesn't have a good reputation.

Said reputation seems fairly justified. Most upsettingly, every guy (and it is the men, the women of this comparatively liberal country are friendly and fun) who strikes up conversation with us is guaranteed to eventually try to sell us something.

Again, we've been warned not to expect too much of the Pyramids themselves. Undeniably impressive themselves, the illusion is somewhat ruined by their location not in the middle of the desert, but in a Cairo suburb, adjacent to a big coach park, and swarming with the most sophisticated touts I've yet come across.

The Touts of the Giza Pyramids methodology
"Hello Sir, would you like me to take your photo with the Pyramid?"
"No Sir don't worry, it is for free"
"Sir, the photo would look very cool if you wore this Arabian headscarf in it. Try it on please"
"No Sir, of course I do not want your money"
"Sir, you should come here and climb atop this camel, then the photo will look really good"
"No Sir, it is for free, for free"
Oh yes Sir, this is a good photo. Perhaps we go for a little walk on the camel now?"
"No no Sir, no problem. It is free, it is free."
"Sir did you enjoy that ride? That will be ₤5 please"
"Sir I can not let you down from the camel until you have paid for your camel ride"
"Sir you must pay for your camel ride"
"No Sir I cannot let you down"
"The Police, Sir? (Begrudgingly ushers camel to the ground)"

(please note that this tale comes from Simon, my zero-tolerance policy on touts remained steadfast throughout)

Still, we're glad we did see the Pyramids, and going inside one of them was the most humid, claustrophobic, sweatiest experience of my life.

And then, it is time to leave the Middle East. The second leg of our trip has undergone major restructuring: word on the road is that Vietnam has been spoilt by a massive influx of tourism recently (a predicament I'm content to blame on King Tory himself Jeremy Clarkson, and the rest of his Top Gear goons), and we have less time for our trip after Japan than we had originally planned (just over three weeks) so we've instead decided to see Malaysia and Thailand rather than the original Vietnam > Cambodia > Laos > Thailand route.

That's all in the future though, and first we've got the matter of a flight to Japan to deal with. Aboard a plane on which we are the only two white people, the (half full anyway) aircraft crew treat us first to seats with extra legroom, then to a full second meal after we had just finished our first one. To top it all off, the in-flight movie is Slumdog Millionaire, a film I've been desperate to see since it rampaged the Oscars a few months back.

(Direct Youtube link)

Top flight, Egypt Air, thanks. We arrive in Tokyo jet-lag free, refreshed, and prepared for a major cultural change of scenery.

Wish you were here,

Egypt rating: 6.5/10
Friendliest person: Enjoying a bit of a song and dance with the group of 10 girls at the Pyramids.
Scariest moment: Losing sight of Simon as he got taken off on the back of a camel, hours before our flight.
Most beautiful sight: The Pyramids - from certain angles.
The Soundtrack: Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes.
Still to come: Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, Glastonbury festival.

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