Elvis Has Left The Country
Trip Start Jun 17, 2008
50Trip End Aug 31, 2009
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Fertile Egypt feeds on the Nile, and the desert claims the rest,
The Pyramids, King Tut, antiquities of old;
Majestic Cairo surrounded by sands of gold;
The kings, royal wives, and concubines great;
Methinks, Pharaoh Kevin was born too late.
Well, as many of you have so fervently requested, I was going to do this whole blog as an epic poem, but Tracy (to mock me?) asked the kids to write a limerick about a poem writing doofus, and I found that somewhat demotivating. Besides I couldn't come up with an appropriate rhyming word for the harlot Queen Hemasabuck ..
You may have guessed from the prose above that we are now in Egypt. While we had previously decided to skip Israel, our research indicated that the easiest and cheapest way to get from Jordan to Eqypt was to cut through the southern tip of Israel..."just walk across the Israel border, take a cab to the Eqyptian consulate for your visas, take bus #15 to the Egyptian border, and then catch the bus to Cairo". Although our starting point in Jordan was 2 hours away from the border, it seemed like a straight forward plan. With our type of travel, there are often hiccups with the information we work from; this time was no exception:
· "you will find an ATM right after Israel passport control"...not anymore. There was however a Foreign Exchange booth there, so I could dig out some of my hidden "Plan B" US$ dollars and get a limited amount of shekels;
· "once in Israel take a taxi from the border to the Egyptian consulate"...well, that would have been easy considering there was one cab waiting there, but, "So sorry...against the law to take more than 4 peoples"....Really?!?..
· "the taxi drive to the consulate should cost less than 30 shekels"...well, it did for the first cab that was waiting there, but because the second one had to be "called" there was a "premium" for every person riding in that taxi (plus even more for the luggage) ...Arghhh!, we should have put 4 people in the first cab instead of 2!!;
· "the Egyptian consulate will accept credit cards for the visa fees"...nope! Okay, back outside to hail another cab to take me to a bank machine;
· "the Egyptian consulate closes promptly at 11am!"...finally, some wrong information that worked in our favour! I didn't get back to the consulate with the requisite amount of shekels until about 11:10, but they still processed our visa applications and we were ready to go by 11:30;
· "once in Egypt the buses to Cairo (7 hour trip) leave at 10:30, 12:30 and 4:30...Hmm, do we try to make it across the border into Egypt for the 12:30 bus knowing that if we miss that one, we will be rolling into Cairo around midnight, or do we stay in the Israeli border resort town of Eilat which happens to have a very nice beach on the Red Sea?? Okay, abort original plan and start looking for the bathing suits...after all it was Sarah's birthday
Our one day in Israeli was very pleasant. It was not the Bethlehem/Jerusalem religious experience we had originally contemplated but it was a good day to spoil Sarah for her birthday including a "Parent of the Year" lunch of pepperettes, sponge cake and a big bottle of coke. We also got to spend a few hours playing on the beach, and enjoying a birthday cake later in the day. The best birthday present however, was getting to watch the newly released High School Musical 3 movie. It was in English - an added bonus since our Hebrew isn't very good. Sarah also enjoyed the fact that she was in three different countries on her birthday...Jordan, Israel and kind of Egypt (if you consider the consulate to be "Egyptian soil")...the kids wanted to count the "No Man's Land" we walked through between the Jordanian and Israeli border posts as a 4th country, but because nobody tried to take advantage of us there, nor did we have to pay exorbitant "entry" and "departure" taxes I couldn't (with a clear conscience) consider it a true Middle Eastern country.
So the following day we picked up our plan again and made it to Cairo without any further hiccups. Well, except that the Israeli departure tax and the Egyptian entry taxes were both about 50% higher than what we had expected..
It was good to be back in Cairo. Tracy and I were there 14 years ago on our first round the world trip. It was one of our first stops on that trip, and I clearly remember the discussion we had within minutes of arriving in downtown Cairo so many years ago: "Golly Gee, Kevy. This friendly man will help us find our hostel after he takes us to his perfume shop. Isn't that nice??". I replied, "Gee whiz sweety, that's super...some beautiful aromas for my beautiful wifey!!"...huggy, huggy, kissy, kissy...It was shortly thereafter that we were scared witless in a backroom having a yelling match with the now not so friendly man who was trying to scam us.
Given our previous memories of Cairo, we were on our guard, but it didn't seem that necessary. Maybe because our expectations had changed (for the worse), but it seemed that there were fewer people trying to take advantage of us. And there were actually people who wanted to help us who had no apparent ulterior motives...we were pleasantly surprised.
While in Cairo, we did the requisite visit to the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx, but our other memories include:
· The sheer terror of trying to cross the street...there is some crazy traffic in Cairo, and the stop lights don't appear to mean too much to these aggressive drivers
· Rediscovering a favourite restaurant that sold pizza fatirs and dessert pastries. We had been craving these for the past 14 years (and was the single biggest reason for our trip)...our lives continue to be ruled by food and drink;
· Riding camels while visiting the Pyramids. This was an event we were all looking forward too, and everyone enjoyed it as must as expected. Also, as expected, the camel jockeys tried to take advantage of us in numerous ways (much shorter trip than agreed upon, yelled at us after the ride demanding more money than was agreed upon)...all standard fare. By the way, riding a camel is not terribly comfortable;
· Seeing the giant statue of Ramses II at the nearby ancient capital city of Memphis. After the crowds at the Pyramids, this place seemed almost deserted, so I helpfully offered up a plan to increase attendance
· The "bribe" at the Pyramids. The man selling the tickets said Sarah could still go in free even though technically she was no longer 6 years old. The man collecting the tickets at the main gate had other ideas...after arguing our case he sent Tracy and the kids through, held on to my arm, pointed to some of the change I still held in my hand, smiled, and said Baksheesh ("tip");
· The "it's a small world" moment. While eating dinner in Cairo one night, a family of three sat down at the table next to us. It turned out that they were from our home town of Waterloo; he works at RIM and actually knows our neighbour;
· Instant celebrity at the pyramids - there were several school groups at the Pyramids the day we were there
· Eating "kebab" flavoured potato chips...Tracy exclaimed that you could actually taste the meat. It was unclear to me whether this was good exclamation or a bad exclamation. She also noted that if I ever wanted to become a "vegetarian" it would be a great product for me.
After three days in Cairo is was time to go up the Nile River to Luxor, home of the Valley of the Kings, among many other ancient sites. Having not really enjoyed the 7 hour bus ride into Cairo, we were hopeful that the 10 hour train ride out of Cairo would be an improvement. We rode 2nd class (which the train officials try to dissuade tourists from taking) and although being a little torn and tattered, it was fine. We had a few observations about the journey:
· Upon entering the train station you need to pass through a metal detector manned with two or three gun-toting guards. This, in theory, is fine. What we didn't understand is that you take your entire luggage through this detector (i.e. there is no separate x-ray machine for the bags) so literally everybody sets this machine off. The guards would just smile and wave everybody along...seems somewhat pointless to us, and I didn't even get a chance to make a wise ass comment about there being a big, big knife in my bag. And, by the way, we saw similar useless metal detectors "in use?" at other Egyptian buildings;
· There were some travelers on the train that were allowed to buy tickets that did not include a seat
· We never thought we would say it but handheld Nintendo games sure are a useful invention for long trips;
· What is the proper etiquette when you are eating some cake on the train for lunch, and a peanut vendor walks by and holds his hand out for some of your cake? Tracy's natural good manners kicked in and she handed him a piece. I think we should have tried to conduct some sort of trade, and as a matter of fact, I'm going to make that the tip of the day: "The next time a peanut vendor on a train wants some of your cake, offer to trade him some cake for peanuts"...who says this blog doesn't have some "real life" value?
Well , the train has arrived in Luxor and the 10 hour trip only took 11 hours. I'm getting excited thinking of spreading more of my marketing magic on this town. If the Valley of the Kings gets renamed to the Valley of Elvis you'll know who to thank...