Tuts and Touts
Trip Start Jun 17, 2008
50Trip End Aug 31, 2009
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Where I stayed
Sea Waves Hostel
Whose name was "The Kev", don't you know it,
His poems were lame
And brought him no fame
Except as a big doofus poet!
Michael Elop, November 2008
Life continues for us in Egypt and while Kevin (in spite of his self-professed marketing brilliance) has not yet been crowned an honorary Pharaoh, the poem bestows upon him another prestigious title. Now, for anyone who might consider Michael's work disrespectful, I assure you that Kevin's ongoing poetry recitations to us over the last five months have more than earned him this title
For the last several days we have been in Luxor. It's an amazing place. As the capital of Ancient Egypt (previously known as Thebes), it provides easy access to more than 15 historical sites. Unfortunately, with three children (and a husband) who are all tiring of such sites, we limited our visits to the most significant ones - Luxor Temple, Karnak Temple, Valley of the Kings, Temple of Queen Hatshepsut (pronunciation -Queen Hot Chicken Soup), the Colossi of Memnon, and perhaps the most important, McDonald's.
Unfortunately, all of Luxor's grandeur comes at a price, as the herds of tourists have created a retail frenzy, Egyptian style. The result is that it is IMPOSSIBLE to walk down the main streets of town without being harassed unmercifully by the touts. You want horse drawn carriage (Egyptian Ferrari, yes?), felucca ride, taxi, t-shirt, trinket, toilet seat shaped like Tutankhamen's death mask?...You name it, they have it, AND they promise "very, very cheap...I give you good price!!" (as long as you consider a 1000% mark-up a good price. How does one even begin to bargain down from that?) I'm happy to say that most of the time we took this in good stride and ultimately in Luxor we enjoyed a nice mix of relaxation, sight-seeing (and to the children's dismay) catching up on our homeschooling. Some of our more notable memories include the following:
· The cost of the hotel room - $11 including breakfast, free internet access, and use of the washing machine. We didn't even have to pay extra for the little mouse that kept me company while I did the laundry
· Seeing the treasures from King Tut's tomb on display at the Egyptian Museum, and then finding where his tomb was hidden in the Valley of the Kings;
· Visiting the Mummification Museum (oddly enough Kevin and the kids never tire of looking at the ruins of dead people!) It was interesting to learn all the macabre details of how a person was mummified, including how they would pull the brain out through the person's nose using a tool that looked remarkably like a crochet hook (Another Useful Blog Point - if you are looking for another use for that crochet hook you have sitting in your junk drawer, you now have one.) While there is no doubt about the Ancient Egyptians' mummification expertise, we question their knowledge of biology
· Bargaining for the horse drawn carriage ride home from the Karnak Temple. The driver apparently didn't like the deal we struck as he attempted to continue the bargaining process the entire way back to the hotel. Well, not exactly the entire way. In the end, Kevin got so tired of listening to him that he agreed to being dropped off several blocks from our hotel. Clearly judgment-impaired, the exchange didn't prevent the driver from holding out his hand for some baksheesh (as a tip for a job well done?);
· Going into the pharaohs' tombs in the Valley of the Kings and seeing the amazing hieroglyphs portraying the journey to the afterlife. It was also interesting to see the yoga group(?) in the depths of one of the sweltering tombs meditating around a sarcophagus - and people think accountants are strange;
· Riding horses for three hours and seeing the sunset on the desert mountain range
· Drinking sugar cane juice - the sugar cane stalk goes in the machine round and comes out flat. The resulting squeezed out juice is sweet and delicious;
· Paying the extra dollar for a hotel room that has a private (vs
After five days, we left Luxor and headed across the desert to Hurghada (from where our flight back to the UK leaves). Just to put Hurghada in perspective, our guide book says there is absolutely nothing good to say about the place, unless you consider "a tourist destination gone terribly wrong" to be complimentary. It apparently used to be a quaint fishing village, with great diving and snorkeling. Unfortunately, it is so developed and touristy now that it has no redeeming qualities. The "better" end of town is filled with resort hotels, tacky souvenir shops, lousy restaurants and a constant din of honking horns from the taxis. Our end of town (with the budget hostels) has a few overpriced "restaurants", piles of bricks, rubble and debris scattered about, and half dug trenches in the dirt roads. The other morning we walked to the beach and a big 2x4 (that had been used in scaffolding but was no longer needed) was hurtled down in front of us by a workman. It didn't land that close, but was enough to remind us that looking in four directions would not suffice here.
Having said all that, our day in Hurghada was quite pleasant
The only other notable exchange in Hurghada came after we arrived back home from the beach. A man approached me in the hostel and enquired about where we were going tomorrow and whether or not we would need his taxi services. Unfortunately, we must have arrived two minutes too early as the entire time we were talking he was adjusting his underwear and doing up his trousers. I just went into the hotel room, shaking my head and chuckling to myself. Only in Egypt...
It's hard to believe that two months have passed and the Middle East segment of our trip is over. In some ways it seems like it just started (and in some it seems like it has been never-ending!) As we prepare to return to Toronto for a week (for a vacation from our vacation) I thought it might be interesting to share a few overall observations from our travels in this part of the world:
· Traditional values are still predominant here, particularly with respect to women
· While most Muslim women wear beautiful head scarves, some wear full black veils over their faces, with only two slits cut out for their eyes. I found the latter troubling (rightly or wrongly). No skin showing anywhere. The only thing more troubling was when the same women wore glasses and the glasses were on the outside of the veil. When they ate, they would hold back the scarf with one hand, and put it immediately back in place when they finished. When they swam, they went in the water fully clothed. Their spouse, on the other hand, could sit in a coffee shop, smoke sheesha, and wear whatever he liked (including a speedo bathing suit - yuck!). I tried to remind myself that dressing this way is consistent with these women's beliefs; I tried not to think about how much of it might be forced upon them by culture. I know I am highly influenced by my western biases here, but it still seems oppressive;
· Toilets in bus stations (particularly in Egypt) are disgusting. In the worst one, the doors were kept locked (was that to keep the bugs in or to ensure the odours didn't get out?);
· People here smoke cigarettes and/or the water pipe constantly
· Being in the desert is amazing. There is a great feeling of isolation that comes from standing in the midst of nothing (except for cigarette butts). I, for one, love it;
· There is garbage everywhere. In the streets, on rooftops, in the desert, in the rivers... The Arab world is far behind the west in its recognition of how to take care of this world (which, in some ways, doesn't say much). On one Nile cruise a fellow tourist was telling us about the kitchen staff who casually threw their garbage (pop cans and the like) into the Nile as the boat was serenely cruising along;
· People in this part of the world (excluding the touts) are incredibly friendly people. Their hospitality surpasses anything I've seen to date. In Turkey, for example, Laura and Sarah were each noticed admiring decorations in a restaurant. The restaurant owners in both cases insisted on giving these things to the girls - we are now the proud owners of a broken Turkish war hero Statue and a statue of Super Coke Man
· And my final comment.....how sad that the Middle Eastern people, who greet each other with Salaam or Shalom (the English equivalent of the word "Peace") find that peace is the very thing that has for so long evaded them.
Okay, enough of my views. I just asked Kevin for his final thoughts on the Middle East, and with a faraway dreamy look in his eyes he simply said, "When we get to my parents house I wonder if I should start eating the leftover Halloween candy, or the Hermit cookies..."