Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Night train to Aswan (Day 4)

If you want to get from Cairo to Aswan one of the easiest ways is to catch a night train. You simply buy a ticket, get on the train in the evening, get a comfortable chair, fall asleep and wake up in Aswan eight hours later.

Well that's in theory. In reality it took around 15 hours and a new locomotive to get to our destination. Well we got used to that kind of stuff at this point.

When the train stopped on a occasional train station, I tried to take a photo or two through the train window. I had quite a hard time doing that - those windows haven't been washed for a while.

As our guide wisely pointed out:

All you need to know about the way things work in the Middle-East can be represented with three letters - IBM

No, not the company, but the acronym - I.B.M.

Letter I stands for Insha'Allah - If Allah wills. People finish their promises pretty often with these words. This means that if something doesn't happen, well it wasn't meant to happen in the first place.
Letter B stands for Bokra - Tomorrow. When someone promises something will happen bokra, he usually doesn't literally mean tomorrow, but sometime in the near future.
Letter M stands for Malesh - Never mind. When Allah doesn't will and Bokra never comes, then instead of upsetting yourself you can say Malesh and forget about it.

When you accept these things, everything is much more enjoyable in Egypt. The same was with our train - Allah's plan was a bit different from our schedule, but we eventually got to Aswan, thought to ourselves: "Malesh" and were moving on.

First we settled in a hotel. This one was much better compared to the one in Cairo. We could even enjoy a beautiful view of the Nile from our balcony.

Then we went on a round walk around the city center. The walk also included a bazaar. It didn't take us long to notice the lack of rubbish laying around. That's compared to Cairo of course.

Hunger was slowly getting to us and our guide took us to a local pizza place. Not Italian kind of pizza, but its Egyptian version. It was delicious!

After that it was time to catch some sleep. Our schedule continued at 2AM the next day. Yup, that's right - at two in the morning we were moving on.


Monday, 8 October 2007

Zabbaleen - People of the rubbish (Day 3)

This is the second part of Day 3 of our Egyptian Adventure. You can read about the first part in the previous post.

When we left the Mosque of Mohammed Ali our next stop was Rubbish city. But we knew nothing about it at that moment.

Our bus dropped us at a suspiciously looking part of the city. There was a strange smell in the air, but we got used to that by then. We just thought: "We're in Cairo after all, this is something normal."

With every step, we went deeper into a strange suburb. Soon garbage of all sorts was literally piled all around us. People were going through those heaps of all sorts of stuff with a strange enthusiasm and an occasional pig was rummaging around for something eatable.
Children were playing around and looking curiously at 12 strange Slovenians. They were quite cute and some of them just wanted to say hello or introduce themself to a strange foreigner. No one asked for baksheesh.
We got used by then to be approached by people asking for baksheesh in return for some strange favor they just came up with or even just like that.

After we got through this part of the city we went uphill. Steep rocky slopes were carved with various biblical motives. We made a stop at an interesting church which was carved into the side of a hill. Our guide decided it was time for an explanation.

He explained to us a few things about the place we had just seen. First of all, those people we had seen were mostly Christians (Muslims have no need for pigs). People we had seen live there by their own choice. Sorting rubbish is what Zabbaleen (people of the rubbish in Arabic) do for a living. And they earn enough to fall into Egyptian middle class. Ground floors of their houses are used for sorting rubbish. Upper floors however are mostly well furnished. The backyards also serve as parking places for fancy cars (Mercedes, Mitsubishi or BMW is not a strange sight in those streets).
On our way back to the bus, we looked at the same things as before through a totally different pair of glasses.

Did you know that two million Egyptians live in family tombs? The bus dropped us in front of one such tomb. Our guide has even arranged for us to take a look inside. The family didn't seem to mind. They got a nice amount of Egyptian Pounds afterwards to make us feel welcome. After fifteen minutes or so we moved on.

We were slowly starting to feel hungry and a meal followed. We stopped at a local place for a meal of kushary. It is made of Egyptian lentils, rice and macaroni casserole. Served with tomato sauce and some other extra spicy sauce.

It didn't look too promising but surprisingly it was very tasty. I think most of us liked it. One portion of kushary plus half a liter bottle of water costs approximately 1/4 of a Euro. I think two such portions should be enough to take you through the day. 1/2 of a Euro to provide food for a day is a bargain by my standards.

An afternoon walk through the streets of Islamic Cairo was really picturesque. It was a shame we were in a bit of a hurry and there wasn't enough time for some serious photography. Even that couldn't spoil a couple of nice photos.
In the old days big, stone wells were built throughout the city for everyone to have access to fresh drinking water. Nowadays, small plastic water wells (the orange thing on the photo below) can be seen in the middle of busy streets.

When the night fell we had a walk through Khan el Khalili Bazaar. This was one heck of a haggling experience. It felt like we were thrown to the lions.
When time it was time to leave we were already eating those lions. Well we weren't, but it felt like that. I guess in the end we were still not buying stuff at local prices, but maybe sometimes we came close.

After leaving the Bazaar behind, we went to the train station where we caught a night train to Aswan.


Friday, 5 October 2007

Goodbye to cockroach roommates (Day 3)

This was one busy day, so I decided to divide it into two posts. Here is the first part.

Our second morning in Cairo started with our luggage being loaded onto the bus waiting in front of the Cosmopolitan hotel. The hotel staff who tried to arrange the luggage loading, failed the simple task completely. After half an hour watching two luggage boys walking up and down the hotel hall and waiting for who knows what, we loaded the stuff ourselves. That was not a problem at all, but a part of the deal at the hotel was also luggage transport to and from our rooms. So our guide wanted it to happen. It was the first real taste of Egyptian (non)efficiency.

During the wait I also observed a light bulb changing procedure on the lobby chandelier. It took 4 people, 3 of which were just standing around philosophizing. I must say the show was quite amusing.

After that we left the worst hotel of our trip behind (along with our little cockroach roommates). And it had 3 stars like all of the further ones. This tells you all you need to know about Egyptian standards.

Most of our day was spent at the Egyptian museum, which houses more than 120.000 relics and antiquities. It is well worth spending at least half a day at this place. Things you don't see in empty pyramid tombs are mostly on display here (along with the famous golden death mask of Tutankhamun).
Roughly one quarter of the museum (half of the first floor) comprises relics from the tomb of Tutankhamun. He is believed to be one of the least significant pharaohs, but his treasure is still unbelievable. One can't even imagine what amount of riches had to accompany the most important of the pharaohs on the journey into the afterlife. Those were all stolen by grave robbers.
You can't take almost anything inside. They even take away your camera - so no photos from inside the museum.

Our next destination was Mosque of Mohammed Ali. A huge fortified building, which took 18 years to build (1830-48). For me this was the first mosque I have seen from the inside. I liked its simple, yet beautiful decoration.

In the central courtyard it houses a chintzy clock. A gift from King Louis-Philippe of France in thanks for the Pharaonic obelisk that adorns the Place de la Concorde in Paris. It has never worked (supposedly it was damaged during transport). What a scam!

Next we were up for a surprise. It wasn't even announced in our trip plan, but it sure was interesting...

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